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November 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How Did This Diverís Wife Die?

the computer and scuba gear make the husband look guilty as sin

from the November, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If you want to murder your spouse and get away with it, doing so while diving is one option. Of course, you have to make sure there are no witnesses. You need to create an alibi and a well-thoughtout story and stick to it. But keep in mind that dive gear and computers will always have their own tales to tell.

Murders done while diving have a checkered record of success. You may recall the infamous case of Gabe Watson, an Alabama diver accused of murdering his wife, Tina, while on their honeymoon in Australia in 2003 -- she died while diving the wreck of the SS Yongala in Queensland. An Australian court charged him with murder; Watson pleaded guilty to manslaughter and spent a year in jail there. Tina's family had him tried for her murder back in Alabama in 2011, but Watson was exonerated -- the judge ruled that he was incompetent but not a murderer.

There's also the case of David Swain, owner of a Rhode Island dive shop, who was accused of killing his wife, Shelley Tyre, in 1999 while diving in the British Virgin Islands. In that case, her tank was still two-thirds full of air and her weight belt was still in place, but her dive computer and mouthpiece were missing. Seven years later, Tyre's parents filed a wrongful death suit, which proved that her air supply has been shut off and her mask had been ripped off from behind, indicating a violent struggle.

Swain stood to gain from a life insurance policy and soon remarried after his wife's death. But the jury found Swain guilty and awarded Tyre's parents $3.5 million in damages. Swain was arrested in 2007, extradited to the British Virgin Islands where he was found guilty of murder, and is now serving a 25-year jail sentence.

The Mother-In-Law's Lawsuit

Which way will the case against William Gamba go? He is being sued by the mother of his dead wife, Blaise, for drowning her off Florida's Gulf Coast in November 2016 and framing it as an accident. In the civil lawsuit, Nancy Huhta accuses Gamba, 39, of concocting an elaborate cover-up to make money off Blaise's $1 million life insurance policies and their joint assets, including a waterfront home in Madeira Beach he sold last year for $1.5 million.

The Sheriff's Office had originally reported the death as a diving accident, but homicide detectives are now re-investigating. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death a drowning and the manner of death as undetermined.

Gamba told investigators he had been scuba diving while Blaise, 37, was snorkeling, five miles offshore. He looked up and saw her "making unusual jerking movements," then looked down and saw a five-foot cobia. Gamba said that at first he thought Blaise was afraid of the fish, but she continued jerking around, then went still. He swam to her and brought her head above water, then helped her onto the boat. She was coughing the whole time and didn't speak. As he headed back toward land, she stopped coughing. Gamba flagged down another boater about five miles west of Madeira Beach. The man climbed aboard and radioed authorities while Gamba performed CPR on Blaise. Then he had his own medical emergency and went unconscious shortly after deputies met them. Paramedics rushed both to the hospital; Blaise Gamba was pronounced dead the next day.

His former mother-in-law's lawyers conducted their own investigation that lays out this scheme in the lawsuit: Blaise Gamba, a physically fit and experienced diver with no health issues, was swimming on the surface when her husband pulled her under. He held her there until it seemed she had drowned. It could have been the perfect crime, but the other boater turned up, so Gamba appeared to attempt CPR on his wife. When they met the paramedics, he faked his own medical emergency to deflect blame and protect himself from talking to them. He continued dodging investigators by pretending to have a seizure and forcing deputies out of his hospital room, saying he was too sick to talk to them. Meanwhile, witnesses said he "showed no emotion" while his wife was dying and was more interested in her medical condition and law enforcement's involvement in the case.

Doctors discovered the lungs of the deceased Blaise were full of water, contrary to the statement Gamba had made, saying she was still breathing when he brought her back to the boat.

After Blaise's death, Gamba became "unusually interested" in progressing with her organ donation. His medical knowledge made him aware that Blaise might be subject to an autopsy, so he arranged for some of her organs, including her water-filled lungs to be harvested for donation. (The medical examiner drew the conclusion that she drowned based on circumstances, hospital records and the fact that the autopsy didn't reveal any other findings.)

While talking with the Sherriff's deputies, Gamba's stories about what had happened at sea changed from moment to moment. Sometimes he said Blaise had suffered a head injury, other times he said she didn't (the autopsy revealed no evidence of it).

When examining the boat Gamba had rented, deputies inspected his scuba gear and found it incorrectly assembled and not in a functioning state. What's more, there was no sign of any seawater on it, nor did his dive computer record any dives on that day. Oops.

Gamba claimed Blaise had been frightened by a big fish, then panicked and drowned as a result. Her mother thinks that is highly unlikely. How many experienced divers get panicked in the presence of big fish?

Huhta's lawsuit goes on to say that Gamba's actions were premeditated. About two weeks prior to her death, the couple was on a trip to the Florida Keys, where Gamba told Blaise to buy a thick wetsuit, which would prevent any bruising or scratching from showing up. However, the thickness added to the wetsuit's buoyancy, making it less likely she would accidentally drown.

Lucas Fleming, Gamba's defense attorney, told the Tampa Bay Times that allegation didn't make sense because the couple had invited Huhta to join them that day and had plans to meet up with friends that later fell through. On the organ donation claim, Fleming said Gamba "made no decision about which organs would or would not be donated" because he was unconscious during that time.

Huhta's lawsuit also portrays Gamba as a career fraudster and a serial cheater. He previously staged two car accidents he later got payouts for. He later set fire to another car and a boat to get insurance payments. While he was a patient at a New York hospital, he threw himself off a gurney, which resulted in a six-figure payout.

Blaise's diary entries in the months before her death show that she was thinking about confronting him about the affairs. And Gamba immediately switched to a "merry widow" phase -- his actions in the weeks after his wife's death were "highly inconsistent with those of someone who was mourning the loss of a spouse," the lawsuit says. He stopped wearing his wedding ring and had it appraised for resale, along with Blaise's wedding and engagement rings. He called the firm where she had worked as a business litigation attorney to ask when he could expect her final paycheck and life insurance proceeds. He also sold her car. Gamba, who now lives in California and works as chief nursing officer at a hospital, later refused to co-operate with investigators, disallowing them access to Blaise's iPhone and iPad.

"The events of this case are a natural progression of his insurance fraud portfolio," the lawsuit says, "as Gamba has now moved on from simple property damage and self-inflicted personal injury to intentional murder for the purpose of life insurance recovery." Huhta's lawyer told the Tampa Bay Times that she is requesting a jury trial and seeking "everything that the law allows" in damages.

So, divers, if you're fighting with your spouse, it might not be a great idea to go diving together until you've kissed and made up, filed the divorce papers or made someone else the beneficiary of your life insurance policy.

-- Vanessa Richardson

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