"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, August 8, 2022

Death, Disappearance, and the Mystery of the Exploding Cabin Cruiser

The following disappearance is one of those cases where we have relatively little information, but we can, to some extent, make an educated guess about what happened to the missing person.  However, what we do know about the mystery is so extravagantly odd that I felt it was worth exploring.

In November 1976, Donald and Juanita Oxenrider were living in Severn, Maryland.  The couple, both aged 29, had been married for several years, and as far as is known were happy together.  Juanita was four months pregnant with their first child.

On the morning of November 14, the Oxenriders took their 28-foot cabin cruiser out on the Patapsco River.  Accompanying them was a friend of several years, 35-year-old Thomas Maynard.  Maynard, whose official occupation was that of bricklaying, was, to say the least, a shifty character.  At the time of this little cruise, Maynard was out on bail, facing charges of smuggling a gun across the Canadian border and burglarizing a home in Pikesville, Maryland.  In 1972, he served four months of a two-year federal sentence for stealing a truckload of video tapes.

At about 10:30 a.m., the cabin cruiser was off Bodkin Point when it suddenly exploded.  It quickly burned to the water line and sank.  Witnesses did not see any sign that anyone was onboard or in the water.

Two days later, authorities raised the boat and brought it to shore.  They found nothing to suggest that anyone was on the boat when it exploded.  They were also unable to determine the cause of the explosion.  Soon after the fire, Donald Oxenrider’s wallet, enclosed in a plastic bag, washed ashore.  That was all that could be found of the trio.

"Baltimore Sun," March 2, 1987, via Newspapers.com

Shortly before the explosion, Maynard had confessed to the police that he was involved in a $300,000 bullion fencing scheme.  Two weeks after he disappeared, authorities raided his home and seized smelting chemicals, along with a fortune in jewelry, gold watches, silverware, and gold and silver bars.  Given Maynard’s lively hobbies, investigators had little trouble coming up with a working theory: perhaps the Oxenriders had been involved with his operation, and that the three faked their own deaths to escape their inevitable arrest.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t prove it.

In May 1977, at least part of this hypothesis was disproved when Donald Oxenrider, in a state of very genuine death, was found in the Patapsco River about a mile from where his boat exploded.  His advanced state of decomposition left it difficult to determine how he died.  The medical examiner believed Oxenrider drowned, but he could not say if it was by accident or homicide.  Burn marks around his head suggested that he had been aboard when the fire began.

There were no further developments in this mystery until June 1986, when Thomas Maynard popped up in Baltimore County, alive, well, and ready to turn himself in to face charges in the 1976 Pikesville burglary.  Ever since his disappearance, he had been hiding out in Canada under the name of “Thomas Miller.”  He explained to the police that he was surrendering because he was tired of living in fear of being traced by the authorities.  In March 1987, Maynard was given a 35-year sentence for burglary, armed robbery and handgun charges.  His brother, Denver Maynard, told the court that the fire on the Oxenrider boat had been “planned” and “everyone escaped safely.”  Although he admitted that he helped Thomas escape to Canada, he professed to have no idea what the Oxenriders did after the explosion.

After these revelations, Thomas Maynard was, unsurprisingly, seen as the vital part of resolving the mystery.  Although it was believed both Oxenriders had been homicide victims, Juanita’s body was never found, raising the possibility that she had not been a victim of Maynard’s, but an accomplice in some murky scheme.

Maynard’s story was this:  By November 1976, he had resolved to leave his increasingly troubled life and go to Florida, where he would start anew under a new identity.  (It is not clear what his wife and two small children thought of this plan.)  After spending some time in Florida, he moved to Washington state and then to Canada, where he was able to kick his addictions to cocaine and amphetamines.

Maynard said that one of the very few people aware of his plans to flee Maryland was Donald Oxenrider.  Oxenrider asked for Maynard’s boat, a runabout, since he would no longer be needing it.  Oxenrider said that he was “going to do something” with his own boat.  Maynard didn’t know what Donald meant by that, and didn’t ask.  He gave Oxenrider the title to his boat.

A witness told police that when the cabin cruiser set out from White Rocks Marina on the morning of November 14, he had seen Maynard with the Oxenriders on the boat.  Maynard denied this, claiming that he had not been on the boat, or even near the marina on that day.

What happened between 10:00 a.m., when the Oxenrider boat left the marina, and the explosion a half-hour later is unknown.  If Maynard knew, he certainly wasn’t telling.

This strange story has spawned any number of lurid theories.  Some suspect that the Oxenriders hatched a boat insurance fraud scheme that went wrong: either they succumbed to hypothermia after falling into the frigid November water, or they were unable to get off the boat in time after setting the fire.  However, it has been pointed out that the boat was only “modestly insured.”  Others have pondered the possibility of a love triangle involving the Oxenriders and a third party--possibly Maynard--but no evidence was ever found to support this scenario.

Further clouding any effort to solve the mystery is the fact that it could never be proven that Juanita was dead.  A former co-worker of Juanita’s told Donald’s family that in late 1986, she saw Juanita at a Maryland mall.  Juanita was with a boy who looked 10 to 12 years old.  The co-worker said that when she confronted them, the woman denied being Juanita Oxenrider and walked away.  

In 1987, State Police Sgt. Donald Hoffman, who had been given the unenviable job of investigating the boat explosion, sighed that the Oxenrider case presents “a mystery of unequaled magnitude for my career. Mr. Maynard is the key to this case.  Absent his willingness to say anything about it, it’s stalemated.”

Maynard never did say anything about what might have happened to Donald and Juanita Oxenrider.  And the mystery has remained stalemated to this day.


  1. I wonder why, if Juanita escaped to take on a new identity, she stayed in Maryland, though that she survived the explosion and/or scheme seems likely, since her husband clearly died, and his remains were found. It seems probably that hers would be as well, if they were remains by then. And does it seem a rather harsh sentence (35 years) for Maynard for those crimes, and after he surrendered voluntarily? He wasn't even charged in the bullion scheme...

    1. That seemed excessive to me, too. (Incidentally, no one was ever charged in the bullion racket, which was also odd.) I haven't been able to find out how much time Maynard actually served.


Comments are moderated. Because no one gets to be rude and obnoxious around here except the author of this blog.