An update on past news

Saturday, August 4, 2001

An unidentified FBI agent handcuffed Buck Duane
Walker, right, after Walker's arraignment in Hilo Circuit
Court in 1974 on yacht theft charges.

Palmyra Atoll murderer
still in prison

By Treena Shapiro

Question: What ever happened to Buck Walker?

Answer: Buck Duane Walker is currently serving a life sentence at a maximum-security federal prison in Lompoc, Calif., for the 1974 murder of Eleanor "Muff" Graham at Palmyra Atoll.

Walker, depicted as a modern-day pirate, was convicted of murdering Graham after her remains were discovered in 1981 by a South African couple vacationing at the atoll. Her husband, Malcolm "Mac" Graham, has never been found.

The story began in the summer of 1974 when two couples docked their craft at Palmyra. The Grahams of San Diego had a beautiful, well-stocked yacht named the Sea Wind. Walker and then-girlfriend Stephanie Stearns pulled in on the Iola, an ill-crafted, leaky boat.

That fall, a crudely disguised Sea Wind sailed into Honolulu Harbor bearing Walker and Stearns. Both were convicted of stealing the yacht when the jury did not buy their story that the Grahams had simply sailed away on a dinghy, never to return, inviting Walker and Stearns to make themselves at home on their yacht. The couple is believed to have stolen the boat for its food supplies.

Stearns served seven months of a two-year sentence. Walker escaped from McNeil Island penitentiary after serving 42 months of his 10-year sentence.

Shortly after, some of Eleanor Graham's remains were found. Forensic experts said that her bones had been broken and burned, then stuffed into an empty floatation container.

Walker was arrested again in an Arizona drug sting, and Stearns remained free after posting $10,000 bail. The jury acquitted Stearns, who now lives in California and works for a telecommunications company, according to one of her defense attorneys, Vincent Bugliosi, who wrote a book about the Palmyra murders, "And the Sea Will Tell."

Walker's defense attorney, Earle Partington, who unsuccessfully sued Bugliosi for defamation of character over the way he was portrayed in the book, warns against looking to Bugliosi's story for an accurate depiction of the Palmyra murder trials.

"These books are largely works of fiction, written to glorify him by making everyone else look incompetent," Partington said.

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