1974 murder victim still awaits burial

Malcolm and Muff Graham

December 17, 1966 -- "Muff" and Malcolm Graham Jr. sipping coffee here in happier days after returning from an around-the-world sail aboard Sea Wind that took five years and eight months.San Diego History Center /Union-Tribune collection

While researching the case of a San Diego sailing couple brutally murdered on Palmyra Island in 1974, retired L.A. deputy public defender Tom Bucy, made a surprising discovery.A law school student in Hawaii had written an article about handling a bag containing the skull of one of the victims in the spring of 2009 during a classroom lecture by an FBI agent.

Bucy was amazed that the remains of slain sailor Eleanor “Muff” Graham remained unclaimed in FBI storage so long after the trial instead of receiving a proper burial, and he vowed to do something about it.

Graham and her husband, Malcolm “Mac” Graham, had disappeared on Aug. 29, 1974, after sailing about 970 miles south from Hawaii to the Palmyra atoll. The home port for their sailboat, the Sea Wind, was a marina on Shelter Island, and they were well known in the San Diego sailing community.

Shortly after the Grahams’ disappearance, an ex-convict and his girlfriend were arrested for stealing the Sea Wind, but they weren’t charged with murder until a traveling sailor stumbled across Muff’s remains on the Palmyra beach in 1981. Her broken and bleached bones were spilling out of a half-buried metal chest that apparently had washed ashore.

Her husband’s body, presumed to have been dumped at sea, has never been found.

The ex-con, Buck Duane Walker, and his girlfriend, Stephanie Stearns, had arrived at Palmyra in their shabby, poorly stocked boat while the Grahams were anchored there.

Walker was tried first, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Muff’s murder, thanks, in part, to the testimony of a fellow inmate to whom he’d made a jailhouse confession. Suffering from terminal cancer, he was paroled in 2007 and has since died.

While Walker was represented by a public defender, Stearns, from a well-to-do family, was defended by high-profile attorney Vincent Bugliosi,Charles Manson’s prosecutor. She was acquitted.

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