Early this month, investigator-to-the-stars John J. Nazarian was relaxing at his luxe 10-acre ranch north of Los Angeles, his Bentley and Rolls Royce in the garage and his prize horses roaming the property, when his secretary walked into his large home office.
“He’s back,” she said.
In Nazarian’s line of work, “he” could be anybody. In 40 years as one of L.A.’s more colorful PI’s, Nazarian has worked for everyone from Frank Sinatra and Paul Anka to Vin Diesel, Oscar de la Hoya, Anna Nicole Smith and CBS president Les Moonves, among many others. He began his career as a prison guard in Frontera, Calif., where the inmates included members of the Manson family.
Nazarian charges $600 per hour based on at least a $10,000 monthly retainer and likes to live large, with big stars.
“Who’s back?” Nazarian asked.
“Mr. McDermott’s back,” she said.
“Oh for Chrissake,” said Nazarian. “That clown. Again?”
The less-than-weighty Australian magazine New Idea reported breathlessly earlier this month: “Olivia Newton-John’s missing lover Patrick found!”
This was weird but par for the course, since alleged Patrick McDermott sightings have been plentiful since Nazarian first flew down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in 2005 when the TV show Extra got a tip he was down there and dispatched Nazarian. (Just last year another Australian magazine also reported that McDermott was alive and well and living in Mexico.)
McDermott, who would now be 60, allegedly disappeared while he was a passenger on a small fishing boat called Freedom which took off from San Pedro, Calif., for an overnight trip on July 30, 2005. Passengers and crew gave differing reports about what happened to him and he was presumed drowned.
At first it was reported he vanished half an hour before the boat was due to return to port, leaving his bill paid and his belongings on his bed.
But sometime in the next few days, McDermott was reported missing and eventually it was thought he faked his own death to avoid mounting debt and child support payments to his ex-wife, actress Yvette Nipar. At the time he had been dating Newton-John on and off for nine years.
The like-clockwork annual revival of the McDermott story (last year Australia’s Woman’s Day magazine reported that McDermott was alive) did not come as a surprise to Nazarian—who was the first PI on the case.
Nazarian didn’t exactly find McDermott but he tracked down traces of him at a restaurant where he’d signed his name on a wood plank and left his hat—allegedly. Nazarian spent months on the case and doesn’t believe McDermott vanished off the boat or that he faked his own death.
“First of all he allegedly drowned off this fishing boat which was not some big cruise ship,” Nazarian said. “It had 22 passengers. If you were on this boat and somebody dropped a tuna fish sandwich you’d hear it, never mind someone falling overboard. I think he just walked off the boat and nobody noticed him. He split for Monterrey, Mexico, with some German girl. I think Olivia was probably relieved. She was sick of paying his bills.”
Neither Newton-John nor Yvette Nipar responded to requests for comment from The Daily Beast. Newton-John married her second husband, John Easterling, in 2008, but the Grease star referenced McDermott in the Australian version of 60 minutes last year. “It’s human to wonder but you know, those are the things in life you have to accept and let go,” she said. “Because whenever you go through difficult times, there’s always those concerns. But I live on and of course questions come up, always, it’s human.”
As time went on, Nazarian was supplanted on the case by two San Antonio-area private detectives: first Philip Klein and more recently Charlie Parker, a fact that irks him to no end.
In 2009, NBC’s Dateline sent Klein down to Mexico to sniff out McDermott, and while Klein never provided any video or photographic evidence, he did self-publish a book about the case, Lost at Sea, in 2012.
“San Antonio? Really?” Nazarian said. “Both these guys have offices the size of a mailbox drop. I tip more in one night than these guys make all year. Did you see what Dateline ran about Klein? They just showed a bunch of shots of him down in Mexico eating tacos on Dateline’s dollar. No real sign of McDermott. There’s a reason the Australian media goes for these guys in Texas of all places. They’ll tell them what they want to hear because they’re peddling a book or some other goddamn thing.”
Klein declined comment for this story. His secretary, Madison, said he has “moved on.”
Bobby Finger of Jezebel has now done two posts on what he calls “sort of an annual tradition” of new media reports about the old news that McDermott, if he indeed “faked his own death,” did a very poor job.
In Finger’s post last year he asked, “How Many Times Does Olivia Newton-John’s Ex-Boyfriend Need to Tell Everyone He’s Not Dead?”
In perpetuity, it would seem.
This time, however, New Idea claimed an “exclusive” based on a new wrinkle: The magazine claimed it had obtained the first-ever photograph of McDermott from a notice board at “the run-down El Palmar del Camaron beach campsite” in Sayulita, Mexico, a hippie surf mecca not far from where Nazarian first found McDermott’s trail in 2005.
New Idea sent the blurry photo to Charlie Parker, a San Antonio-area private detective to verify it was really him.
“I don’t know how they got ahold of me,” Parker told The Daily Beast. He thinks it was because he was the star of a 2012 documentary called The Impostor, in which he helped break the case of a Frenchman who fooled an American family into thinking he was their son who had been abducted three years earlier.
Anyway, Parker verified that the photo was Patrick McDermott via an unusual method that he used in the French case: He measured the distance between the tip of the ears to the neck and compared it to pictures of McDermott when he was still with Newton-John.
“The eyes and widow’s peak are the same too,” Parker said.
Nazarian isn’t having any of it. For starters, he’s suspicious as to how New Idea suddenly happened to obtain a photo of McDermott—the first one anyone has gotten in the 12 years since McDermott disappeared. Why? Because he says that seven months ago he got a call from an Australian reporter saying, once again, someone had found McDermott.
“I said, great, where’s the picture,” Nazarian said he asked the reporter. She told him they didn’t have a photo.
“I said are you fucking kidding me? This guy is in Mexico for 12 years in the era of camera phones and nobody can get a picture of him? What is he? The Loch Ness monster? Sasquatch?”
Nazarian recalls the reporter as being dumbstruck by his revelation. “She said, you’re right, of course, somebody should get a picture. Boom, all of a sudden there’s a picture. And we get it verified by some joker who measures ears. Ears!”
Whether or not the photo is really McDermott doesn’t matter much to Nazarian anymore. What surprises him is why none of the L.A. paparazzi have staked out Sayulita to get a real shot of McDermott.
“With camera phones all you have to do is hit the button, walk up to the guy and start talking,” Nazarian said. “A photo of him might get $500,000. Why isn’t anyone down there?”
Nazarian thinks it’s because McDermott remains “huge news” in Australia, where they may want to keep the myth alive to sell newspapers, he said.
According to Stefan Brown, a Denver, Colorado, native who spends winters in Sayulita, everyone down there knows the story but is too cool to care.
“We’ve all known the Pat-Olivia story for years,” Brown told the Daily Beast. “But Pat would have no motivation to talk and the locals never were into the story. There are so many characters here from all walks of life that everyone just seems to blend in to the mix. Even when the pro surfers show up for the big swells, or the Dallas cheerleaders stroll through town, or when the movies/novelas are being filmed, life just goes on without much fanfare. Especially for him.”