“We never imagined that anybody would ever find them”
– Skeletons were placed by dive buddies from Phoenix
– They hoped the media sensation would blow over
– They met with sheriff’s officials Thursday
The people at the center of an international news story around the discovery of a mysterious fake skeleton ‘tea party’ at the bottom of the Colorado River have come forward to tell the story of how they got there.
David and his wife Jill (not their real names) drove three hours from their home in Phoenix to Parker, AZ on Thursday morning after seeing their skeletons, Bernie and Bernadette, in the news around the world. They arranged a meeting with Lieutenant Curt Bagby at the La Paz County Sheriff’s Department, and brought a prepared statement in response to Parker Live’s request for the story.
David said he and a dive buddy, both frequent visitors to the famous Parker Strip on the Colorado River where the skeletons were found, prepared and placed Bernie in the water by himself in August 2014.
“Costco at the time was selling these Halloween skeletons for some $35 to $40, so it dawned on us that we could have some fun by placing them in 25 to 30 feet of water near an area we’ve dove before,” he said.
Scuba divers often have sites they dive to, or landmarks in the water, and David and his friend wanted to set up one of their own.
They screwed sunglasses onto the skeleton’s head and zip-tied him to a Home Depot lawn chair. They fastened a Swatch Scuba watch on his left wrist, which David hopes is still working. They melted a beer can onto his right hand, which didn’t hold long in the water, but the screw for it remains in his finger. He is also wearing cutoff flip-flops and beads. The plaque he holds reads, “Bernie livin’ the dream in the river” and includes the date he was submerged.
“For those that understood the ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ movie, you’ve figured it out!” David added. “The only people who knew about this were me, my dive buddy and family.”
The story became a media sensation after a man snorkelling north of Parker on Monday spotted Bernie and Bernadette and called the La Paz County Sheriff’s Department. Lieutenant Bagby said it was a report of “human remains” and he didn’t know at first what they would find.
“We arranged that a diver for Buckskin Fire Department would go down with a camera so we could get a better idea of what we were dealing with,” Bagby said. “When he came up laughing, we all relaxed.”
Buckskin Fire Department diver encounters Bernie for the first time
Despite the media speculation that the skeletons were put there as a prank or gag, or to trick law enforcement, David says the skeletons were placed for their own amusement.
“We never imagined that anybody would ever find them,” he said. “They were so far down in the water, and hidden in between the rocks.”
He revealed that he and his dive buddy have been back several times since to clean the skeletons and visit, and to add Bernadette, who didn’t join Bernie until March this year.
“She is also wearing sunglasses, but we also screwed on a clown wig as well as an old Bikini Swimsuit to give Bernie some pleasant-looking company. It’s being branded as a tea party, but that was not the original intent. Bernie and Bernadette are conversing on current events and watching the fish go by.”
When David and Jill arrived at the Sheriff’s Office Thursday, they were noticeably nervous, according to Bagby. There had been responses in the press which included references to wasting law enforcement resources, something which the La Paz County Sheriff’s officials have never agreed with.
“As we see it, this was never a malicious thing,” Bagby said. “It allowed us to smile for a change, and brought some levity to our week.”
Bagby’s phone has not stopped ringing since Monday, he says. Just hours before David and Jill showed up, he was on America’s Newsroom on Fox News with Bill Hemmer, talking about Bernie the Skeleton and trying to spread the message that the Sheriff’s Office had no interest in charging the people who put him there.
“I’ve lost count of the number of newsrooms I’ve talked to,” he said. “Detroit, London, Australia, and there was one I couldn’t even call back, I didn’t recognize the country code.”
David and Jill said they saw the news about Bernie’s discovery first on Parker Live. “David, they found Bernie!” she told her husband after reading it.
They described the feeling of seeing the story all over the worldwide news as nervousness, at first assuming it would die down. But as the week progressed, “the story just kept getting bigger and bigger,” and soon the couple were seeing it on TV.
“We’re empty-nesters with a real quiet house,” Jill said. “The thought of millions of people seeing this is pretty amazing.”
When the couple saw Parker Live’s request for anonymous information, they considered sending us a statement, and eventually decided they needed to drive to Parker and visit the Sheriff’s Department in person.
“We’ve always taught our kids that they should answer for anything that they were involved with,” Jill said. “So we knew we needed to come to Parker and tell them it was us.”
David brought his checkbook with him, in case the Sheriff’s Office decided to fine him, and Jill said she was prepared to drive home alone if it turned out that way.
“We just didn’t know,” she said.
They left the Sheriff’s Office relieved and commenting about how nice everybody was.
“The Parker Sheriff’s Office and Buckskin Fire do a great job and we’re happy it’s brought some humor to them as well as the town and beyond,” David added. “The amount of airtime and coverage this has received is pretty amazing to say the least. In the world we live in today, people should laugh a little more often!”
The Parker Strip is a 17-mile stretch of the Colorado River popular with watersports lovers, sun lovers and tourists from all over the country, with the small town of Parker on the southern end. David and Jill say they come back to enjoy the recreation often. One big event coming up is the Parker Tube Float, when thousands of people float on inner tubes over a course of a few miles of river.
The plan for the skeletons now revolves around liability, according to Bagby.
“The question we have to ask is, is there any liability now that we know it’s there,” he said. “It’s been suggested that we could move it and create a dive site in a safer area of the river, too, with a geocache. We need to think it through.”
David likes that idea, saying such dive sites are common in other lakes. He and Jill have ties to Parker, with family who live in the area, and say they would love to see the skeletons looked after in some way.
In the meantime, it’s been a startling week for them both, and for David’s dive buddy who, so far, has wanted to stay out of the fray.
Lieutenant Bagby will appear on the Parker Livecast with John Wright and Josh Savino on this site today.