Sherlock Holmes, Meet Melanie Morningstar

How a freelance reporter and South Beach nightlife maven tracked down Australia's most notorious fugitive

Recalls Morningstar: "I spent the first weekend going to parks during the day. I knew it wasn't safe for me at night. I checked out a couple of restaurants close to the hotel. It was really spooky. The first appointment I had was with an organization that helps street kids, and they told me about a British woman in Trujillo [on the northern coast] who had reported this sort of activity, so I headed up there. It turned out she was in England. I checked out a hotel. There were a couple of kids playing pool that night. I played dumb tourist, just talked to them a little. I didn't even show them a photo. The first week I was really terrified of landing in a town he was in. Even though I was looking for him I was initially scared of finding him because I wasn't prepared. When someone said, 'I know an English teacher named Roberto,' my heart went into my throat. But as time went on and I perfected my cover, I gained more confidence."

She used her real name but played the role of gringa perdida -- a well-known species of North American backpacker -- who tried to sell her "antique books" to English-speakers. She usually traveled by public bus; sometimes she hired a driver. "If a town was big enough to have gringos in it -- generally if it was big enough to have a hospital or an English school -- I'd stop there," Morningstar recalls. "I had an AT&T card so I could call the States, and I checked in once a day with somebody at 60 Minutes, usually [a producer] in Los Angeles. They kept putting money into my [Miami] checking account, so I could always get enough cash at banks -- you don't need that much." (Barrett says 60 Minutes spent more than $100,000 tracking Dunn.)

After a month of scouring the countryside, Morningstar found her patience wearing thin. She occasionally happened upon places where a man who might have been Dunn had been sighted, but she was always too late. In October she even chased a tip across the desolate western border with Guatemala. It proved worthless. Then she got a call from an earlier contact telling her to "haul ass to Copan," the remote region near the Guatemalan border that is a major site of Mayan ruins.

There in the town of Santa Rosa de Copan, on a street named Rodeo Drive, in a hostel called Hotel California, Morningstar learned from the owner (who recognized a photo) that Dunn and another gringo had recently left their jobs operating the hostel's restaurant. The owner's girlfriend had complained to local police about the large number of boys who worked at the restaurant for only three or four days each. (The police, according to Morningstar, didn't act on the complaint.) The owner thought Dunn had returned to Tegucigalpa.

After Morningstar showed the hotel owner (she won't reveal his identity) newspaper stories about Dunn, he agreed to help her find and snare the fugitive. Not that he was enthusiastic at the prospect. "The way I got him into this," Morningstar notes, "is I told him it was a way for him to prove he wasn't involved in what Dunn was doing."

Several days later her hotel contact, through a shadowy ex-U.S. military man known only as Colonel Bob, arranged a meeting with Dunn back at the Honduras Maya Hotel in the capital. The pretext: a prospective real estate deal for which Dunn (who claimed he was still owed money by Hotel California) would be paid a commission.

60 Minutes sent a video camera from Miami so Morningstar could surreptitiously tape that initial meeting. "The footage was sent back to Miami, then to Sydney," recounts producer Gareth Harvey. "We then brought in the Child Protection Enforcement Agency. They came in that morning and looked at the video and agreed there was no doubt it was Dunn. We couldn't afford to tip him off and let him move on, so we knew we had to involve law enforcement authorities. The public opprobrium would have been so great had we just gone out and done the story and not brought the guy to justice."

Harvey, Steve Barrett, reporter Liz Hayes, a cameraman, and a soundman got on the next flight to Tegucigalpa. To Harvey and Barrett's amazement, within 48 hours of their arrival an aggregation of law enforcement officials from Australia, Honduras, and the United States had devised a plan to capture and remove Dunn from Honduras -- a plan in which the 60 Minutes crew would gain access to Dunn and attempt to interview him even before authorities could handcuff him. "They knew we held the trump card," Barrett says. "We had the contact who had the ability to lure him to the hotel. So another meeting was set up in the same hotel, and I can tell you I'd hate to be a bloody surveillance copper just sitting in that hotel knowing the guy could walk in at the wrong time and blow everything."

In accordance with international protocol, Australia's federal police liaison to Washington, John Lawler, had flown to Tegucigalpa to coordinate an operation that would ideally result in Dunn's return to his country. "I don't have any jurisdiction in Honduras," Lawler explains from his Washington, D.C., office. "All I can do is facilitate things that happen and explain to the Honduran authorities what the Australian government and the Australian law enforcement community are trying to achieve. Then it's up to the Honduran authorities independently."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Miami Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...