Davis filed a claim for the stolen goods with Allstate Insurance in Eugene, Ore.--but here, again, did not follow through. The claim was not processed because "we were never furnished with all the documentation that we require," a claims investigator told The Times.
About the same time, Stites went into the boat business in Florida. He bought the Christl Dolphin in January, 1992, for $164,000. He also paid $360,000 for four large boats that had been damaged by Hurricane Andrew, with the idea of fixing them up to sell them.
To the staff at Florida Yacht Charters & Sales, Inc., the Miami Beach firm that brokered the sale of the Christl Dolphin, Stites' behavior seemed odd and even outlandish.
He called himself Robert Allen Newman, but said he had a partner, Gary Davis, who also peppered them with faxes and calls during negotiations over the yacht.
Although he was never sure, Florida Yacht sales manager Kent Brennan suspected that Newman and Davis were the same person.
In other ways, Newman seemed quirky--like the time he used his sexy sports car as a drying rack for his socks.
"Here he's got this $50,000 car," Brennan recalled, "and . . . there was a pair of socks hanging off the rearview mirror--cheap, thin, polyester, white socks."
Money for the Christl Dolphin was wired from Switzerland by Michael Ueltschi, an attorney in the Swiss capital of Bern. Ueltschi had performed other services for the Stiteses, such as arranging the lease of a chalet in the elegant resort village of Gstaad, and helping with residence papers so the children could attend Swiss schools.
When Stites was under investigation in the Alliance case in 1989 and the IRS was about to put a lien on his home in Bell Canyon in eastern Ventura County, the attempt was thwarted by the transfer of title to Elizabeth Ueltschi.
Michael Ueltschi acknowledged in a telephone interview that Elizabeth Ueltschi is his mother. But he said he did not understand Stites' legal battles.
"I transferred him some money, . . . but I had nothing to do with his problems over there," Ueltschi said.
"I was very much surprised that he is in jail. I know him only as a very serious and nice person."
Stites proved a smarter lawyer than boatman. The Christl Dolphin came cheap because it needed work, but before putting it in dry dock, Stites took it on a shakedown cruise. In a brisk wind about a mile out in the Atlantic, the backstay broke and the mast snapped--a catastrophic failure that luckily caused no injuries, but established the boat as a money pit.
Stites was on his own because his insurance for the boat was limited to damages in dry dock.
Later, when the boat was taken up the Miami River for repairs, it sustained additional minor damage as it was being hauled from the water.
Bill Barrere, whom Stites hired as captain and foreman to oversee repairs, told his boss it was uncertain whether the dry dock policy would cover repairs for damage suffered as the boat was being lifted into dry dock.
But Barrere said that when he offered to consult a maritime lawyer, Stites grew irate, saying he knew all about lawyers and insurance matters.
After a tireless effort to craft a false identity, Stites seemed miffed at his own success in concealing his true background and expertise. Like everyone else, Barrere thought Stites was a scientist--not a lawyer with a knack for driving insurers up the wall.
"What I thought was odd was the irritation that came over him when it was suggested that I contact an attorney," Barrere said. "I guess he felt insulted."
Despite occasional tantrums, Stites could be "very charming," Barrere said. And when it came to repairs for the Christl Dolphin and Stites' own nautical education, money was no object.
Barrere said up to a dozen workers were kept busy for months refurbishing the yacht, at a cost of at least $150,000 for labor alone. Needless costs and interminable delays were the rule, because Stites kept changing his mind about what he wanted done.
"It was a joke on the boat that anything we did on the boat we had to do four or five times," Barrere recalled.
Stites "seemed to have fun being the boss and playing the role of Mr. Boatman," Barrere said. His attitude was: "It's my money, and if I want to make a mistake, . . . I'll pay for it."
But the Christl Dolphin never made it back into the water. It was still a work in progress when Stites took off for his final spin.
En route to Colorado to marry Angela Martin, he was zipping along Interstate 24 near the small town of Metropolis, Ill., when the game came to an end.
It was nearly 8:30 on Saturday morning, Nov. 21. Stites had just crossed the Ohio River from Paducah, Ky., when he was pulled over for doing 80 m.p.h. Similar encounters had ended happily for Stites, and this one would have, too--except that he had somehow lost the original of his Oregon Gary Davis license.