OPPEN, James

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OPPEN, James (1920-1979)[SS#550-09-7858], Santa Barbara attorney who allagedly shot himself aboard his yacht, Chronic Bitcher, at Santa Cruz Island on August 21, 1979. In an odd story, Oppen places a distress call from his vessel to the Coast Guard, claiming 3 heavily-armed men from a fishing boat had boarded his boat and kidnapped him. He yelled "I've been shot", and the transmission ended. Two Coast Guard cutters, two utility boats and a helicopter searched but failed to find him. The next morning, his 41-foot cabin cruiser was found at Scorpion Harbor, adrift with its engine idling. Oppen was onboard alone, dead of a gunshot wound.

In the News~

August 22, 1979 [LAT]: “A Santa Barbara attorney has been found shot to death on board his cabin cruiser drifting near Santa Cruz Island hours after he sent out a distress call that he was being attacked. Gunshots were heard during the radioed distress call made Tuesday evening by attorney James Oppen, 58, of Goleta, according to a Coast Guard spokesman. The spokesman said Oppen sent out the call from his 41-foot cabin cruiser, the Chronic Bitcher, "reporting that he was being attacked and they were trying to kill him." A Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department spokesman gave a slightly different version of the distress call, saying Oppen reported that he had been kidnapped and was being tortured. Today sheriff's investigators said it appeared that Oppen killed himself while broadcasting a fake distress call. They said evidence indicated that several shots were fired but all from inside the boat. Oppen was shot once in the head. Several weapons were found in the boat. The Coast Guard sent cutters and a helicopter to search the Channel Islands area when the gunshots were heard and Oppen reportedly said he had been shot. "At 5:40 p.m.," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Joseph davis, "gunshots were heard, and the voice of the distressed man said he had been shot." The Chronic Bitcher was spotted later Wednesday night by helicopter with Oppen's body lying on the stern deck, according to officials, who said no one else was on board. Sheriff's officers, flown to the scene by the Coast Guard, ordered the vessel towed into Santa Barbara Harbor. Results of an autopsy of Oppen's body were expected today. Oppen, who is survived by his wife, Marilyn, and twin daughters, has been retired from the practice of law for a couple of years. He was best known for a suit he brought on behalf of commercial fishermen against oil companies after the famous 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel. Oppen's boat was named the Chronic Bitcher because an oil company official in the aftermath of the oil spill referred to Santa Barbara as a "community of chronic bitchers."”