SAVANNAH, Ga. — On the night of March 3, 2008, John and Elizabeth Calvert vanished from Hilton Head Island, never to be seen again.
John, 47 at the time of his disappearance, and Elizabeth, 45, split time between their Atlanta home and Harbour Town, S.C., where they lived on their 40-foot Hatteras yacht, dubbed “Yellow Jacket.”
Five years after the Calverts vanished, what happened to them on that Monday night remains a mystery, with their families no closer to having their questions answered. In 2009, they were declared legally dead without their bodies ever being found.
John Calvert, a Georgia Tech graduate who spent most of his career in the field of energy, managed the couple’s businesses, which included Harbour Town Yacht Basin and Harbour Town Resorts. Elizabeth Calvert was a lawyer with a Savannah-based law firm.
Accountant Dennis Gerwing quickly became a prime suspect. He was a business associate of the Calverts, a financial manager until January 2008 of their four businesses through his position as chief financial officer of the Club Group.
He was the last person known to have seen the Calverts, telling investigators he met with them that Monday evening at the Club Group’s offices to discuss concerns by Elizabeth Calvert – later confirmed – that he had stolen money from the couple’s business accountants.
Investigators interviewed Gerwing on March 5. He arrived with a fresh cut on his hand, which he said he had cut while opening a bottle of wine the night before.
Police said Gerwing’s tale of his March 3 activities and movements after meeting with the Calverts quickly unraveled.
“He lied enough in the first interview to give us ample time to run down a lot of stuff,” Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.
Footage at a pharmacy showed him buying bandages roughly 24 hours before he claimed he cut his hand. It also documented his return to the store to buy latex gloves. Later, investigators pulled video of Gerwing buying three large drop cloths on the afternoon of the day the Calverts went missing. The gloves and drop cloths were never found.
They asked Gerwing to return to the sheriff’s office March 6 for a polygraph. Instead, he hired a lawyer.
“We never talked to him again,” sheriff’s Capt. Bob Bromage said.
On March 11, Gerwing was found covered in blood in a bathtub, dead from what investigators and two autopsies later concluded were self-inflicted knife wounds.
He left a handwritten note admitting sole responsibility for the about
$2 million he defrauded from Club Group clients, including the Calverts.
In October, the FBI office in Columbia forwarded Beaufort County police an anonymous letter bearing a California postmark. The envelope contained a satellite photo and GPS coordinates of an old hunting club in the woods of South Carolina’s Richland County and information that the Calverts’ remains would be found there.
Investigators, with the help of archaeologists from the University of South Carolina, spent days searching the site without discovering human remains.
“We felt that was the break we’d been looking for,” Tanner said. “It was frustrating when we found nothing.”
The letter also promised additional information would be forthcoming. So far, nothing has arrived.
The central questions, of course, are: What happened to the Calverts and where are they now? Five years after their disappearance, no one realistically believes they are alive.
“There’s this nag in your gut that says while we know what has happened to them, it is more that we don’t know where they are,” Elizabeth’s brother, David White, wrote in an email response to an interview request.
White and the Calverts’ remaining family and friends held a memorial service and honored the couple with a granite bench at the Six Oaks Cemetery on Hilton Head Island.
They created scholarships at the couple’s respective alma maters – Georgia Tech for John, Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., for Elizabeth.
They established the Calvert Reward Fund, designed to distribute money to anyone providing useful information that helps investigators determine what happened to the Calverts or where their remains might be.
White said the balance of the fund stands at $10,000.
So far, those funds remain untouched by potential tipsters.
“Liz and John’s lives were taken from us in a hideous way,” White wrote in his email. “And they are still out there somewhere, without the dignity of a Christian burial.”
Investigators said Gerwing powered off his phone for about 11 hours starting the night the Calverts went missing and continuing into the next day.
That has led investigators to believe he shut off the phone to evade GPS detection as he traveled within a roughly five-hour radius of Harbour Town.
They theorize the remains are buried somewhere within that radius.
“I believe they’re somewhere off the beaten trail,” Bromage said. “Eventually, the bodies will be found by a hiker or hunter.”
There’s another possibility: Gerwing had an accomplice who might still be alive and who may come forward at some point to detail what occurred that night and where the Calverts are now.
“We have not identified anyone throughout the investigation as a second party,” Tanner said.
But he conceded the possibility, especially since it would help explain Gerwing’s untraceable movements on the day and night of March 3, as well as how John Calvert’s car ended up at the Marriott Resort at Palmetto Dunes.
“Cab services and taxis in Hilton Head didn’t pick anyone up,” Tanner said. “That would lead anyone to believe that there was a second party, which very well could be.”
And that, in the end, he said, is how they may solve the case of the missing Calverts.
“You just hope someone with some loyalty to Dennis Gerwing at some point will decide, ‘OK, well, he’s dead.’”