By EUGENE BINGHAM
A phone call to a New Zealand woman and weights bought in Auckland have emerged as clues in an American triple-murder inquiry.
Bison Dele, a former NBA basketball star, disappeared with his girlfriend and a catamaran captain during a sailing adventure to New Zealand and the South Pacific.
It is believed that Dele's brother, Miles Dabord, killed the trio at sea before taking his own life back in the United States.
Evidence uncovered by the FBI shows Dabord bought about $200 of weights from the Rebel Sport store at Atrium on Elliott, Auckland. He is suspected of using them to weigh down the bodies of Dele and his girlfriend, Serena Karlan, and the captain, Bertrand Saldo.
FBI special agent Elizabeth Castaneda, who has spent a year on the case, told the Weekend Herald that New Zealand police helped by interviewing a woman who had befriended Dabord during his time here.
Satellite phone records show that Dabord rang the woman at the likely time of the murders on July 8 last year as the boat circled near Tahiti. Although the trio were probably dead when he rang, she told police he said nothing about the events on board.
Ms Castaneda declined to name the woman but said she was under the impression that Dabord was in the process of breaking up with his girlfriend and beginning a new relationship with the New Zealander. The liaison never eventuated.
Dele retired from the Detroit Pistons in 1999 after a career that included an NBA championship with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.
For most of his playing days he was known as Brian Williams. The brothers' father was Gene Williams of the legendary vocal group the Platters.
Having left basketball as a multimillionaire, Dele went travelling. He bought an 18m catamaran, Hukuna Matata, and came to New Zealand with Ms Karlan last year. The vessel spent time in the Bay of Islands and Auckland's Westhaven Marina.
Ms Castaneda said Dabord turned up uninvited in New Zealand in January but the two brothers got on each other's nerves and argued frequently until Dabord left.
Dabord returned to New Zealand in May and sailed the Hukuna Matata to Tahiti with Mr Saldo and a crew member, Mark Benson. Dele and Ms Karlan flew to Tahiti and met the boat there.
The Denver Post says the brothers' fighting became so unbearable that Mr Benson left during an island stopover. The boat set off with four on board but within days, it returned to shore with only one - Dabord.
On his return to the US, Dabord began to assume his brother's identity, opening mailboxes in his name and trying to buy gold coins as Brian Williams, a move that alerted police.
He fled south, and made a tearful "confession" to his girlfriend. According to his story, Ms Karlan was killed during a brawl between the brothers and Dele then killed the captain to prevent him talking. The fight continued, said Dabord, and he shot Dele in self-defence.
Soon after his "confession", Dabord was found unconscious and died in hospital.
The FBI supervisor on the case, Special Agent John Steiner, told the Weekend Herald a forensic team examining the boat had not found any evidence to support Dabord's story.
"There's just no way it could have happened like that."
Ms Castaneda said the purchase of the weights, with other evidence, suggested that Dabord had planned the murders.
Staff at Rebel Sport remembered Dabord coming in to the store several times, the first time with his brother, whom they recognised from his NBA days. When Dabord returned on his own to buy the dumbbell weights, he was polite and friendly, said the staff member who served him, Jasmine Collins.
When told the FBI believed the weights had been used to weigh down the bodies, she said: "That is a damn shock to me."
Mr Steiner said the motive for the murders was unknown, but possibly jealousy.
The brothers' mother, Patricia Phillips, believes someone else was involved.
"This is not a Cain and Abel story," she told the Denver Post. "Brian was not a saint and Miles was not the monster he's been made out to be. I believe it could have been a kidnapping for ransom, and Miles was involved."
* Email Eugene Bingham
By EUGENE BINGHAM