Remembering Jean and Scott Adam

Their dream life of sailing the world distributing Bibles was ended by pirates off the Somali coast. Here’s their story.

Jean and Scott Adams, in Hong Kong.
Jean and Scott Adams, in Hong Kong. (photo:

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — It was standing room only at St. Monica’s Church for the March 5 funeral of parishioners Jean and Scott Adam. Jean and Scott, ages 66 and 70 respectively, were taken hostage Feb. 19 by pirates off the coast of Oman in the Indian Ocean. They were found shot to death Feb. 22 after their hijacked 58-foot yacht Quest was boarded by U.S. forces who had tried to rescue them.

Also killed were two friends traveling with them, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle. The four were the first Americans killed by Somali pirates since hijackings of boats off the coast of East Africa began several years ago.

According to friends back home, they died engaging in their two favorite activities, sailing and distributing Bibles to remote regions of the world. According to their website, on their final trip they planned to stop in Sri Lanka, India, Oman, Djibouti, the Suez Canal and Crete. Jean wrote, “We seek fertile ground for the Word and homes for our Bibles.”

St. Monica’s pastor, Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, a personal friend of the couple, delivered the eulogy. The parish’s most talented singers and musicians turned out to perform an impressive musical memorial, this time without Jean, who had sung in the choir.

Their deaths were devastating to many, including fellow parishioners Jim and Charlene Muneno, who formerly lived in Malibu and were part of the same prayer group as the Adams. Charlene remarked, “Jean was a vibrant, warm, happy and spiritual person. I admired her.”

Jim added, “Scott was a gentle, intelligent man and a good listener.”

The Munenos have since relocated to Honolulu and were in the process of packing up their belongings when they learned of the Adams’ murder. Jim recalled, “We were horrified. We couldn’t believe it.”

Charlene continued, “We mourned for days. We’re still mourning.”

Ed Archer, music director at St. Monica’s for 30 years, can’t believe they’re gone either: “It was the worst possible outcome. You never realize how much of an impact the loss of someone can have on a parish community until something like this happens.”

The memorial music performed at the Adams’ funeral has been compiled on a CD and is for sale, with proceeds benefiting the music ministry. It’s a fitting tribute to the Adams, who had been generous donors to the ministry. In fact, when one of St. Monica’s choral groups went to Italy to perform in 2000, the Adams offered the financial assistance necessary so that eight members could go.

After a Film Career

The Adams were based in Marina del Rey, a Los Angeles-area coastal community. Scott had been an associate producer working on Hollywood films and television programs, including Deliverance, The Goonies, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Love Boat. He had a religious conversion in 1996 and left the movie business.

Originally an Episcopalian, Scott earned a master’s degree and taught classes at the non-Catholic Christian Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. According to Ed, however, he subsequently took classes through St. Monica’s RCIA program and became Catholic. St. Monica’s has been made famous by its many celebrity parishioners, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martin Sheen, Brooke Shields and Kelsey Grammer, as well as being the church where the 1944 Bing Crosby film Going My Way was filmed.

Jean was a dentist and a committed Catholic.

It was a second marriage for both Jean and Scott; each had adult children from previous relationships. Both were married and divorced as Protestants, and both later converted to Catholicism. They were married in the Catholic Church at St. Monica Parish by the pastor.

They began sailing full-time seven years ago and attended St. Monica’s when not at sea.

Maureen Martorano has been a St. Monica’s parishioner since 2005 and was a close friend of Jean’s. They sang in the choir together, were members of the same prayer group with the Munenos, and spent many hours walking and biking together.

“I’m sad, but she died doing exactly what she wanted to do,” she said. “She had the firmest conviction that she was doing exactly what God meant her to do with her life.”

Martorano especially enjoyed Jean’s cheerful demeanor and light-hearted nature. Martorano warned her about the dangers of sailing on the open ocean and promoting Christianity in Islamic countries, but it did not deter her. Martorano said, “Jean would just laugh and say, ‘Pray for me.’ And I did!”

The Adams rented an apartment or another yacht to stay on when they returned to the States, and moored the Quest in New Zealand. Some overseas trips would take the Adams out on the open ocean alone together for days, alternating 12-hour shifts. They would pick the sparsely populated, poorer islands on which to distribute their Bibles, Martorano related.

Despite their eagerness to share their faith, they were no “Bible thumpers,” said Scott Sternberg, a former student of Scott’s who now works for Fuller. They made a point of checking in with the village chief, asking permission to stay, and then dining with and getting to know the village people. When villagers asked, the Adams would give them Bibles, either purchased by themselves or donated by others.

“They were the opposite of the ‘Ugly American’ stereotype,” said Sternberg. “They enjoyed meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. The stories they’d bring home of the people they met were captivating.”

Sternberg took a “Media and Ministry” filmmaking class Scott taught at Fuller in 2004. Scott still wore his hair in a gray ponytail, a remnant of his Hollywood movie-making days.  Sternberg and his wife, Lynn, became friends with the couple.

“They were neat people,” Sternberg said. “They had an infectious enthusiasm and were really alive. They loved God, they loved people, and they loved seeing the beauty of the world. They’ll be missed.”

Increasing Threat

Piracy off the Somali coast has been an increasing threat to international shipping in recent years. Twenty years ago, law and order in Somalia collapsed, and the country has since experienced widespread violence and instability, leaving many without the basic necessities of life.

Somalia is located along a busy shipping lane filled with slow-moving ships carrying cargoes of great value, motivating organized gangs of young men to resort to piracy as their means of livelihood. Pirate vessels are often simple skiffs carrying men armed with automatic weapons. A variety of navies patrol the region, including the U.S. Navy, but the vast size of the area patrolled makes it difficult to catch pirates.

The International Maritime Bureau reported that 445 ships were attacked in 2010, of which 53 were hijacked. Some 1,181 sailors were captured and eight of them killed. Millions of dollars in ransoms have been paid for captured sailors and cargoes, enriching successful pirates and encouraging other Somalis to engage in piracy. The treatment of prisoners has been increasingly brutal, with physical abuse, torture and now murder common.

Vatican officials have repeatedly issued statements expressing concern about the rise in piracy worldwide, in particular its effect on ordinary sailors taken captive while merely trying to earn a living for their families. In 2009, for example, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People issued a statement that said, “We condemn piracy and call on the international community to adopt all the necessary measures not only to prevent this happening, but also to provide care and support to crew members experiencing such an ordeal.”

The U.S. Navy had been negotiating with the Somalis who captured the Adams, but they were murdered along with the other couple before they could be rescued. The U.S. Navy captured 14 men involved with the murders, and they have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Virginia.

Jim Muneno concluded, “It’s ironic. Jean and Scott wanted to be quiet and low-key about the good they did. But with their passing [and subsequent worldwide media coverage], now the whole world knows they were faithful bearers of God’s word. I’ll always remember them that way.”

Register correspondent Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.