Royal Viking Star - August 19, 1989
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Royal Viking Star Passenger, August 19, 1989
Time of Death is unknown
A wealthy San Francisco socialite was murdered aboard the cruise ship Royal Viking Star on August 19, 1989.
Muriel Collins Barnett, 80, was the widow of wealthy San Francisco lawyer Phillip Barnett. Muriel Barnett was viciously murdered during the cruise by her servant, Robert William Dion Frisbee, age 59, who was the homosexual lover of her deceased husband.
Barnett lived in one of the ritziest apartment buildings on Russian Hill also known as Nob Hill, in San Francisco, California. She traveled the world aboard cruise ships after her husband died two years prior, leaving her $3.7 million. The estate was valued at an estimated at $6 million when she was murdered.
Mrs. Barnett was found in her luxury $2,000 a day suite she shared on the Royal Viking Star with Frisbee. She had been beaten to death, her skull split open by a bottle of champagne, with blood splattered all over the cabin.
The Royal Viking Star was on an Alaskan cruise; Barnett and Frisbee were staying in an $18,000 luxury penthouse suite, which had sailed from San Francisco with a stop in British Columbia, Canada. Barnett was murdered right after the ship left Canada enroute for San Francisco. This put jurisdiction in the hands of the Canadians. However, when the cruise ship docked in San Francisco, California, the State of California seized jurisdiction and placed Frisbee into custody.
Frisbee was employed by Barnett, and is thought to have killed Barnett for the six million dollars she inherited from her husband, when he had passed away.
The United States attempted to put Frisbee on trial. Court documents state, "On August 19, 1985, defendant Robert Frisbee was indicted for first degree murder in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. section 1111 (West Supp.1985). The murder allegedly occurred on a commercial cruise ship that was sailing to the port of San Francisco in Pacific waters off the coast of California.
After the cruise ship docked in San Francisco, authorities arrested the defendant. In the course of an interview, Frisbee reportedly indicated that, to the best of his knowledge, he was the only person in the room other than the victim at the time the murder allegedly occurred. United States v. Frisbee, No. CR-85-0762 EFL (N.D.Cal.1985) (Detention Order).
Frisbee also allegedly stated to the investigating authorities that he "did believe he committed the crime, in view of the fact that no one else was in the room at the time." Id. (quoting an affidavit of Jan K. Smith, Special Agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation). According to psychiatric reports submitted to the Court by the defendant's counsel, the defendant has, however, never had any recollection of the actual events surrounding the death of the deceased. The reports also indicate that the defendant has suffered from periodic blackouts or seizures and from amnesia, all caused by serious alcohol abuse over many years.
As the case began the court heard, "Pursuant to rule 12.2(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the defendant has given notice to the government that he "intends to introduce expert testimony relating to a mental disease or defect or ... other mental condition of the defendant bearing upon the issue of his guilt ...." Fed.R.Crim.P. 12.2(b). More specifically, the defendant has indicated that he will offer expert testimony supporting his contention that due to some combination of pathological intoxication, organic brain damage, and an alcoholic blackout or seizure, he did not possess the requisite specific intent during the relevant time period to have committed first degree murder.
Thanks to a simple error by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. federal prosecutors were unable to bring a murder case against Robert Frisbee, which they had spent six months investigating. The crime actually occurred in Canada. "It's very frustrating," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dondero said of the discovery that the Royal Star Viking cruise ship was sailing in Canadian, not American, waters when Bennett was murdered.
Frisbee's current attorney, V. Roy Lefcourt contacted a Canadian attorney, William Deverell, who began to represent Frisbee for his Canadian trial.
Deverell, who was also an author, wrote a book which describes the case in great detail on 383 pages, A Life On Trial, the Case of Robert Frisbee. In the book he describes the case, "... cast of characters included names that seemed too absurd for any novel: Robert William Dion Frisbee, Concerta DeLuca, Michael Michael, Milagro Dearnaley, Inspector Klotz and the Reverend Dan Kazakes."
Mr. Frisbee, her private secretary and companion as well as her late husband's private secretary and homosexual partner, said he was in the cabin at the time but did not remember what happened. Frisbee had been hired by Mr Barnett in 1967, when he was 40-years-old.
Frisbee did the cooking, worked as her driver, managed her accounts, and cared for her personal needs.
Frisbee was described in court as an alcoholic and frequent user of tranquilizers. He said he had taken a nap after having two stiff drinks and two Librium capsules and suggested that Mrs. Barnett had fallen and struck her head. He told prosecutors, "I have no idea what happened."
According to psychiatric reports submitted to the Court by Frisbee's counsel, the defendant had no recollection of the actual events surrounding the death of the deceased. The reports also indicate that the defendant has suffered from periodic blackouts or seizures and from amnesia, all caused by serious alcohol abuse over many years.
The Canadian prosecutor argued that Mr. Frisbee had acquired a taste for the expensive life of San Francisco society and murdered Mrs. Barnett for her money, before she had a chance to change her will.
Robert Frisbee will not be eligible for parole for 10 years, the minimum for second-degree murder, the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled.
Phillip and Muriel Barnett are credited with the University of San Francisco School of Law, Philip & Muriel Barnett Trial Advocacy Committee.
A book was written about this case, A Life on Trial: The Case of Robert Frisbee. Authored by Frisbee's lawyer, the book is a fascinating read. On his website he writes, "My one work of non-fiction. This is the opening paragraph: “The blunt instrument was a champagne bottle. The victim was a rich widow. Her manservant stood to gain several million dollars from her will. His name was Mr. Frisbee, and he was charged with Murder One: first degree. The foul deed had been committed on board an Alaska cruise ship, in an $18,000 penthouse suite. Mr. Frisbee, incidentally, had been her husband’s lover.”
William Deverell further writes on his website, "Originally published as Fatal Cruise, it’s the true story of a bizarre murder and a controversial trial that I defended in Victoria, B.C., and which made headlines across Canada and the U.S. It is truly about a life on trial, the life of Robert Frisbee, who, after scarred early years, became the secretary and friend of Philip Barnett, a wealthy developer, and his wife, socialite Muriel. Frisbee’s lover, Dan Kazakes, was a bizarre figure with a mail-order divinity degree. The book tells of the tangled inter-dependency of this strange quartet that ultimately led to Frisbee’s trial for a vicious murder on board the Royal Viking Star. It is also the author’s story, my story the travails of a lawyer fighting for a gentle and entirely likeable client."
I won't spoil the book for you, if you can find a copy. I'm unlikely to part with my signed copy; it is truly a fascinating case with an odd ending.
Royal Viking Star cruise ship is now known as Black Watch, currently owned and operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. See the Black Watch current cruise ship schedule
Get the Book: A Life on Trial: The Case of Robert Frisbee.
An earlier edition was published about the murder. Fatal Cruise: The Trial of Robert Frisbee