High-Wire Hunt

He climbed. He saw. He hasn't yet conquered the mystery of his missing brother.

In 1957 Harrison enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, and Robb visited him there. "It was great," he says. "We got drunk together, and he introduced me to all of his friends. We were sort of getting to a more equal relationship, I thought. I felt less like his little brother and more like his friend."

In summer 1957, Harrison took a trip that, four decades later, still preoccupies Robb. The elder Annable brother visited an aunt, Mariada Arensberg, in Havana. She had married an American businessman whose produce company was based in Cuba, and she taught private school there. "At the time I didn't think much of it," Robb says. "I didn't even talk to him much about it. I remember my aunt being a Fidel supporter initially, because she thought he would help the people who needed helping, but she changed her ideas as he started to become more ruthless."

Robb conjectures that on that trip his brother became politicized — which may have led to his death: "Now I really wish I'd talked to him more about that trip, and I wish I'd known more, at the time, about my aunt's political activity. I simply thought of it as a family vacation. Of course, knowing some of the things I know now, I have to wonder."

Robb Annable (in a high school photo from 1962) became 
politically active after his brother's disappearance
courtesy of Robb Annable
Robb Annable (in a high school photo from 1962) became politically active after his brother's disappearance
Linda, Robb, and Harrison (in an undated photo from their 
Cape Cod home) could never have guessed that their family 
would be caught up in the tumult of Miami in 1962
courtesy of Robb Annable
Linda, Robb, and Harrison (in an undated photo from their Cape Cod home) could never have guessed that their family would be caught up in the tumult of Miami in 1962

Harrison majored in wildlife management at UMass and thought about becoming a park ranger. He continued to do well in school, with the exception of one class. "I think it was physics or something," Robb says. "Anyway, he needed it to graduate, but he failed. So he went down to Miami to take some marine biology courses at the University of Miami in the fall of '62."

Harrison befriended a crew of single guys who lived at his apartment complex in Coconut Grove. He roomed for a while with Bruce Althoff, a City Gas employee who worked nights tending bar at the Hut, a popular Polynesian-theme bar on Douglas Road.

"Miami was just unbelievably fun at the time," reminisces Althoff, now a 66-year-old Home Depot salesman in Atlanta. "There was a sense that anything could happen. You had all this wild Cuban intrigue going on at the periphery, and in the bar we'd get showgirls all the time."

Althoff remembers Harrison as a straight-laced guy. "He liked to hang out at the bar, but he wasn't really a drinker or a rough-talker," Althoff says. "His only real vice was he drove too fast. He had this little red Italian car, and he listened to the radio loud, and he'd tap his foot on the gas pedal until I reminded him to slow down."

The sometime bartender says he was surprised to learn that Harrison had taken up with two other Hut regulars, Gil Rahm and Trevor Davies. "They were tough guys and hard drinkers, and Harrison was more of a school guy," he says. "Harrison was polite and friendly, not a boozer or carouser. And they were."

In the meantime, Robb enrolled at tiny Eureka College in the cornfields of Illinois. "There were only 350 people there, but my parents had picked it out for me because they liked the religious aspect," he remembers.

Robb began his freshman year in the fall of '62, just as his brother was starting out in Miami. By Christmas the small-town doldrums would be gone forever.

We didn't have much money that Christmas, so originally I was supposed to stay at school," Robb says. "When [my parents] said, 'Come home,' I knew something was wrong."

Robb's dad was waiting for him at the Boston airport. "He had tears in his eyes, and I'd never seen him cry before," the son recalls. "Then he hugged me — that was another new thing. We got to the car and he told me Harrison was missing."

The older Annable boy, in fact, had vanished almost a month before. "They didn't want to disturb my studies, so they waited to tell me," Robb explains. "I think they also wanted to tell me in person."

It was a somber Christmas. Linda had come up from Boston, where she was attending school, and she and Robb sat with their mother. Robert Sr. was constantly phoning the Coast Guard and congressional offices, hoping to spur the investigation. "He had gone down to Miami as soon as they found out, and he was very industrious, but there wasn't much he could do," Robb says.

Linda and Robb remember their mom crying a lot. "It was how she was until the day she died," Robb says. "She was a basket case that Christmas, but she kept busy and tried not to talk about it. She would leave the room when we talked about Harrison."

Robert Sr. made a to-do list regarding his son's disappearance, but it was more than he could accomplish and still hold down his job as a printing parts salesman. "He had the names of the boat builder, the relatives of the missing crewmen, the people who may have financed the trip," Robb says. "He had started talking to journalists in Miami, and I think he pumped them for information as much as they pumped him. I knew I had to help him."

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