It was the last time ElHusseini saw his dearest friend. Not long after that visit Dele relocated to Perth, where he fulfilled a lifelong dream by learning to sail. He bought the Hakuna Matata, Swahili for No Worries, and explored the waters off western Australia, all the while using his satellite phone and wireless Internet connection to leave cryptic messages for his friends. One of them, Lee Ann Jarvis, says she would often receive voice mails in which Dele, never leaving his name, read haikus. Byrne last heard from Dele last February, when he received an e-mail that read simply, "Here i am, wasn't i?"
By that time Serena Karlan had joined Dele in Auckland, New Zealand. They had dated off and on during the 1990s, and after last Sept. 11 he called her in New York City, where Karlan had begun work as a real estate agent. According to Scott Ohlgren, Karlan's stepfather, Dele was concerned about her safety after the terrorist attacks and invited her to meet him in Australia. She spent five weeks there, three more than planned, then returned home. When Dele asked her to come back and sail with him full-time, Karlan resisted—she was concerned about the commitment and fearful of falling into debt—until Dele sent her a $50,000 check with a note: "This is what I think of your financial difficulties."
Witnesses in the South Pacific describe a couple that appeared to be deeply in love. In New Zealand's Bay of Islands they snorkeled and lounged on the deck of the catamaran, an immense turquoise craft with tinted windows, a high-powered dinghy and a Jet Ski. On Moorea, a French Polynesian island where jagged peaks rise like sentries out of white-sand beaches, Dele and Karlan rented a thatched over-water bungalow and spent their days tooling around on a scooter.
In mid-June they were joined in Moorea by Dabord. The brothers had a complex relationship. Dabord had completed a Microsoft systems engineering course paid for by Dele, and yet, as Phillips told Phoenix police two weeks ago, he "had always been jealous of his brother, Brian, for being successful in the NBA. Miles was also jealous of the money that Brian had and was always requesting money from him.... Usually once Brian provides Miles with money, [Miles] leave[s] and is not heard from until his next financial blunder."
In the Phoenix police report Kevin Porter, Dele's business manager, says Dele had tired of bailing out his brother and had discussed "ceasing financial assistance to Miles" after Dabord had showed up unexpectedly in New Zealand earlier this year. Dabord sailed briefly with Dele and Karlan before returning home to the Bay Area, then rejoined them in Moorea. Police in Tahiti are still trying to determine what happened after they departed for Hawaii on July 7, but on July 16 a man who witnesses say matched the description of Dabord piloted a 55-foot catamaran into the Pha�ton Bay Marina in Taravao, on Tahiti's southeastern shore. The vinyl letters spelling the boat's name had been removed from its stern—the craft was reregistered as the Aria Bella—Dele, Karlan and Saldo were nowhere to be seen, and police later found blood traces and gunpowder residue aboard. "We presume that the bodies of these people must be in the sea, the ocean, and will probably never be found," Michel Marotte, Tahiti's chief prosecutor, said last week.
A towering figure himself at 6'8" and 270 pounds, Dabord always craved the attention Dele received, and on Sept. 5 he finally got it. After arousing the suspicions of Porter and others by trying to buy $152,000 in gold from Certified Mint, a Phoenix coin dealer, through the mail with one of his brother's personal checks, Dabord showed up at the dealership, where police were waiting. He claimed to be Brian Williams and carried his brother's passport and two of his credit cards. Dabord was arrested on three counts of forgery. After Dabord admitted his true identity, police say, an officer asked if he played basketball. "No," Dabord replied. "Brian got all the luck and talent in the family."
Patricia Phillips told police that Dabord was "capable of extremely violent behavior when he doesn't get his way," attributing it to the steroids he took for chronic asthma. Authorities in Phoenix released Dabord, however, citing a lack of evidence. On Sept. 11, as news of Dele's disappearance began to spread, Dabord reportedly called Phillips at her apartment in Los Angeles. She told The New York Times that, before threatening to kill himself, her son said, "I found something and I tried to cover it up, but I didn't do what they're saying. No one will believe me."
On Sept. 15 Mexican police found a large man on a beach not far from the U.S. border, comatose and wearing nothing but a pair of white tube socks. Four days later fingerprints taken at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Chula Vista determined that the unidentified patient was Dabord, who, according to his mother, had overdosed on insulin.
From his home in Beirut, ElHusseini can't help but note the eerie parallels between the presumed murder of Dele and the plot of one of Dele's favorite movies. "It was Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man" he says. "It tells the story about a dead man's journey, except the dead man doesn't know he's dead." In the film, a sort of Western noir, Johnny Depp plays a doomed seeker who, in the final scene, drifts off peacefully into the Pacific, the victim of a fatal gunshot wound. Depp's character is named, aptly enough, William Blake. "If Brian had to choose the way he was going to die, he would have loved the Shakespearean quality of this," says Jarvis. "I don't think he would have wished it was by Miles's hand, but he would have loved the drama."