Monday, May 19, 2008

“Joe Cool” Murder at Sea Update

by Andrea Campbell

federal judge is scheduled to decide on whether to toss out statements made by two jailhouse informants. The cellmates were to provide testimony about suspects, Guillermo Zarabozo, 20, and Kirby Logan Archer, 36, who are accused of murdering four people on the Joe Cool charter fishing boat. Zarabozo and Archer could face the death penalty if convicted of murder. Both have pleaded innocent.

Prosecutors say they hired the boat for a trip to Bimini and tried to divert it to Cuba, fatally shooting the captain of the “Joe Cool” charter fishing boat, his wife and two deckhands.

Here is some backstory on the case as reported by WIC writers: Vanessa Leggett, Donna Pendergast, Pat Brown and myself, in November of last year.

Kirby Logan Archer, a one-time Military Police officer from Arkansas, told others he did “undercover” work. Upon his capture, Archer was a fugitive from justice, wanted for molesting boys, and for stealing close to a hundred grand from his most recent employer, Wal-Mart.

Archer’s Beginnings

Born to Betty and Sam Archer in
Stuttgart, Arkansas, Kirby never stayed in one place for long. The Archers lived in Kansas and Oklahoma before settling in Oro Valley, Arizona. In high school, Kirby applied to the National Guard and was a member of the ROTC’s Color Guard at Canyon del Oro High School. In the early 1990s, the Archers returned to Arkansas. Kirby, by then an adult, had gotten into some trouble in Tucson; he was sentenced to probation for “contributing to the delinquency or dependency of a minor,” a misdemeanor. Mid-1990s Kirby joined the Army, becoming a Military Police investigator. He was stationed at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during the Cuban Rafter Crisis , when tens of thousands of Cubans fled the island on rafts. It was during this time that Kirby met Guillermo Zarabozo.

About Guillermo Zarabozo

Zarabozo's family was intercepted at sea and brought to the base where Archer was stationed. Kirby, then 23, took an interest in the eight-year-old Zarabozo boy. Zarabozo and his mother, Francisca Alonso Zarabozo, legally immigrated to the United States and settled in Hialeah, Florida, living with family in an apartment.

Kirby kept up with the Cuban boy and appeared to have had an impact on Zarabozo's life. At Hialeah High School, Guillermo was in ROTC and told classmates he wanted to be in the Army.

A Man with Nothing Left to Lose

Though his life seemed fine on the surface, Kirby had an unstable relationship with his wife and two young sons and his marriage began to unravel according to divorce records. As an investigator, Kirby was often away from home. His wife, Michelle, claimed that when he was around, he could be physically abusive. Kirby denied abuse although his wife fell into depression and reportedly attempted suicide. The boys lived with Kirby and even though his relatives were nearby to help, it was not enough. Archer claims he had to leave the military—in the best interest of his boys—and received an “other-than-honorable” discharge.

Michelle Archer filed for divorce, and the court awarded Kirby custody of his boys, primarily because he had family in Arkansas. Kirby appeared to have moved on. He married again, settled in Strawberry, Arkansas, and took a job as customer service manager at a Wal-Mart in neighboring Batesville.

But soon Archer's past caught up with him. He was under investigation in Arkansas and in Missouri for allegations that he had sexually abused minor boys. Then his ex-wife appealed the custody decision. Within the span of a few days, Kirby was in danger of losing his reputation, his children, and, if arrested, his freedom. To make matters worse, he'd also recently lost his dog.

“He knew we were turning the information over to pursue charges,” said the investigator who'd interviewed the complaining children. “A couple of days later he took off.”

But not before leaving Wal-Mart’s for the last time. From the cashier's office, Kirby is suspected of stashing over $92,000 in cash and checks in a microwave he purchased with his employee discount and walking out, and away from the life he had known.

“I really messed up this time,” Kirby reportedly text-messaged his current wife. She claimed it was likely he would be going to Miami or Cuba, because that's where his closest friends were.

A Man on the Run

Within days, Kirby was in Florida. According to sources at the Miami Herald, he died his blonde hair brown and used an alias. Soon he connected with Guillermo Alfonso Zarabozo, now a buff 19-year-old gun enthusiast, who had graduated and was working in private security. Zarabozo was licensed to carry handguns and living in Hialeah.

By summer's end, Archer had been on the lam for eight months. A couple of weeks before his capture at sea, Kirby told the Cuban family he had to leave town for an investigation.

A Man with a Plan

Kirby had planned that they would both go to Cuba, which has no extradition treaty with the United States. Zarabozo appears to have been willing to help Archer find freedom. Both men spoke Spanish.

Zarabozo told the security agency he was to work for that he was leaving town. Cameras in the Miami area captured images of Archer and Zarabozo at a gun store and a local hotel. A cell phone was purchased with what authorities believe is a fictitious subscriber's name. How to get out of the country? Archer was wanted on an unlawful flight prosecution warrant out of Arkansas. Flying anywhere was out. Late September, an idea occurred to them.

The men were at
Monty's restaurant, overlooking the Miami Beach Marina when Archer and Zarabozo approached the Joe Cool. A crewmember was on board the 47-foot yacht, a sportfishing charter boat with two staterooms and bathrooms. The men inquired about chartering the boat; said they wanted a ride to the Big Game Resort and Yacht Club in Bimini, where they were planning to meet “girlfriends.” The crewman gave the pair a business card to make a reservation.

An Unsuspecting Crew

On September 22, the passengers presented themselves with six pieces of luggage. One owner, Jeff Branam, greeted them and helped them with their bags, unaware of the contents, which included various weapons. Kirby paid the $4,000 fee. For fishing charters, the Joe Cool routinely carried a crew of four men. Because this was simply a boat ride—the first to the Bahamas—the captain's wife, Kelley, 30, decided to go along, leaving the couple's two small children with family. Rounding out the crew was Captain Jake Branam's half-brother, Scott Gamble, 35, and First Mate Sammy Kairy, 27. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Jon Branam, the captain’s cousin, said that Archer seemed friendly, and spoke in a Southern accent. Riding a Jet Ski, Jon even followed the boat out of the harbor. Everyone seemed happy. The crew's objective was to make sure their passengers had a blast.

The trip stopped about halfway into the fifty-mile ride. According to GPS, the boat, heading east toward Bimini, veered south toward Cuba, then drifted. The Joe Cool was due back Sunday, and had another charter scheduled for Monday. So when Branam saw no return and hadn't heard from the crew, he alerted the Coast Guard.

The Coast Gua
rd found the Joe Cool empty and the interior was in "disarray." Officials found shell casings and blood around the steps that led up from the stateroom. More blood was discovered on the stern and a fourth shell casing was located outside. A small key, which turned out to be a handcuff key, was on the bow. The life raft was missing.

Men in Dire Straits

In the Florida Straits, a Coast Guard helicopter spotted two men on an orange life raft about 12 miles from the Joe Cool. Kirby and Guillermo and their luggage were lifted from the raft to the chopper for transport to a Coast Guard cutter. It was immediately apparent that the castaways were not happy to be rescued. Archer and Zarabozo were “calm, stoic, emotionless and failed to make eye contact with their rescuers,” according to the criminal complaint. They claimed the boat they’d been on had been hijacked by three Cuban pirates and all four members of the Joe Cool were shot to death and thrown overboard. (The bodies have never been recovered.)

A search of the men's belongings found $2,200 in hundred dollar bills, the cell phone of a bogus subscriber, a blowgun, darts, several knives, a handcuff key, and a receipt for a gun.

Men with Fishy Tales

The men were separated and interviewed. Numerous inconsistencies in their statements came up beginning with how the two men knew each other and their history together. They also stuck to their "babes in Bimini" storyline.

Zarabozo said that the Joe Cool was cruising when a distress signal came over the radio. The captain steered the boat toward another vessel and a pirate came on board and commandeered the Joe Cool. Two other armed hijackers followed. They shot Jake Branam, and the captain's wife “became hysterical,” and she was also shot. The other two crewmembers were gunned down when they refused to dump the bodies overboard. Guillermo said the pirates told him that if he refused to cooperate, he would meet the same fate so he threw the crew overboard and complied with orders to clean up the blood.

The suspects both maintained that Archer was forced to drive the Joe Cool. After several hours, the boat ran out of gas. At this point the pirates radioed for help and a third vessel came and carried the hijackers away. The suspects would have authorities believe that after witnessing four murders and getting a good look at the killers Archer and Zarabozo were left behind, with luggage and $2,200 in cash. And that Joe Cool's navigational equipment and pricey fishing gear was of no interest to the “pirates.”

Authorities recovered three casings from the interior of the boat, and later confirmed that all four shell casings were fired by a single weapon, a Glock 9 millimeter.

Federal authorities searched Zarabozo's home. They didn’t find a weapon but discovered an empty lock box for a gun, an empty handcuff case, and also a receipt for a Glock 9 and ammunition.

Men with Everything to Lose

Though there are no bodies, no weapons, and no witnesses, Kirby Archer and Guillermo Zarabozo were each charged with four counts of murder, robbery, and kidnapping. The prosecution's theory is simple. "This was a one-way trip out of the country that resulted in the elimination of witnesses to that flight by way of murder," federal prosecutor Michael Gilfarb said to the judge.

So, in question are:

—Is there such a thing as a reliable and credible jail informant? Defense attorneys want to know whether the informant was an assigned jail house snitch and, if so, they say it would violate their client’s right to counsel if he’s allowed to testify at trial.
—If the statements are thrown out, what will that do to the prosecution’s case?
—Defense also filed a motion to suppress evidence taken from Zarabozo’s apartment.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I think that these 2 men are guilty and should be punished. Four innocent people lost their lives. Four families and 2 innocent children are still mourning the loss. What's the need to suppress evidence taken from Zarabozo's place? What are they afraid of? Their stories don't match, and lets be real hijackers where not going to let 2 customers live when the captain is the one who knew his way around the boat and waters. Obviously, they are just trying to buy time. Hopefully justice will prevail.

Andrea Campbell said...

I will be following this case because I, too, look for justice for the victim's families. The defense is just doing what defense does—trying to look for holes.

Anonymous said...

I'm following this case cause i went to high school with this fool. Bottom line he was pretty stupid. Now i'm not gonna say he did it or didnt do it but both these nerds are retarded. They just should have started swimming to Cuba and they probably would have not got caught. Dont get me wrong I feel bad for those families but if he wants people to think he didnt do it, then he shouldnt have gotten caught like he did. Seriously then were on the life boat which belonged to the crime scene boat. What a freaking nerd!

Andrea Campbell said...

Dear Anonymous,

I am assuming you went to school with Guillermo? Yes, it's often surprising how men and women can get caught up in delusions and when they get caught, are very stupid indeed. Listen, I am trying to sell a true crime book about this case, if you know Guillermo well, I could use you as a source about his character. Write me.

Anonymous said...

I am texing from south africa, we are trying to contact Kirbys brother, Jim (James) Archer who came out to South Africa to work, met us, started a relationship with my friend who owns her own business, told us he owned a ranch, horses, cattle etc and seemed to be earning good money, anyhow he gave her some sob story that his parents had been killed, his sister tried to kill herself and that he needed money desperately for funerals etc and because of his brother could not get money from the bank, well what a smooth talker, he owes her R80 000 has never come back, his company will not do anything, my friend is disabled and has a little boy, she really needs this money back but how do we get it out of him, we are trying to get an attorney to summons him so would be great if you could find this bastard, seems just as dishonest as his brother, did his parents really die. Please investigate for us, Thanks

Anonymous said...

i went to highschool with him too. I agree with anonymous...he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. But he was always polite and quiet. just your everyday cuban boy. A lot of the things that have been reported dont coincide with the what i had heard before ANY of this had happened. not a lot makes sense. Can't ever be sure if he did do it or didnt. No weapons. No bodies. but i cant see him doing this on purpose... i can see him getting caught up in something way in over his head all in the name of adventure. just a stupid boy. could have happened to any of the boys in hialeah.

Andrea Campbell said...

Again, if you had gone to school with Guillermo, I would like you to write me. You can use my email address:

Thanks much,


Anonymous said...