DFA investigating missing Skagit Valley Fisherman

wadin' boot

Donny, you're out of your element...
WFF Supporter
My Brother sent me this from D.C. He is in the foreign service. They're looking into a 25 year old cold case on a former Junior Consul named Harry Thomas who went missing and may have returned to this region. If any of you know anything please let me know and I can send it on to J Howell Boot, Inquisitor, Department of Foreign Affairs.

Department of Foreign Affairs

Consul inquiry A-292-1987, Santiago
Harry Thomas Disappearance

Recording Transcript (some information redacted) Original tapes stored Newell A-292, Section C

…based on exit Interviews with Nelson D’Shawn as interviewed by J Howell Boot, Inquisitor, September 16, 2012

You met Harry Thomas in your intake A-100 course right?

That’s right. He was from Washington State, like me. Back then we had things in common. Fishing. I guess we were also the only guys there who didn’t fit the foreign service mold.

How do you mean?

Well you know, this kind of Waspy, geography obsessed, Ivy-educated, stamp collector type that loves reading newspapers and all of that. Anal. Intolerant or dismissive of cultures that love monuments.

Bronze statues of dictators, swords crossed in traffic circles?

Exactly. God there’s other stuff too, sorta misogynistic I suppose. Wore a trench coat in college. Closeted. Second generation immigrant bought up on the tales of the old country. Read spy novels in their spare time, after they read, you know, books by Galbraith or Edward Snow or something. You see where I’m going here?

That wasn’t you, that wasn’t Thomas? No little Halberstam acolytes, no Best and Brightest ethos? No Kennedy Kid idealism?

No. That was all before our time. By the time we were in the Foreign Service, early 80’s, it was just starting to broaden things, broaden their recruits. They didn’t really have a choice. Women, minorities.They were ahead of the curve, at least a little. And back then there was this deep recession, places other than the USA were appealing. Except Iran, Afghanistan and Russia I suppose.

This was when there was no decline in the value of public service, no image issues of working for the federal government?

The high water mark was the Hostage Crisis in '81. Probably starting to decline at that point what with all the Central American fiascos. Apart from those obvious hotspots, a junior officer working consul for three year stints at shithole visa mills around the globe seemed exotic and fun…little do they tell you it doesn’t add up. Harry and I were different- in retrospect maybe a little more stupid than our age-matched peers. They were looking for different back then. Smart, well organized and still naive was the golden ticket. I guess the Ivy league crowd were seduced away by Wall Street and gold itself, no lousy ticket for them. Foreign Service was considered second tier, our tier though.

There was big turnover in the 80’s. A cultural shift. That and they were getting stuck with kids who quit when they finally got the notion of a hardship post….

Yeah. It’s a very descriptive term that you guys have. They quit before they even finished paragraph one of the foreign service manual. The thing about you will be placed overseas. I mean it’s right there, page 1. Let alone the idea of we send you someplace new every three years. I’d hate to be on the other end of it. I mean it basically becomes mathematical right? How little can you pay someone to live that way when all their college peers are getting major League salaries for 9-5 jobs in tolerable climates. How far can you take that naivete?

Well there is a culture here that is less cynical than you say. But sure, places with restaurants and ballgames aren't where our consulates are. It’s a big problem reconciling the glamour with the reality for us…

No doubt there’s some level-1 officer who has to figure out the pay multipliers for a hardship post. I’d love to see the pro and con column of a place like Kinshasa. Or anyplace on Luzon.

So you came out of college in?

PLU, 82

Where’s that, Tacoma?

That’s right. Small. Tight community, kids from the Northwest. Smart kids from Alaska, Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula. Good school. Good history. Upwind of the mills. During my orals they told me the last guy to get into the service from PLU was like in '57.

And Thomas?

Thomas graduated from Whitman '82. His folks were farmers up Skagit Valley way.

I’ve been there. Tulip festival.

That’s right, you can grow Tulips in the Skagit Valley. You grow wheat around Whitman. Totally different climates. He worked summers in a bike shop, spent his off time fishing. Old man made him clean the boarding shed where the migrants stayed. Learned Spanish fast. He tested 1-1.

Proficient. With aptitude.

Proficient. That’s a good word for him. Persistent too.

Even before the service…we look for that quality, it’s hard to quantify in the recruiting pool…

Persistent? He was an all-year fisherman. Fly fisherman. That’s about as persistent as you can get. I guess it looks kinda Waspy to the recruiters. Fly Fishing. At least as Waspy you can get out in the Northwest.

From what I understand West coast fly fishing isn’t a sport of gentlemen who dabble in tiny streams?

No. Big waters. Big flies. Steelhead, Salmon. Two-handed Spey rods and acolytes worth listing in Lives of the Saints. I fished with Harry a few times in Chile. He's technically brilliant. We fished in Washington State too. Turns out we were on the Hoh and Sol Duc fishing around about the same time, spring break, 1982. Ice in the guides, never been that cold since. We never ran into each other, but just knowing as much when you're stuck in training in DC means you have something deeply in common.


Those were good times. I miss those times. But as far as some tweed cap, pipe-smoking, pear-shaped, arrogant, red-cheeked Anglophilic jerk, that wasn’t Thomas.

Or you?

God no. You do see me right, I’m black. 185 lbs. I run for fun. You fish Mr Boot?

My brother does. I never understood it. Why you would wait with bait…

Well that’s just it, you swing flies, you wade, you float a river in a boat. You’re always in motion, reading the waters, anticipating fish in locations based on probabilities refined by experience. You earn the trust of the waters. There is no wait with bait... you deceive, you finesse.... then you set the hook. It's the ultimate in diplomacy.

So Harris tested 1-1 on Spanish, and you?

2-2. I got it, but my proficiency wasn’t great, couldn’t pick up on nuances and colloquialisms in Language school. Harry ended up teaching me more than I learned Stateside. He was like that, he had a knack for seeing what you needed, knowing how to fix it. He saw the big picture. A proficient colleague is your friend and vice-versa.

You were both coned?

Consular. Yes. I thought about Political, and Admin, but something about those worlds gave me the sense that you’d take orders until you were way up there. You would shovel shit for a long, long time in a small windowless room talking policy. Consul had a little more independence, the prospect of a desk fan at least.

It’s a little bit of all of that anyway in consul?Political, Admin. That and they want people with some common sense...

Right. And the parties are better.

Prettier girls.

In the foreign service? I guess, I mean in A 100 we had Jean Shillman, Abigail Furl.

Furl’s in Berlin now. Shillman I believe went out on medical leave.

I did not know that. I liked them both. But there's something weird about my A-100 class- they were these super competent beautiful women that had some kind of backbone. Titanium, unapproachable. Uncorruptable. They were Ivy girls or Seven Sisters. Radcliffe College or Mt Holyoke or something. No flirting. Didn’t drink or swear. Not really into men, but not gay either. Not likely to fish or to daydream about mountains and waters…

But once you made it to the consul offices it was different?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Shared misery. Misery loves company, all of that. There were girls from all over. Local girls, girls from the country. Transcription pool, cleaning, secretarial, liaison aides, wives with inattentive husbands….

This was in Chile?

Santiago. First post. But really it's pretty much the same wherever. Yeah most of the girls were Chilean. But it was varied too. Argentinians, Brazilians. Tempting to young junior officers. You know those guys coming to the realization that Foreign Service was not for them.

That happens round about year four. Most notably in hardship posts. Something like that happen to Thomas? I mean he’s there and then gone, he vanishes? Before you answer that, That’s pretty exceptional that you’d both be placed out of the same A100 class to the same consul. How did that happen?

Well I had asked for Asia, so Chile was close enough and Harry got sick. Some kind of spinal thing. Transverse Myelitis, so he was off cycle. Placed in Fall. Right when one of the Santiago guys got super depressed and supposedly shot himself. Had he not got sick…..We were short staffed and Jim Noonan…

I knew Jim in Chennai. Loved the micromanaging. We called him the Durian, he was sort of ripe smelling.

Yes. He embraced the habits of cultures without air-conditioning. Not sorta ripe. Dude was flat out rotten smelling. Santiago was a blessing for us. Nice and cool at times. Anyway Noonan was a micromanager to the Nth, but fortunately the Consul General had the wisdom to pair the Durian with a big picture guy. He was on the horn to get a replacement fast because morale was low and he had quotas he was getting chewed out for. Throughput. Numbers to back it up, the request sort of thing.God knows he'd never roll up his sleeves and look through a stack of applications himself...

Noonan could bore his way into your head with his voice. It kind of had a dremel like quality…

Yeah it is like acid is poured onto your skull until all resistance is painfully eroded.

Who was the big picture guy?

Alexis Stoudemire.

Oh yes. She was in Vientiane with me. She’s not just a 30,000 foot kind-of-gal

60,000 feet


Geostationary orbit. Ran the office by Feng Shui. And hand waving. Maybe a little magic dust. Still she knew what was in that diplomatic pouch before the rest of us and could handle dignitaries like you wouldn’t believe. Made problems vanish. Charm, efficiently sexy. You never, ever, wanted to say no to her. She had this face that made it look like you were wounding her if you even gave off the slightest hint of going against her wishes. Never understood her magic, but sure came to appreciate it.

Stephen Rostov was there too, I knew him in Berlin, before his stroke.

I learned one thing from Steven Rostov.

He was a political appointee?

Yeah, nice guy, clueless as can be about the minds of emigrants, let alone the Foreign Service but could manage his way into any corporate boardroom. Anyway, he had rules, and rule number one was never pair micro-managers with each other. Rule number two was never pair big picture guys.

And rule number three?

Don't sleep with coworkers.

Good luck with that!


Was that his third rule?

Well it’s the only combo left right? Pair big picture with micro-manager. Careerists and the ambivalent yet capable make for a much better team. Anyway, who am I picking up at the airport 6 months after coming to Santiago but Harry Thomas. That was one of the best days of my career. Particularly because he came out of that plane with a couple of rod tubes...

Were you motivated to achieve?

God no. Thomas neither. I mean there was a while perhaps, where you have certain taste of power. You know you’ve spent your life working your way through school, studying, building a network, getting the grades. You pass the foreign service exam. 95% of people don’t. Then the orals, the service wants you, they charm you, everyone else is smart. You get that call and it’s an adult on the line saying the US Government wants you, when can you go and here’s what we’ll pay you.

You of course have no idea what you’re worth...

No of course not. Does anyone at 22 or 23? And then you pack your bags and arrive in some place totally different from anything you would expect. There’s little glamor, there’s just work. There's no fishing. Nothing but folks wanting visas. Wanting visas to go to the place you just left, maybe even to find the company job that just turned you down. Visas to go fish the rivers you just left. I mean the irony is not lost on you…

Santiago’s denial rate was pretty low right?

Is now. Though when we were there we were pushing like 19-20 %

Sort of like Manila.

I wouldn’t know.

Philippines we were pushing 45% round that time, end of Marcos and all.

See in Chile we were in Pinochet’s decline. He was liberalizing the economy, selling mining rights, moving towards free markets. Velvet glove transitions. Lots of people were scared and lots wanted out. The Junta were still a presence, though you didn’t ever hear about them- at least officially. The folks wanting visas weren’t shy though.

So there you are at 23 talking with a 60-year-old who’s husband was maybe a Doctor or a Scientist and had vanished, taken at night, you and she both know he's dead but neither will say as much, she has a shit-ton of cash she’d stashed under her bed and a notion that the USA would be better. She's smart and scared and crying, and you're the guy that's going to decide her fate.

So you had some power, and you could feel good about doing your work, at last, you could get this woman out of her nightmare. But the kids, the Junior Consuls, some of them at least, got drunk on it.

The pretty girls…

Yeah I know- pretty girls and cash. The pretty girl who had all her application messed up, none of it made any sense, no family in the US, no means of support, but money, lots of it. So these guys, the JC, would meet them up later, after work, and the visa would get approved out of office and there would be a 6th year consulate with a new pair of shoes and a twinkle in his eye. And a girl heading stateside with nothing but cash and looks.

Shoes being the least of it. Yeah. I could name names. Manila was the same way. Some guys took a lot of penicillin to cope…

Well I think that’s where Thomas got into a little trouble.

How so, I thought the inquiry just said he vanished?

Well yeah, that’s what they inquiry said, but the inquiry never asked me anything.

On account of?

Just before he left, vanished or whatever, I was sent to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The biggest shithole perhaps excepting Port Au Prince for a black representative of the US of A to be sent to. And then Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Ireland...jeez the list goes on. Where didn't they send me? I should ask you that...

So you’ve never talked with anyone about Thomas’ going missing until now, with me here, some 25 years later?

Well I’ve talked with people, but not government people. I kept my mouth shut. Particularly when I heard word he was officially gone.

Well that seems like a major oversight. Which brings a very obvious question or two. Did you talk to Thomas then since he went missing? Do you know where he is?

(long pause)
(Redacted- lines 148-154)

Who wants to know? Because my bet is that we’re no longer talking about me in this exit interview are we?

(long pause)

You’re still looking for him…

Well, Nelson, I think we better wrap this up for the day because I suspect there are some guys above me that may want to have a word with you about Thomas.

Really? Who?

Well internal affairs for one.

Who’s that these days?

Roger Stafford runs it.

Yeah that’s not going to happen. I know that guy and I don’t know anyone that would trust him with a bag full of jockstraps let alone some old stuff on Thomas. Harry and I were friends. I tell you what, let’s end this tape here and forget about the last few minutes. Hit rewind. Ask me about the girls in Santiago- Spanish redheaded Jews, a small but flexible community. I can tell you about them at length. Throw me a softball..Ask me about Carmen…Or the moped mules in Trinidad…

I’m afraid I can’t do that Nelson.

I guess we’re done then.

Harry Thomas…based on exit Interviews from Nelson D’Shawn as interviewed by J Howell Boot, September 17, 2012

Nelson, I’m glad you agreed to talk to me today. Roger Stafford and his superiors were upset by your refusal to meet with them and have asked that I discuss some matters pertinent to Harry Thomas’ disappearance.

Mr Boot, I’ll do what I can, but not for that asshole Stafford, and I'll be frank, I'm curious to hear what you have to say about Harry.

Noted. So we left off yesterday talking about Santiago. Had Thomas met someone there?

He did. He’d met a girl named Rosa Urretia. Handled her applications.

She remains of great interest to the department, for obvious reasons. I’ve learned that she was the daughter of a Junta General. She's a woman of some pluck and courage.

Oh Rosa was a firecracker. She was something else.

Honey trap?

Oh god no. She wasn’t a setup, she was afraid. Terrified. The day she walked into the counsel and sat down in front of Harry, sweating, looking about. Scarf wrapped high around her head. But with blond hair flashing out, it was hard not to miss her. Beautiful. Just stunning. But scared. Trying to look inconspicuous doesn't come easy to someone like that.

Sometimes those girls from Argentina or Chile or Brazil have this exotic mix of everything beautiful.

Add to that the bronze skin that doesn’t seem to age.


Anyway Rosa came in all nervous and frightened and I could tell Harry was interested from the get go. This was not a girl from Sedro…


Sedro? I really don’t want to explain that.

No not Sedro. Presumably by Sedro you mean some small town girl from Sedro Wooley the former Skagit logging and hobo town who may or may not have teeth.

I take it you were one of those geography-obsessed history nerds

A-100 class of 65…back to this girl, what was different in how Thomas behaved?

Well normally he'd two finger hunt and peck his selectric while doing the interview. Chunk-a-chunk-a-chunk. It was almost painful. But that day it was just humming. That and he had kind of an efficient procedural monotone he used preferentially, that day he was animated, it was immediately notable. He had that voice when he fished, but this was more vital. Like he’d crawled from our side into no-mans land. When she walked in that door, sat at his desk and unwrapped her scarf….

That’s when we lost him?


But he had worked with pretty girls before…

Not smart and connected and pretty. She also had things we wanted.


From what I remember these were records of abductions from Pinochet. Her father supervised those operations, apparently.I never saw them.

This would be Juan Silvestre Urretia

The Armadillo

Doesn’t sound frightening.

Not on paper. But look at his photos. The pockmarks, the scars, the shape of him. Hard to believe Rosa could be a fruit of his loins…

Well we have her DNA, his too, and she probably is not…

I did not know that.

What do you mean you have her DNA?

She was abducted from her birth family and fostered by Juan Silvestre and his wife.

Man what a soap opera. How do you guys even know this, weren’t they shot?


We suggested it.

(long pause)

Stafford told me to tell you that specifically. He said tell him we suggested it. Tell him also we shot them. That we shot the Armadillo and his wife. See if that helps his memory. You have to remember, Nelson, that is Stafford talking, not me.

(long pause)

Does this change what we can talk about?

Does it?

Well we think we know where Thomas is and we need your help.


We need to meet with him. And Rosa. Especially Rosa.


She has assets that are ours.

What does Thomas have that you need?


Yeah that’s not going to cut it. What’s in it for me? Why would I rat my friend out, if you think you have him, go get him….if you think he is alive

There’s nothing in it for you but the knowledge of a career well served in the US foreign Service…

Please. Do I look like a fool?

Where do you think he is?

Chile. Maybe Argentina. South. Far south, Perhaps Patagonia, though we are not yet sure. We have eyes on the ground even now. We think he is living as a fishing guide. A kind of hermit. How is it called, “Trout Bum”

(long pause)

Trout Bum. Good luck there. Can we tie this up?

If there’s nothing more to say. You know a guy like Thomas can be in a lot of trouble very quickly. If you were a real friend…

Yeah this was 25 years ago he went missing and you think I know anything? Fishing guide my ass. If you guys only knew his philosophy there. I’ll tell you two things Mr Boot...

What’s that?

First maybe Harry Thomas is fishing, living a trout bum’s life. Maybe he’s with Rosa too. And third….I’ll give you three things…if you knew Harry he’d be fishing cold waters, for migratory fish. For predatory fish. Big muscled fish. And I’ll bet that beside him are his kids and a Rosa looking happy and content. Maybe she’s fishing too. And maybe, just maybe Boot, they are happy in ways that you and I cannot understand. Stability, permanence, predictability. So why mess with it?

Believe me Nelson, if there are ways you can help Harry Thomas, now is the time to do so.

I can’t do that Mr Boot. But know this, there are a lot of cold waters, a lot of rivers. I doubt you’ll find Harry Thomas and if you do, the man you’ll find is not the man I knew nor the man you want.

He’s almost certainly a better one, just as I would have been if I left when he did.

30 years of service and a badge and a pension and nothing but lost names and missed connections. I come back to a country full of the self absorbed and greedy. Who don't give a fuck that I spent 30 years representing them in every corner of the globe. People who are pissed that I worked federal, that I helped people- good people- emigrate. Not only that, I come back to find the people I worked for, who I believed in, are chasing down a good man and his girl for something that they want no part in and that they are not responsible for

Officers sign away their wants day one of A-100. You know that.

We’ll it’s nice to be back in the USA, Mr Boot.

We’ll be in touch, Nelson.

I doubt that.

Janine out front will validate your parking and I will pass on to Mr Stafford your regards, I would like you to meet with him tomorrow.

Fuck you.

(end of recording)


Active Member
Very interesting... almost reads like a novel. I was with the Foreign Service in the 60s and 70s and also in S. America. Mostly the other coast. I worked in consulates some but mostly in the embassies. Political. I wonder where a fly fishing guy from a Skagit County Farm could have gone. If he was 1:1 in Spanish he could be hiding out on an Estancia somewhere. The fishing on both sides of the Andes is incredibly good.



Active Member
My best friend, with whom I worked at a different posting, retired after 25 years at age 50 (we were in a different "branch" of the FS). He visited me at my Lake house near Marysville shortly after his return to the USA. With a beer in his hand, looking out over this little lake, he told me that he should have left in the 70s when I did. He said that they (his wife and two daughters) were happy for 6 years out of 25; and they were not contiguous years. Brasilia and Asmara. Extended a 2-year posting to 3 for each of those.

He and his wife (the kids were married and gone by then) had bought a 5th wheel trailer and a pickup truck and were trying to find a place to live in the USA where they fit in. Not easy when you've spent your entire life living in foreign places and speaking a different language in each one. I lost track of him when he took a job with a government contractor and went out on jobs updating the various Embassy buildings.

It's a shitty life, for the most part. In those days, in many parts of Africa, you had to order your food 6 months in advance from Holland. In cans, mostly. Or dried. But you couldn't trust the food there. And when you arrived on post you took over the order that your predecessor had (and paid him for it). And immediately set about ordering your next shipment.

Oh... and there is seldom the security at a Consulate that there is at an Embassy. No armed Marine guards. Usually it's a rented suite in a downtown office building. Staff members use "safe houses" to meet local girls for sex... so that they are anything but secure. I've noticed with the recent brouhaha that that probably has not changed much.

The fishing, however, in S. America is stupendous.



Ignored Member
I think I know that guy.................

Nice read Boot. Tell you brother no one up here is talking.

Support WFF | Remove the Ads

Support WFF by upgrading your account. Site supporters benefits include no ads and access to some additional features, few now, more in the works. Info

Latest posts