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On the night of June 15, 2016, Paul Murray traveled from Marathon, where he lived just offshore on his boat in Boot Key Harbor, south to a Stock Island marina where he was going to help a New York man named Donny Vanaria sail his newly renovated boat to the Middle Keys.
Early the next morning, the boat, named the Hornet, was found grounded in the rocks, not far from Robbie’s Marina, where it left.
No one was found on board, and no one has reported seeing or hearing from either Murray, 50, or Vanaria, 31, ever since. Except for this: A man known only as “Red” told Murray’s father that Vanaria returned to the marina on his dinghy and asked Red to take care of his dog because he had to leave town immediately.
“He basically dropped off the face of the earth that day,” Bill Murray, Paul’s father, said from his home in Michigan on Thursday. “Nothing prepares you for this.”
Bill Murray said Paul sold Vanaria the Hornet, which he also repaired.
“He grew up sailing with me since he was 4,” the elder Murray said.
Paul Murray lived on his sailboat in Boot Key Harbor for about two years, his father said, and he used his mother’s house in Naples, Florida, as a home base. According to the original Monroe County Sheriff’s Office report on the case, Murray and Vanaria planned to sail the Hornet to Boot Key Harbor.
Detectives have not been able to locate Vanaria to ask him about the case, and it’s not clear if anyone outside of law enforcement or Murray’s family is interested in his whereabouts.
Monroe County sheriff’s Detective Bernardo Barrios said a Homeland Security Investigations agent had Vanaria’s home in Brooklyn under surveillance for about a week recently, but no one ever showed up.
“Nothing’s ever turned up about him,” Bill Murray said. “It’s completely under the radar.”
The only reason detectives know that Paul Murray was even on the Hornet that day is because people at the marina, including Red and Vanaria’s girlfriend at the time, a woman identified as Janet Simon, said he came to help Vanaria sail it to Boot Key Harbor.
FLKeysNews.com tried reaching a woman listed as Vanaria’s financé in his August 2014 arrest report for misdemeanor battery, but calls to the cellphone number given on the affidavit went unanswered and did not go to a voice mail. Similarly, the cellphone number listed on the report as belonging to Vanaria is no longer operational.
Barrios said recent calls to Simon go directly to a message stating the number has been disconnected. Barrios also said Vanaria’s family has not been able to be reached recently.
“They spoke at first,” Barrios said. But now, “there’s no loose ends, nothing to follow up on or to look at.”
“As of this date, no one has heard from Donald Vanaria,” Barrios said.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office detectives are asking anyone with information on the case to call the Major Crimes Unit at 305-289-2410. Anonymous tips can also be called in to Miami-Dade and Florida Keys Crimestoppers at 305-471-8471. Tips can also be submitted online at www.FloridaKeysCrimestoppers.com.