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Mar-31-2010 00:46printcomments

Reports Citing Discovery of 'Remains of Sean Flynn' Presumptuous and Misleading

Men who located possible human remains say the allegations about them in media reports are untrue.

The men at the center of the recovery, from Macmillan, Brantley Investigations
Keith Rotheram left and Dave MacMillan, right, enter the US Embassy in Phnom Penh to hand over remains. Courtesy Fred Wissink/Asia Life Magazine

(PHNOM PENH / SALEM) - A tooth and other remains recovered from a reported mass gravesite in Cambodia could lead to truth in the Sean Flynn Mystery, but it is too soon to tell.

News agencies in both the U.S. and abroad reported Monday that the remains of Sean Flynn, Vietnam War Photojournalist and son of Hollywood actor Errol Flynn missing since 1970, had been recovered.

It is too early to state that Sean Flynn has been recovered; remains recovered in Cambodia have not even arrived at the testing facility in Hawaii.

At least one U.S. network, several newspapers and a blog, stated or suggested directly that Sean Flynn had been found.

  • For the record, the Telegraph UK's headline reads, "Remains of Errol Flynn's son Sean 'discovered' in Cambodia".
  • NBC's Brian Williams said of Sean Flynn, "His fate was a mystery until now." Geez.
  • The headline for Gold Coast Bulleton News reads, "Keith Rotheram finds remains of Errol Flynn's son".
  • wrote, "DNA Test Solved Decades Mystery of Sean Son of Errol Flynn, What Really Happened?"
  • And "Sean Flynn's Remains Found" is the headline for All the buzz in News (blog).

Sean Flynn was a daring combat
photojournalist in the Vietnam War

So that means that a major network, print media and a blog, are working with the same level of research, next to none, and published on Google.

But that may just be the start of the misinformation, based on the word of the people who recovered what are believed to possibly be remains of Sean Flynn. More on that in a moment.

It seems important to repeat that at this point, there is no evidence of any kind that Sean Flynn was recovered, according to Lt Col. Wayne Perry USAF, one of the people at JPAC (Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command) in Hawaii.

He mentioned that he had just returned from Cambodia, but was not present at this particular excavation.

News reports issued Monday indicate that the human remains were excavated from a grave, reportedly the mass burial site of up to ten missing Americans.

We carried the information yesterday, including the fact that remains had been recovered, but not yet identified.

Sean Flynn and Dana Stone were among the many reporters and photographers who covered the invasion of Cambodia in 1970.


Combat Photojournalists Sean Flynn and Dana Stone spent years in Vietnam

Dana Stone, Sean Flynn, Tim Page and most if not all of their war photographer friends, were known for living on the edge.

The last day Flynn and Stone were seen by people who knew them, they and had decided to ride their motorcycles up to a Communist checkpoint where they would certainly be captured.

A few days earlier, American journalists had a similar experience, and they were released after a few hours with a fantastic story from "inside" and photos that supported it.

Sean Flynn and Dana Stone thought that seeing the war from the other side was important. They thought they would come back, but it was a heated time and after being in the hands of Khmer Rouge guerrillas, there was little hope that the Flynn family name would gain positive recognition or favor.

Many people including Sean Flynn's mother, Lili Damita, close friend and fellow Combat Photojournalist Tim Page, Dana Stone's wife Louise Stone and and his brother Tom, vested time and money into searching for the two. In the case of Page and Louise Stone, a great deal of courage was shown, and risk of grave danger, all to no avail.

The remains were discovered in the central Kampong Cham province of Cambodia earlier in March by 60-year old Keith Rotheram of the UK, and 29-year old David MacMillan, a Scottish-born Australian.

Lt. Col. Perry with JPAC, says the good news is that Sean's sister Rory Flynn is involved. All of this is taking place just days prior to the 40th anniversary of the disappearance of Stone and Flynn, on 6 April 1970.

The two did not claim to have located Dana Stone, nor they say, did they specifically claim to have located remains of Sean Flynn. Dave MacMillan contacted to set the record straight on several points. Instead of incorporating this into the piece, I will list it verbatim below:

I am writing to respond to the allegations and mischaracterizations that have appeared in various news accounts, particularly the AP report filed by Sopheang Cheng, of the discovery of human remains in Phka Dong, Cambodia by my partner Keith Rotheram, Scott Brantley, Adam MacMillan and myself.

1. Mr. Cheng notably neglected to mention in his article that our actions were fully sanctioned and partially funded by Ms. Rory Flynn, Sean Flynn’s sister and legal next of kin.

2. The article by Mr. Cheng describes freelance “bone hunters,” and characterizes some as swindlers who have demanded payment. While he does not directly accuse us in this manner, there seems to us to be an implication by proximity. For the record, we freely turned the bones over to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, and no request for payment for the bones was ever made to any party.

3. The article neglects to mention that Tim Page had in fact worked closely with me for at least a year on a recent search for Sean Flynn and had publicly stated his intention to publish a book about the project—which would have been his second book about his search for Sean Flynn. He had also been in discussion to make a documentary film about his search, which also would have been his second. His public claims pertaining to our crew being freelance bone hunters and that we desecrated a mass grave is so he can hold onto a production deal for a major documentary he is due to start shooting in Cambodia with Wall to Wall.

4. Our use of the excavator has been misrepresented. Page’s claim that we potentially harmed a mass grave is inaccurate. The area we dug was a single gravesite. We used the excavator because we knew the grave was deeper than usual, due to the body being weighted down with rocks. All we had to do was carefully skim the soil and feel for rocks, at which point we stopped the machine and I did the rest by hand.

Dave MacMillan and Scott Brantley investigating
in Kampong Chma Province; Photo: Adam MacMillan

5. We acted with the consent of the Cambodian military, local police, local community leaders and landowners, and with the full knowledge of JPAC.

6. We have not claimed definitively that the remains we discovered belonged to Sean Flynn. We were acting on documentation and eyewitness evidence that led us to believe that Flynn was executed and buried in the area in which we dug. Forensic evidence after our discovery, including the condition of the dental remains, which we had independently examined by a orthodontics expert, appear to support this identification. That being said it is evident that exactly who it is not certain until the U.S. government finishes their testing of the remains.

7. We handed over part remains to the US embassy for DNA testing on the 17th of March to Mr.Loverde. Mr.Tim Page's mischaracterization that we were on the run with the bones is incorrect, we held onto the remains whilst we had experts take samples for DNA and did dental record x-rays so that we had a precise recording of the biological data prior to the hand over. We did this at the request of Rory so we had data for independent scientific testing. We handed over the remains to the embassy willingly after this process was completed and you can refer to Mr. Choek Sa the governer of Kampong Cham and his qoute in your paper yesterday.

8. We are not amatuer bone hunters, we volunteered to help Rory on her mission and worked as her field agents and did not recieve payment for what we have done and are still doing, both Mr.Scott Brantley who is a registered private investigator from Nashville Tennessee and myself have combined 35 years of investigation experience between us.


Dave MacMillan

Perry says that based on what JPAC knows, the area is not likely where the remains of Flynn and Stone are located, though their resting place is almost certainly Cambodia.

I did not mention in yesterday's report that under President Bill Clinton, CIA agents were sent into Cambodia to try to determine the fate and possible location of Sean Flynn, Dana Stone and others.

Agents were given different accounts, and one reported witness said that Flynn and Stone died when they were staging a hunger strike in captivity. There were unconfirmed reports that they could have been buried alive. There are theories, but exactly what really happened to them is not known.

To fully comprehend the story and all of the accounts of the different searchers, would involve studying a number of books, records, images, films, and the witness statements that exist in other places, and those that are still waiting possibly be made.

There is a movie made by Tim Page called "Frankie's House" that loosely documents the lives of the photographers and reporters when they shared a house in Saigon. The single best book is "Two of the Missing - Remembering Sean Flynn and Dana Stone". It was recently republished and it is eloquent and memorable, I can't recommend it enough.

No Verification

JPAC's Wayne Perry tells the news about the remains being identified came way too soon.

"We are waiting to for the remains to arrive before we even know if they even human, and then whether or not they are western, or specifically American."

He says Rory Flynn had learned of the suspected Flynn site in Cambodia- and had it investigated. Remains were handed over to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh.

Later JPAC received additional remains, Perry said. In yesterday's report we only mentioned that a jaw and a femur bone were recovered. Perry says one piece of evidence is even better.

"We've done no biological analysis at all, it hasn't even happened yet. We have been receiving a lot of calls about Sean Flynn based on the reports stating he has been identified, but we are still waiting."

If there is a smoking gun, it will likely come from a tooth recovered at the site that Perry has been told, is "well defined and could not have been Cambodian".

"Whatever comes in that bag, that is what will determine the course of this," he said.

Sean Flynn's dental records, as well as those of other missing journalists, I presume, all still exist. Again, Perry cited how helpful it is to have a family member like Rory Flynn on hand to assist with what he hopes will be a quick identification, once the remains arrive.

But Perry says there are particular problems that people in his shoes encounter when trying to locate missing civilians like Flynn and Stone.

"There are a lot of false cases for us. Sean Flynn; we would like to find him, he and Dana Stone though like some of the others, don't have military records that we can study to learn more about their locations and movements before they went off the radar."

In the Killing Fields

Perry points out that Cambodia, however different today, is the place of the killing fields. After the U.S. War in Vietnam, Pol Pot, head of the dreaded genocidal Khmer Rouge, ordered millions of his fellow countrymen into reeducation camps and slaughtered them by the million.

Courtesy: Google maps

That means searching for the remains of one of the reported 37 western journalists missing in Cambodia, is something akin to looking for a needle in a haystack.

There are also American servicemen missing in this country, but the remains of several million Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot in mass graves, pose a statistical nightmare for the diligent teams of JPAC.

The odds really aren't very good. But it could be Sean Flynn, and nobody should outrule the possibility at this point. In fact, if the tooth is simply western, then it will likely lead to the discovery of somebody long missing in SE Asia.

It is always good to hear that there is hope, and that maybe, possibly, the remains presently being shipped to the JPAC labs in Hawaii will lead to much more than expected.

In terms of how long the identification will take once the remains arrive, Perry said, "That will depend on material evidence and how much was recovered, not one that anyone wants something like this to drag on. It is too soon to tell either way."

In terms of what corroborative evidence might mean to JPAC, Perry says they would visit the site to see what type of chance they might still have in locating more remains, that is if the first round of recovered remains show promise.

"We use screen and work in four meter sections. Everything is sifted and treated as an archaeological site."

There is no way to assess the damage until their crews visit the site in Cambodia, Perry says, if they do ultimately visit the site.

Now, based on the statement from Dave McMillan, perhaps everyone will rest easier knowing that this potentially sensitive site was not necessarily ravaged, as so many media outlets including ours, have reported.

This is not the first time somebody has claimed to have located the remains of Sean Flynn. I know there was a point where Tim Page himself thought he had located Flynn's final resting place.

Aside from that, Sean Flynn's name is a money making idea in Cambodia, where people claim to be experts and have all kinds of information that doesn't in the end, have any validity at all. McMillan clearly stated that this is not something that was done for profit.

We will continue to follow this developing story and encourage anyone with information to contact us, my email address is listed below.

For a wealth of photos and background information on Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, and also a number of source links, visit our report:

Mar-29-2010: Sean Flynn's Remains Possibly Found in Cambodia - Tim King

(Editor's note: This is a link to our most current article on Sean Flynn's possible recovery: Clearing the Air for Missing Photojournalist Sean Flynn's Family - Tim King

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.

Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. You can send Tim an email at this address:

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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pierre paul July 2, 2010 9:57 am (Pacific time)

Je pense qu'il est plus important de comprendre la nature spirituelle de Sean que de s'attarder à ses restes.Sean laisse un "impact" très important, dans le coeur de ceux qui l'ont aimé...en France Jean Lartéguy a écrit un roman sur son histoire "enquête sur un crucifié" indiquant finalement qu'une "lumière"intérieure, l'habitait

Star March 31, 2010 9:25 pm (Pacific time)

I do pray that those remains if not him are linked to an American or even someone JPAC can ID. It would be nice to bring yet another American home.

Chuck Palazzo March 31, 2010 6:38 pm (Pacific time)

Fascinating Tim, and as we all know, facts are not facts until they are proven. A tooth and other remains cannot possibly be proven to be the remains of anyone without the proper identification process completed in Hawaii or other facility. The fact that Cambodia is home to the Killing Fields makes it so much more difficult to even imagine that these could be Sean Flynn's remains, at least based on this cursory review - as you well point out, by sad definition of these lands, there are so many like remains. Great work brother. Semper Fi. -Chuck

Natalie March 31, 2010 1:24 am (Pacific time)

Sounds like this mystery will remain haunting inquiring minds for quite some time.

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