Navy Captain George Colvocoresses survived yellow fever, explored uncharted islands of the South Pacific Ocean and conducted daring raids on Southern command posts during the Civil War, only to come home to Connecticut and end up dead.
The circumstances of his death on June 3, 1872, shot on a cobblestone street in Bridgeport, are shrouded in mystery.
There's even a map diagramming the crime scene around Clinton Street that was discovered years later in the archives of the Connecticut Historical Society. It is referred to as the "murder map," although who drew it and for what purpose is unknown.
Some believed the captain was murdered. Insurance companies that held a then-astronomical $200,000 in life insurance policies on Colvocoresses claimed it was a suicide. Still others said he had hired a "body double" and faked his death only to sail off to the South Pacific to live out his life in paradise.
There were allegations of police incompetence for losing key evidence from the death scene, a deathbed confession by a sailor and lawsuits by his surviving family against insurance companies that refused to pay out premiums.
As far as his family is concerned, there was never any question the captain was murdered, according to his great-great-grandson Harry Colvocoresses.
"I think we all believed that he was murdered and the whole suicide idea was just a creative attempt by the insurance companies not to pay up," Harry Colvocoresses said in a recent interview.
Yellow Fever And Civil War
George Colvocoresses' life not only ended in violence but began in it.
As a child in Greece, he survived the Greek War of Independence only because his father negotiated safe passage to America for him and nine other boys on a ship sailing to Baltimore. Colvocoresses was 6 when he was adopted by Captain Alden Partridge of Vermont, who founded what is now Norwich University.
Colvocoresses joined the Navy when he was 16 and almost immediately was attached to the Wilkes Exploring Expedition, which was charting the South Pacific Ocean. During that four-year period, the crew surveyed more than 280 islands and created more than 180 new sea charts.
Colvocoresses was so instrumental in that voyage that a small island off the coast of Fiji was named "Colvos" in his honor.
When that expedition ended, Colvocoresses returned to his duties in the Navy, sailing off the coast of Africa and other parts of the Mediterranean. It was during one of those voyages that he contracted yellow fever and nearly died.
Bridgeport historian Michael Bielawa, who wrote a book called "Wicked Bridgeport," described the near-death in a chapter he devoted to the Colvocoresses murder.
"Colvocoresses appeared as if he had expired, and his remains were prepared for burial at sea. While the pastor performed the last rites, the American flag draped over George's body shuddered ever so slightly with his breath."
During the Civil War, Colvocoresses was commander of the USS Saratoga, which carried out several raids along the Georgia shore and captured several Rebel ships. He retired shortly after he was promoted to captain in 1867 and returned to Litchfield, where his family home still sits near the Town Green.
Colvocoresses immediately became involved in a dispute with the Navy over what he felt was money he was owed from ships he had captured. At that time, captains of Navy ships received a portion of whatever bounty was recovered from a ship that was captured.
"You could be talking $10,000 to $15,000 from a ship that they captured," Harry Colvocoresses said. "That was a tremendous amount of money that he believed he was owed."
At that same time Captain Colvocoresses started accumulating life insurance policies. According to stories in The Courant following his death, the captain had amassed $195,000 in life insurance policies from 19 different companies.
"That is an astronomical amount of money that would be the equivalent of several million dollars in insurance today," Bielawa said.