13 August 2023

Fodder for Great Crime Stories: Amateur scuba divers

Recently, stories have appeared in the news about amateur scuba divers helping solve missing persons cold cases. 

In Florida, the team of Ken Fleming and Doug Bishop found 60 submerged cars statewide. Also, the controversial Youtube sensation, Jared Leisek, an Oregon entrepreneur who heads Adventures with Purpose, works with volunteer salvage divers to help families find their loved ones. 

Amateur scuba divers solving cold cases has all the makings of a new series of crime novels. I wish someone would write these because they’ve been bouncing around in my fantasies for decades.

About thirty years ago my husband talked me into learning scuba diving. He was trained by an army scuba diver, so he’s extremely competent and also has a great deal of talent. I got trained at a resort, and that, along with my lack of natural talent, made me a competent but not even close to excellent diver. When the children came along, they got the scuba diving fever and certified at eleven and twelve. They have their father’s talent and scuba diving became our family sport.

Over the years, we’ve had wonderful dive adventures and often, as I putter behind my elegant family of divers, I’ve fantasied about helping solve cold cases by discovering guns and bodies by diving expertly to places other divers haven’t gone. This is exactly what I do when watching gymnasts, where I picture elegant tumbling moves while trudging to the kitchen to get more popcorn.

A childhood friend and English teacher recently bemoaned her lack of writing skills by saying, “Those who can do, those who can’t, teach.”. This quote by Bernard Bernard Shaw from his 1905 stage play Man and Superman is often taken out of context and wasn’t meant to demean teachers per se. In fact, as a daughter of scientists - even though I loved Shaw in my teenage years - I also knew this quote is inaccurately used when applied to teachers, because the best scientists, the most competent researchers, taught.

I do think that, for me and maybe me alone, a riff on this quote would be accurate: Those who can do, those who can’t, write about it.

With the pandemic, we haven’t been diving in years, but one of our last dive trips set off a fantasy of a perfect crime, fostered by my fury. We were diving in the Bahamas where, I learned afterwards, they were also feeding sharks. So, when we all innocently did a back roll water entry, an entry where you sit at the edge of the boat with your back against the water, with your regulator in your mouth, held in place with your left hand while your right hand holds the back of your head to prevent your skull from smacking into the first stage regulator when you hit the water. Then, point your chin toward your chest and gently fall backwards. You do a little somersault, pop right back up but it is a tad disorienting.

We headed down into the water and when we were about 30 feet down, I turned to check with my designated ‘buddy’, my son, and saw a shark between us. I looked up, and there were sharks, I looked below and there were sharks. It was simply awful.

We have seen sharks previously, but they keep their distance and leave quickly. Never have we had sharks surround us for a dive. When I got back on the dive boat, I was not just frightened, I was perplexed by the unusual behaviour of the sharks. When I asked about it, our dive master – who looked about twelve years old - explained cheerfully that they feed the sharks to teach divers how friendly they are and, by making friends with sharks, it helps with their conservation.

I was raised by a biologist father who took me on many field trips and he and his colleagues spoke often about conservation. It made me not just an animal lover but also a conservationist. To truly protect animals, you need to also listen to the experts studying them and not anthropomorphize them. Sharks deserve to be protected and can be best protected by not misunderstanding them. A shark is not your friend when they are swimming beside you in hopes of food. It takes one woman on her period or one inadvertent coral cut to put blood int the water and turn you into prey. I’m not a biologist, so I’ll use a term I hope is also used by experts to describe this behaviour: it’s nuts.

As we headed back to shore on the dive boat, my fury gave rise to a plot: chum the waters near a cheerful, far too young dive master (who might be an heiress to millions), and you have a perfect crime.

As I said, those who do, do, those who can’t write – or in my case – fantasize.

On our next dive trip I ensured that the country we went scuba diving banned shark feedings – many of them have – and we had lovely dives where sharks kept their distance.

So, from solving cold cases to creating a perfect murder scenes, amateur scuba diving provides a wealth of story ideas. I’m sure I’ll think of more stories the next time I putter behind my elegant family, pretending I am them.


  1. Good ideas that should send you straight to the keyboard!

  2. I so hope someone writes about an intrepid amateur scuba diver solving cold case. It would make a great series.

  3. Replies
    1. I'm sure that's a scientific term...

  4. I also read Shaw in my teens. I recall being impressed with one flight or another, but to my chagrin, I’m finding it difficult to catch them. I also recall diving stories as a kid, but I’m a total blank to name one.

    The Leisek AWP article is fascinating. Speak of a diver with feet of clay…

    I love the water and have been fascinated with SCUBA diving since I was a boy. I’d toss a penny in a pool and then submerge to find it. Merit badges, Red Cross badges, life-saving courses I soaked up. Underwater acrobatics appealed to me. I snorkeled in Barbados and Bahamas and Bonaire, and I took SCUBA instruction in Boston… where I failed miserably. Oh, I did the pool training and the mandatory ocean dives, but (no laughing or I told you so!) my head has a serious, apparently incurable defect. Sinuses. Doctors and drugs could not relieve the crushing pressure in my forehead. During a mining pit dive, I determinedly set out to break through the pain, which set in at a pathetic six metres… 20 bloody feet. But down I went as the aches felt like steel vices until I realized I was on the verge of blacking out. I surfaced, ashamed and bewildered, because I wanted so much to do this. I didn’t lose consciousness, but never-ending migraines beset me for a week. My imagination had no ceiling but my skull definitely had a glass floor. It limited me forever to a snorkel world.

    But read about it? Oh yeah. It’s been a long time, but I think some of the Travis McGee stories involved diving. I think you should write diving stories, Mary. Decidedly. Definitely.

  5. I'm so sorry about the anatomy of your ears, Leigh, and that's not a failure - it's anatomy. https://pros-blog.padi.com/difficulty-equalizing-technique-or-anatomy/ Sometimes an experienced dive master (who is older than 16) can help equalize, but it requires a long time equalizing and many just push on through for time reasons, resulting in injury. Sometimes anatomy bites us in the ear and it's not possible.


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