On Sept. 13, 1988, Susan Barnes, Jon Martin and Terry Segrest, Martin's girlfriend, anchored their 17-foot boat next to the enormous granite blocks that form one of the two St. Andrews State Park jetties in Panama City, Fla. It was a pleasant afternoon, and they had just finished a picnic lunch when they decided to go for a leisurely swim. Soon, the two young women saw porpoises rolling in the surf nearby. Back they climbed into the boat. Martin, still in the water, chided them for being afraid.
"I'm not afraid of them," Barnes retorted. "I just don't want to be in the water while they're around me."
Martin, according to the Florida Marine Patrol report, continued to tease the women about sharks, humming the drumming score from Jaws, knocking and jolting the boat like Peter Benchley's great white shark. Suddenly Martin jerked spasmodically. "Help me, help me!" he yelled.
Even when Barnes saw a six-foot black shape beside Martin, she thought he was joking, extending his leg out to look like a shark. But when he began reaching underwater to fight something off, the two women screamed and tried desperately to pull him into the boat.
His hands were in shreds. Each woman grabbed an arm, but at 220 pounds, Martin was too heavy to lift. The shark bit down on his right leg, just below the knee, and hung on until the grisly tug-of-war stripped all the flesh off the bone. Martin went into shock. The women managed to lift him halfway into the boat, when the shark circled back for another attack. They held on to Martin as the shark shook him, tearing a massive chunk out of his right thigh. The women got a close-up look at its dark-gray 18-inch-wide head, its rounded nose and its smooth triangular teeth. From their description, experts later surmised that the attacker was a bull shark, a known man-eater.
Segrest told Barnes to start the motor, hoping to scare the shark away and pull her boyfriend to the beach. But when Barnes hit the switch, the boat lurched forward and stalled, and Martin was jerked from Segrest's grasp. People in a passing boat had heard the women's screams and seen the bedlam. They rushed to help. Martin lay face down in a bloody sea. The rescuers gaffed his bathing suit, and pulled him to the beach. He was dead.
When Martin knocked on the boat, he may have caused the fatal attack. Scientists know that sharks detect and home in on low-frequency sounds (between 50 and 1,000 hertz). Polynesian shark fishermen traditionally pound the gunwales of their boats with clubs to draw schools of the predators. During the attack, Barnes and Segrest had seen two other sharks circling the boat.
About half an hour later, the dive boat Capt. Scuba II, held inshore by hurricane-caused turbulence and murkiness out in the open Gulf of Mexico, dropped anchor near the site of the fatal attack. Ignorant of what had just happened, a group of vacationers put on masks, fins and snorkels, and dived into the water to explore the St. Andrews jetties. Claude Perdue Jr., from Kingsport, Tenn., and two friends were stroking toward the jetties when Perdue felt his left flipper bump something. Instinctively he drew his leg up to see what it was. Then a shadow behind him darted in, grabbed the fin off his right foot and sped on. Perdue and his friends bolted across the water to the nearest boat, 50 yards away. The other divers were piling in behind him when they heard screams of "Shark!" coming from the shore.
Harold and Dorothy Hadden, of McDonough, Ga., had also been on the Capt. Scuba II, but swam off toward an area known as Shell Island Beach instead of toward the jetties. They noticed a dark shape circling them as they swam and waded in the shallows, and thought it was a porpoise. Suddenly, a shark's head rose out of the water and grabbed the woman's right arm in its teeth. She screamed as her husband kicked at the attacker. The shark let go. Hadden had gotten his body between the shark and his wife, shouting for her to get to the beach. The fish kept coming, and he kept pounding it, abrading his hands on its rasping hide, kicking out, pushing it away. His fist went into the shark's mouth and it clamped down, inflicting severe puncture wounds on his arm, but the fish let go as the couple backed into the surf line. After the bleeding pair had fought to where the waves were breaking, the shark ended its attack.
Mike Haglund, captain of Capt. Scuba II, radioed the Coast Guard for help. While they waited, Haglund and his mate watched a large shark—possibly the killer fish—swimming up and down the shoreline. "It acted funny," he recalled. "It didn't seem to be in any kind of rush, it didn't go anywhere or try to get away. I've seen a lot of sharks in my time," he said, "but I've never seen one like that."