The pilot of a small plane noticed the body, which had washed up on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.
In a preliminary examination, authorities determined that the body was small and male, and that set off speculation at every racetrack in California that it was Ron Hansen, the jockey who has been missing since the early-morning hours of Oct. 2, when his expensive sports car, traveling at about 100 m.p.h., rear-ended another car on the San Mateo Bridge.
When the Hayward police department took a call from a reporter Wednesday night, the officer didn't even need to hear the question. "It's not him," he said quickly. What the Hayward police had was the apparent suicide of another small man.
Reached at his San Bruno home Thursday morning, Ron Volkman already knew about the latest false alarm regarding Hansen. Volkman likes to race and bet horses--he was one of three owners who paid $360,000 to supplement Wild Again into the first Breeders' Cup Classic, at Hollywood Park in 1984. Their horse, at 31-1 odds, won in a slam-bang finish with Gate Dancer and Slew O' Gold, and they collected $1.35 million from the track's paymaster, and perhaps more at the betting wickets.
Some of the 3,600 winners ridden by Hansen were horses owned by Volkman, who has always liked the free-spirited 33-year-old jockey, whose zany lifestyle never really needed to be enhanced by the outlandish stories he would manufacture about himself.
"This was a kid with an eighth-grade education who's been riding since he was 13," Volkman said. "And if you'll pardon the expression, he had a hick background."
Shortly after Hansen vanished, Volkman hired Dick Smith, a private investigator he has known for 30 years, to try to find the missing jockey.
"Dick Smith won't give up," Volkman said. "His investigation has already covered California, Tijuana, Las Vegas, Canada, Seattle, Utah and Idaho. I'm ambivalent about what's happened to Ron. We've gone past the point where he might have turned himself into a detox place (for alcohol or drug abuse). I don't even buy the elongated detox theory. The scary part is that he's not talked to his mom and dad."
Hansen's parents live in Utah. His father, who was a dairy farmer, has a heart condition and is in poor health.
Randy Keenan, a sergeant with the Alameda Police Department, met with Hansen's parents a few weeks ago.
"They told me that they've had no contact, and I believe them," Keenan said. "They are legitimately grief-stricken. His mother, in particular, was shaking all the way through the interview. Not even professional liars could act like they did and pull it off. I'd run polygraph tests on them if I thought that this was all part of some scam."
Keenan got a letter from a disgruntled bettor, suggesting that the last night Hansen rode, several hours before the car crash, he didn't try to win with his last four mounts. The Bay Meadows stewards reviewed tapes of the races and could find nothing irregular about the rides.
"If something happened to this guy, you wonder why the body hasn't been found," Keenan said. "If it was a professional job, they might have driven out into the desert and dropped him where nobody would find him for a long time. But otherwise, bodies usually turn up. Then there's always the water theory. If he went into the water, it's always possible that the sharks could have got him."
Volkman has repeatedly asked himself why Hansen would not have shown up by now.
"I know that he's always been worried about going to jail again," Volkman said. "He told me once about going to jail several years ago. It was another traffic thing. He said that they bounced him around like a little kid in there, and he was terrified about ever having to go back in.
"I've been told that there'd be no jail time this time. He might wind up with a suspended driver's license, and at the track they'd maybe fine and suspend him."
Volkman is checking a report that a gambling friend of Hansen's was killed, either in Southern California or Las Vegas, about three days before the jockey disappeared.
"His name was Three Fingers Mike," Volkman said. "I kid you not, Three Fingers Mike. If he was on the run from the bad guys and they got him, then it's possible that Ron might be on the run for the same reasons."
Hansen had substantial financial obligations. He has fathered several children by three women, two of whom became his wives. The support and alimony payments have stopped and several bank accounts having been impounded. There is no sign that any of these accounts have been touched by Hansen since he went missing.
Horse Racing Notes