Dearly Departed

By: Brian D. Crecente and Michael Bedan

A killer and his three victims – case closed.

But the cut-and-dried theories about Miles Dabord and Bison Dele have infuriated the brothers’ friends and relatives – Dabord, a jealous misfit who killed his famous, wealthy brother, Dele’s girlfriend and the captain of Dele’s 55-foot catamaran July 7 in Tahitian seas.

This is not Cain and Abel.

Not Dabord, all rage, all hatred, afflicted by the successes of his kid brother.

Not Dele, all youth and innocence, a golden child with the gift of game and the money to finance his dreams.

Two images – so incomplete they are false.

What has emerged during the past month is far more complex.

These were brothers who loved each other, brothers who were struggling to patch things up in the torpid waters of the South Seas.

In the final weeks of their lives as they sailed through paradise, Dabord and Dele bumped up against each other in the confines of a crowded boat. They engaged in petty arguments, squabbling about video games, sports figures and motorcycles.

Dabord was a man at once jealous and proud of his brother’s stardom in the NBA, a man frustrated by his own life. Those who knew him say he never found solace, even as he crossed an ocean and half a world to end his estrangement with Dele.

Dele was a man who basked in the spoils of the NBA while in his 20s, then turned his back on the game that made him famous in order to indulge his nomadic impulses. Some say he controlled his family with money and turned his back on his only brother.

Dabord, born Kevin Williams in 1966, died Sept. 27 in a California hospital two weeks after he overdosed on insulin in Tijuana, Mexico, 24 days before his 36th birthday. He is accused of killing Dele, born Brian Williams in 1969, aboard the Hakuna Matata.

Serena Karlan, Dele’s 30-year-old old girlfriend, and Bertrand Saldo, the ship’s captain, were victims of circumstance.

Any and all concrete explanations evaporated when Dabord, comatose for two weeks at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Chula Vista, Calif., died a day after being removed from life-support.

No one knows exactly why Dabord would commit triple homicide, or whether he did. Dabord’s accounts to friends and family contradict each other.

He took July 7 to the grave.

Wanderlust

He dropped out.

“He just wanted peace of heart and love,” says Megan Moody, who befriended Dele in Perth, Australia, during his travels. “I think he struggled with the person that the money and the fame made him, and he woke up one morning, pretty much looked in the mirror and was disgusted. That was why he chose to turn his back on it.”

After retiring, he flew to Arizona to live on a houseboat on Lake Powell with a group of friends, including Ahmad El Hussini, whom he met as a sophomore at the University of Arizona in 1989.

From Arizona he flew to Europe, then traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, where he owned a water-treatment plant with El Hussini. A few months later, he visited The Seychelles, a 176-

square-mile chain of islands in the Southwestern Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar.

Dele traveled through India and Indonesia, then, by the end of 1999, landed in Australia.

It was there that he seemed to find, at least for a while, some inner peace.

He arrived in Western Australia’s capital city of Perth and soon discovered the picturesque beauty of nearby Fremantle.

“He saw Fremantle and fell in love with it,” Moody says. “But he said, ‘No, I have to see the rest of the country.’ ”

So Dele traveled to Sydney, where he celebrated the millennium New Year and bought himself a truck.

It was one of “those big trucks you see in the movies that they live out of, driving all over the outback with the gasoline tanks on them and the water tanks,” Phillips says.

He loaded it up with a custom-made surfboard, a kayak, scuba gear, a motorcycle and camping equipment and set off on a yearlong trip around the country.

He snorkeled in the waters of Great Barrier Reef, immersed himself in the art and culture of Melbourne, motorcycled through the outback.

Finally, he ended up where he started, living in Fremantle at the head of the Swan River, a half-hour drive from Perth.

There, people didn’t know who Brian Williams or Bison Dele was. In Fremantle, friends called him “Zobie,” Dele’s college nickname, while strangers knew him only as a kind, barefooted giant.

Odyssey

“I didn’t know who he was. He was just an exceptionally tall African-American,” Moody says, laughing. “He had been there three or four months, and he saw this boat and fell in love with it.”

He had trekked across Australia and wanted to travel the waters surrounding it, she says.

Dele bought the 55-foot catamaran for about $650,000 early in 2000. He hired three-time world circumnavigator Jon Sanders to help him prepare the Hakuna Matata, Swahili for “no worries,” for her maiden voyage under his ownership.

Every morning, Dele would stop by a little bistro, owned by Moody’s friends, along the town’s cafe-laden “Cappuccino Strip” to buy a glass of fresh juice.

“I was going through some dramas at that time in my life and had decided to resign from the job I was working at,” Moody says. “He sort of said, ‘Why don’t you jump on board?’ ”

So Moody started hanging out with Dele, eating meals with him on the boat, and eventually decided to sail with him to Melbourne.

Dele spent about $16,000 refitting his boat with everything from DVD players and a PlayStation to custom cushions, scuba gear and spear guns.

Shortly before leaving, Sanders and Dele had a falling out. Moody says Dele was uncomfortable around the skipper, and Sanders wasn’t happy with Dele’s use of marijuana.

Mark Beal, who replaced Sanders after the argument, says that first trip was like a second childhood for Dele.

“He didn’t have time when he was growing up, because he was consumed by basketball and the NBA,” Beal says. “So he spent a lot of time in Australia skateboarding, playing video games and kicking around a soccer ball.”

On Feb. 8, 2001, the Hakuna Matata left Fremantle with Beal, Dele, Moody and three others.

Among them was a last-minute addition, a German known only as Drema.

“I think Bison had met Drema on his travels around Australia, and he had run into him again in Fremantle and said, ‘Hey, come down and check out my boat,’ ” Moody says.

The afternoon Drema arrived was the day they were leaving, so Dele invited him along.

“He just shared his knowledge and his wealth and the essence of who Bison Dele was with everyone he met,” Moody says. “He was very giving.”

Drema stayed with the group for the first night before bidding them farewell, jumping overboard in a quiet bay the next morning and swimming to the distant empty shore in his flip-flops, T-shirt and shorts.

They never saw him again.

Drema seemed to epitomize the type of person Dele fell in with during his travels, and the type of person he was becoming.

“He was living in the moment, completely and totally living in the moment,” Moody says. “He wanted to travel and meet interesting people and be free.”

Fire

“He talked all of the time,” Moody says. “Sometimes you would really pay attention, while other times you would sort of switch off and do your own thing.

“He talked about his life, his experiences. He would come up with all sorts of truly weird and wonderful ideas and get excited about them.”

Dele would be lounging below deck with his PlayStation when an idea would suddenly strike him – like a wet suit with webbed wings that would allow a person to be pulled into the sky like a human kite from the back of a boat.

“His mind was just amazing, it was truly amazing,” she says. “We would sort of all be bouncing off each other, but he would continue on, and it would build into some great thing.”

At times, Dele seemed almost possessed by his own intellect and passions, finding relaxation only when he smoked marijuana.

“He was a beautiful soul, but he seemed to carry a lot of fire with him, a lot of deep sort of fire,” Moody says. “One minute he would be fine, and we would be all chatting, and the next minute he would sort of be wanting to be by himself, and he would kind of withdraw from everybody”.

His friends would give him some space, and a couple of hours later he would come back rejuvenated, Moody says.

As the boat sailed in early February 2001 to Melbourne, Dele’s self-journey came to a crossroads.

He received an e-mail from Jordan asking him to come out of retirement to play with him in Washington, D.C., with the Wizards.

Dele decided his new life was more important and said no, Beal says. Dele also hinted that he didn’t really need the money, because he was living comfortably off the interest of the estimated $5 million on which he had retired.

The Hakuna Matata arrived in Esperance, about halfway between Perth and Melbourne, on Valentine’s Day, and the group spent a few weeks there relaxing and working on the boat’s failing hydraulics before setting sail.

They arrived in Melbourne about a week later. Moody says they initially had tried to continue on to New Zealand but were forced back by a severe storm.

Evolution

Moody left Dele in Melbourne.

She says things were beginning to get romantic, and she was “nursing a broken heart” from a previous relationship.

Besides, she knew that Karlan was Dele’s true love.

Karlan was an on-again, off-again girlfriend whom Dele met when she was living in Los Angeles studying to be a makeup artist and he was playing for the Clippers.

“He spoke of Serena a lot,” Moody says. “Given who he was, he could have pretty much had the hand of anybody, I suppose, but Serena was his one love.”

Dele and Karlan hadn’t spoken after Karlan moved to New York to start her real estate career.

“He didn’t appreciate putting value on property. That was one of the reasons why they kind of split up,” Moody says.

After months of sailing around the South Seas and visiting Australia’s main cities, Beal decided to leave the boat and was replaced by skipper Ben Fitzgibbon in Surfer’s Paradise near Brisbane.

Fitzgibbon sailed the boat north of Australia and made his way through tiny clusters of islands, then headed back to Cairns, Australia, where they refitted the Hakuna Matata and hired on Mark Benson as a mate in April 2001. From there, they headed to Papua New Guinea.

By this time, Dele seemed to have relaxed into a different person from the fast-talking, emotionally energized Dele of months before.

“Brian was a fantastically intelligent man, very well-thought, very well-spoken,” Fitzgibbon says. “He rarely spoke without the need to speak. He didn’t like to talk about the past that much. He liked to focus on the now.”

Dele spent his time studying nature, diving, fishing and swimming.

“He enjoyed being away from that recognition,” Fitzgibbon says. “He didn’t agree with the way society worked. He couldn’t stand the capitalism and the greed, the corruption and the lies.

“He wanted to get out and be surrounded by good people.”

So Dele rekindled his last love, calling Karlan in New York and persuading her to come visit.

Love

On Oct. 16, 2001, Dele flew Karlan and Yvonne Moore, Benson’s girlfriend, to the tiny island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

Moore initially thought she would be visiting Benson for a few days, but Dele asked her to stay on, saying he would cover all of the costs.

“I felt quite uncomfortable with him covering the air fare and everything,” Moore says. “But he sort of said to me, ‘What did you get out of it? Do you think it’s worth it?’ ”

For the first few days, the couples enjoyed time alone.

But once they left the island, the group – Dele, Karlan, Benson, Moore, Fitzgibbon and cook Sheri Bromley – quickly became like family on the crowded boat.

“Every night we would sit out there and have dinner and have a couple of wines and a whole host of conversations,” Moore says. “Then we would all get up in the morning and have breakfast.

“We were doing all sorts of things of the rich and famous. And (Dele) was madly in love with his girlfriend. It was all great images, all wonderful, a fantastic time.”

Karlan was surprised at how well she got along with Dele, and for the first time seemed to be considering a serious relationship.

“They were always happy, laughing,” Moore says. “The trip sort of stirred something up inside of her.

“They looked like two people slowly falling in love.”

But as the two-week vacation became four, then six, then eight weeks, Karlan decided to go home.

“She gave it a lot of thought,” Moore says. “She was an intelligent girl. She wasn’t going to throw everything away, and she had commitments back at home.”

On Nov. 24, 2001, the Hakuna Matata arrived at the island of New Caledonia, between New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, and Karlan and Moore left.

The rest of the group hung around the island for a few months, hooking up with Bertrand Saldo, a skipper they first had met in Vanuatu who was touring the South Seas on a private yacht with his girlfriend. Saldo, 32, was the nephew of former French defense minister Charles Hernu.

Fitzgibbon talked Saldo into joining them in New Zealand at the beginning of 2002 so he could take over as skipper.

Olive branch

Dele had not given up on Karlan, wooing her with e-mails and phone calls during the two months she was gone. Karlan couldn’t let go of Dele, either, and she finally gave in. Dele sent $50,000 to help Karlan pay off her debt. She quit her job in New York, packed up her things and moved them to her parents’ home near Boulder. After a few weeks’ visit with her family, she flew to New Zealand and a new life with Dele.

The boat arrived in January in Opua’s Bay of Islands in New Zealand, where Karlan joined them.

The couple flew to Auckland to spend time alone, while Fitzgibbon and Benson stayed on the boat.

About four days after the couple left, Fitzgibbon received a call on the Hakuna Matata’s satellite phone, from Miles Dabord.

“He sounded very excited about our arrival,” Fitzgibbon says. “It was quite a surprise visit. (Dele) was quite unaware he was coming.”

Unemployed and nearly broke, Dabord had just abandoned most of his belongings at a Palo Alto, Calif., apartment where he owed more than $4,000 in back rent to Deanne Heinrichs, a former girlfriend.

Dabord hooked up with his brother and Karlan, then the three traveled back to the boat.

“When the three of them came up to the Bay of Islands, everyone was happy,” Fitzgibbon says.

Dabord confided in the skipper that he made the trip halfway around the world to patch things up with Dele.

“He said he had lost contact with his brother for a few years and that he wanted to regain that connection with him,” Fitzgibbon says. “He also was really interested in boats. He had a years-long dream to learn how to sail and understand boating.

“The guy was full of questions.”

As the boat, now loaded to capacity with eight people, sailed along the coast of New Zealand to the Great Barrier Island and Auckland, Dabord learned all that he could about sailing.

But for the most part, the Hakuna Matata, equipped with computer charts, an autopilot and an interactive image of the boat on a real-time map, could nearly sail herself.

During the three-month journey to Auckland, Saldo, Benson, Dabord, Dele and Karlan – the group that would end up in Tahiti – seemed to get along fine.

“Things were great,” Fitzgibbon says. “Bertrand (Saldo) was learning the boat, how to work it. (Dele) and (Dabord) seemed very relaxed. We had beautiful weather. The whole vibe seemed completely relaxed.”

Although everyone seemed to be having a good time, the brothers often argued.

Fitzgibbon dismissed the tiffs as “brotherly. But it did appear slightly childish at times.”

The two argued about who the best Formula 1 race car driver was, which motorcycle was better, who was better at a particular PlayStation game – small, irrelevant issues of which neither brother could seem to let go.

“They were both strong characters,” Fitzgibbon says. “(Dele) would stand his ground, and (Dabord) would stand his, and they would enter a discussion that would flare up to raised voices, but no physical confrontations.”

The brothers shared interests but seemed almost polar opposites on the boat. Dele was laid-back, spiritual and most at home while communing with nature and the sea.

Dabord was much more outgoing and friendly, amusing the crew with stories of the brothers’ childhood, but he was very clumsy in the confines of the boat.

Dabord was obviously proud of his brother’s wealth and former career – often quoting scores and games statistics to Dele’s friends – but that pride sometimes was overshadowed by jealousy.

“He didn’t have as much money, wasn’t as good-looking and was slightly overweight,” Fitzgibbon says. “But that was just basic jealousy most humans would have. There was no way I could have known what was going to happen.”

This bitterness seemed most evident when Dele wasn’t around.

“He’d say things like, ‘Oh, yeah, (Dele) always thinks he’s right,’ or, ‘My brother, he always has to have it his way,’ ” Fitzgibbon says.

In early February, Heinrichs tracked Dabord down and e-mailed him, demanding he pay her the back rent.

On Feb. 18, Dabord replied, writing in part:

“I am flat broke, unemployed, and without a home of my own. Do you think I would have abandoned most of my things to a salvage sale if I’d had any other choice? If you think I’ve f—-ed you over, Deanne, believe me, I am triply f—-ed, and unlike you, without an end in sight.

“I am out of the country right now, and I don’t know when or if I’m going to return. A fresh start in a completely new place is looking really good to me right now.”

Vanished

On May 29, the Hakuna Matata left Auckland for Tahiti with Saldo, Benson and Dabord.

Dele and Karlan decided to fly instead, leaving the next day.

Although Dele was worried about Karlan getting seasick, Fitzgibbon says, the main reason they decided to forgo the long voyage was because of Dabord.

Dele “was feeling a little crowded by (Dabord’s) presence,” Fitzgibbon says. “He never would have asked him to leave. (Dabord) was his brother, and his boat was his brother’s as far as he was concerned.”

About that time, Dele apparently spoke with his friend and financial manager Kevin Porter and expressed concern about his brother’s behavior, according to Porter’s statement to Phoenix police. Dele added that he might want to cut his brother off financially because of his pattern of wasteful spending and irresponsible financial ventures, the police report says. Porter says he didn’t say that to police.

The Hakuna Matata arrived in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, on June 19, the voyage taking only three weeks, apparently in part because of Dabord.

“He seemed to enjoy taking on a bit of a commanding role in his brother’s absence,” says Fitzgibbon, who talked to Mark Benson at length after the trip. “He was fairly demanding on how fast he wanted to go and where and when they could stop.

“He did become a little bossy to a degree, but not in an aggressive sense.”

On June 21, the boat sailed to the nearby island of Moorea, where Dele and Karlan had spent the previous three weeks in the bungalows of Sofitel Coralia la Ora Hotel.

Three days later, the entire group sailed back to Tahiti. On July 2, Benson flew back to Australia, and on July 6, the Hakuna Matata set sail for Honolulu with Dele, Dabord, Karlan and Saldo on board.

According to the FBI, sometime on the morning of July 7, Dele, Karlan and Saldo were killed off the shore of Maiao, about 75 miles from Papeete.

The next day, Dabord docked the boat in Moorea, where he met his girlfriend of two years, Erica Wiese. She had booked a trip to the island months earlier. The two spent a week in the Pearl Beach Resort taking in the sun and going on at least one trip with other tourists to a nearby atoll.

Wiese later said that Dabord never had planned on sailing with his brother to Hawaii. Instead, the plan was for him to vacation with Wiese, then fly home with her.

In the four days after Wiese left Tahiti, Dabord moved the Hakuna Matata, now renamed the Aria Bella, to a Tahitian port and cleaned it up. Then he flew back to the apartment he shared with Wiese in Palo Alto, Calif.

Confession

Dabord spent the next month and a half traveling between California, Miami and Belize, trying to set up the purchase of $152,000 in gold coins in Phoenix using his brother’s name, checking account and passport. On Sept. 5, Phoenix police arrested Dabord when he tried to get the gold.

Shortly after his arrest, while sitting in the back of a patrol car, Dabord told an officer how proud he was of his brother, bragging about what a good basketball player he was. The officer asked Dabord if he played. Dabord replied, “No. Brian got all the luck and talent in the family.”

He added that he wasn’t working and that his brother “took care of him and that he was driving around in a new Lincoln Navigator that his brother gave him.”

In the seven hours of interviews that followed, Dabord seemed nearly manic – at times soaking in a nervous sweat, shaking and on the verge of crying, then later laughing, smiling and even shaking an officer’s hand, according to the police report.

Unable to get Dabord to tell them where Dele, Karlan and Saldo were, police allowed Dele’s friend Porter to interview him.

Dabord told Porter that Dele had asked him to buy the gold, but wouldn’t say why, adding, “sometimes you just gotta look out for yourself.”

When asked whether Karlan and Dele were alive, Dabord said they were when he left.

Police released Dabord because they couldn’t prove he wasn’t acting on behalf of his brother.

The next day, Dabord flew to see Wiese, and they drove to San Ysidro, Calif., she says. In the morning, Dabord confessed, telling Wiese that Karlan had died when he accidentally knocked her down and she hit her head. Dabord said Dele then killed Saldo because the captain wanted to report the death. Dabord said he then killed his brother in self-defense.

He told Wiese he weighted down the bodies and threw them overboard.

Dabord also told his freind Paul White that he acted in self-defense. White says the account differs from Wiese’s, but he has yet to share it publicly.

After confessing to Wiese, Dabord said goodbye and fled to Tijuana.

He spent a week in the area before someone found him comatose, sitting on a park bench overlooking a Tijuana beach.

On Sept. 27, Dabord died, a day after being removed from life-support.

The FBI and French authorities don’t believe Dabord’s account of what happened on the Hakuna Matata, saying forensic evidence doesn’t match with his story.

John “JC” Steiner, who is overseeing the FBI investigation into the triple homicide, says not enough blood residue was found on the teak deck of the boat to account for Dabord’s story. But investigators still believe that Dele’s custom-made 10 mm Glock, which was on the boat, could have been the murder weapon.

Authorities continue to investigate.

“Nobody wants a grassy knoll at the end of their investigation,” Steiner says. “But we may never know exactly what happened. We may just have to piece it together.”

Unfathomable

People close to Dabord are incredulous. The idea that Dabord is a calculated killer is absurd. Dabord never so much as raised a hand to anyone, they say.

Even Porter, one of Dele’s best friends, can’t fathom the final moments on the Hakuna Matata.

“I may have seen siblings arguing, but nothing to lose sleep over,” Porter says. “They are two big, grown adults and at times it seems like one would try to establish the alpha over the other, and you just let them go. But I’ve never seen them raise a hand to anyone.”

Vickie Thun, 39, met Dabord in 1990. She was his girlfriend for about a year before ending the romantic relationship. They have been friends for more than a decade, even living together after they broke up. Like Dele’s friend Porter, like Dabord’s best friend Paul White, Thun says Dabord never found himself.

“Miles had so many great qualities,” she says. “He just couldn’t get it together. He had so many wonderful tools. It was just such a tragedy.”

Dabord’s struggles stemmed from his childhood. He never got over the abuse, friends and family say.

“It’s all true,” Phillips says. “It was like the punishment that always went too far. It was just such mental abuse. It was true of both of them. It’s true of Brian. He never got it any more together than Miles. Money covered up a lot of things. Money made a whole different persona possible. But if you’d taken away the money, there wouldn’t be any difference between Miles and Brian.”

Dele’s millions liberated him. He explored the world. He spent freely. He was benevolent.

“I’ve been in Mexico with him, and there’s a lot of unfortunate and impoverished people down there,” Porter says. “There was a time he just opened his wallet up and started giving people money.”

He gave Phillips $5,000 a month, an “allowance.” Porter says Dele gave Dabord money, too. He financed Dabord’s education. He gave Dabord the Lincoln Navigator. According to the Phoenix police report, Dele told Porter he planned to cut Dabord off. But Porter says that’s not true.

“As far as me saying I had conversations with B about cutting Miles off, that is totally false,” Porter says. “Cutting him off what? He wasn’t on any monthly salary.”

By the time Dabord joined Dele on the boat, the two had been estranged for years. Some say Dabord was jealous of his brother’s success. People close to Dabord say envy wasn’t the issue.

“Miles was certainly no monster,” says White, Dabord’s childhood friend. “He certainly had no animosity toward his brother based on his brother’s fame. If there was any animosity there, it was based on the fact that his brother was an a—hole to him, a jerk.”

White says once Dele found success in basketball, he became aloof.

“They began to have a rift because Brian gained more notoriety, particularly in college,” White says. “Some people can deal with that better than others. Brian was a person who didn’t really deal with it all that well. Instead of being the kind of shy but funny and sweet kid that he was when he was younger, he began to buy into the cult of celebrity. That began to cause the rift between Miles and Brian.”

But Dele never lived the typical NBA life. He did not hang out with teammates. Once practice ended, he left the game at the arena. Even after he retired, Dele was reluctant to even admit he had been a basketball player. His interests were elsewhere. Travel. Art. Books. Music. People.

Former Nuggets head coach Mike Evans, who was an assistant coach when Dele played in Denver, remembers a complex man.

“He had a lot more going on in his mind and in his life than just basketball,” says Evans, whose wife, Kim, is a cousin in Dele’s family. “He had a lot of other interests, poetry and music being two of them. He spent a lot of time writing. He took a lot of things to heart. He was a very sensitive guy.”

When he played well, he was happy. But often he couldn’t find the energy to perform on the court.

“Some days or nights he’d just say, ‘It’s not there. I’m searching for it,’ ” Evans says. “We would just tell him to keep searching, to search harder.”

But Evans knew, as many of Dele’s teammates knew, that Dele could walk away from basketball at any moment.

“I just thought that Brian was using basketball as a means to an end,” Evans says. “He had other things in mind. I think that may have been what his ultimate goal was, to accumulate enough money where he didn’t really have to work or want for anything.”

Bryant Stith, a longtime Nuggets member who now plays for the Clippers, says Dele was an enigma.

“One time he was questioning the flight attendants, ‘What would happen if I would open this door right now?’ ” Stith says. “We are 30,000 feet up in the air. Everybody is looking at Brian. What would make you ask that question? We all just kept our eye on him for the rest of the trip. He was a very curious person. If he had something on his mind, he would say it.”

Stith says Dele belied the typical NBA persona.

“When I think of Brian, I just think about how smart he was,” Stith says. “I was most impressed with his intellect.”

David Ricciardo, Dele’s personal chef and friend, says Dele was an eclectic man who was at times tortured by his thoughts.

“Sometimes I think his mind overwhelmed him in how much he could think about things,” Ricciardo says.

Ricciardo says Dele confided in him, explained the dark times and clinical depression that led to a suicide attempt when Dele was a rookie with the Orlando Magic.

“He told me he just wasn’t happy, felt overwhelmed, wasn’t happy with what was going on in his life,” Ricciardo says. “He seemed to be happy in Denver.”

Nuggets media relations manager Tommy Sheppard says Dele was unlike any player he has met.

“He cared about people,” Sheppard says. “He was so well-read. You’ve got a lot of Cliffs Notes people in the world. Anybody can pick up USA Today. But he really enjoyed literature, all kinds of music. There’s a certain degree of jealousy from anyone who interacts with him – I wish I could do that.

“He walked between the raindrops.”

The blurry end

A final analysis is impossible.

The brothers are painted as kind, sensitive, intelligent. But each brother had a dark side. Dabord has been portrayed as the angry, jealous man who killed three people before killing himself. Dele is the nomad, a man who loved life, loved people, lived for experience.

Those close to both say those pictures are incomplete.

“What I know about both of my sons doesn’t lead me to any possibility of either of them being coldblooded killers,” Phillips says. “Brian’s always painted as the innocent, carefree, lovable guy, but he has another side, too. Miles is being painted as this murderous monster, but he has another side, too.”

No one is likely to figure out exactly what happened on the boat.

“We have only one dead body to account for four people’s lives,” Phillips says. “The only person I know for sure is dead is Miles. I laid my hands on my son’s cold, lifeless body… . I’m left to live out my life with the supposition that Brian, Serena and Bertrand are dead, too.”

And Phillips lives with the fact that Dabord estranged himself from her off and on for a decade. Before Dabord called her in September, she hadn’t spoken to him in three years. White, Dabord’s longtime friend, says Dabord never let go of his childhood.

“I will say this: Both Miles and Brian dealt with personal demons that stemmed from their childhood,” White says. “It was just for his own peace of mind that he decided it would be better for him to not really have a relationship since they had these unresolved issues. It was better for him to just be by himself.”

But Phillips says Dabord’s frantic phone calls just before he overdosed say it all.

“Why did Miles call me the last three days of his life?” she says. “I’m the beginning and the end – all that stuff in the middle, who knows and who cares?

“But it’s true, Miles never really got over it.”

Nothing explains July 7. Family friend Bryan Payton, who knew both men, says that even when the brothers argued, there was respect and love.

“B was talking about leaving college to go to the NBA,” Payton says. “Miles was saying, ‘Stay in college.’ It was kind of argumentative. I didn’t think they were going to come to blows. They were just talking at the top of their lungs.

“Neither gave in, but when we got to our destination, they hugged and made up. They said they respected each other’s opinions. It was beautiful.”

Phillips, Eugene Williams and all who knew Dele, Dabord, Karlan and Saldo are left with memories and speculation. Why are four people dead? If Dabord was innocent, as he told Phillips he was, why did he overdose?

Phillips says Dabord contacted a defense attorney when he returned to the United States.

“The attorney told him it would cost $100,000 to $200,000 to defend him,” Phillips says. “He told Miles that nobody would believe his story. Miles said to me, ‘Mom, I can’t go to prison. You know what kind of person I am. I’m this big guy with a deep voice that is not a fighter. Inside a week, I’d be miserable. I’d get beaten up all the time. I’d be somebody’s sex slave.’”

Phillips pleaded with her son.

“I begged him,” she says. “I said, ‘That’s one attorney’s opinion. We’ll go to a different attorney.

“He said, ‘Mom, I’ve come to the end of my life.’ ”

This story original ran in the Rocky Mountain News on Oct. 12, 2002

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