Shipboard killing suspect arrested

SAN FRANCISCO -- The longtime male traveling companion of an 80-year-old society widow was arrested for her bludgeon slaying in the penthouse suite they shared on a luxury cruise ship, police said Thursday.

Robert Frisbee, 58, who said Muriel Barnett was like a mother to him, was taken into custody when the Royal Viking Star docked in San Francisco Wednesday on its return from an 11-day Alaskan cruise.


The elderly victim was found dead at sea in her $17,500 stateroom Monday by a ship's steward who knocked at the door to deliver her regular pre-dinner supply of caviar, champagne and canapes, police said.

Frisbee answered the door and said, 'She's dead,' police said.

The victim died from a 'multiple blunt trauma to the head,' according to San Francisco medical examiners.

Frisbee denied killing the woman and told police he had 'no idea what happened.'

He said he woke up from a nap to find her dead, kneeling against the other twin bed with her head on the pillow, which had blood on it. There was also blood on the stateroom wall, he said.

'I didn't hear anything,' he said. 'I have no idea why they arrested me unless it was because I was the only one in the room.'


Police said Frisbee was a traveling companion and personal secretary to Barnett and her husband for 20 years. Her husband, Phillip, a San Francisco attorney, died last year, leaving his wife a $6.5 million estate. The couple had no children.

Frisbee told the San Francisco Chronicle he had a 'mother-son relationship' with the widow and had been her husband's homosexual lover for years.

She never discussed the affair because 'she was a lady,' he said.

The widow was found dead about two hours after the Norwegian cruise ship sailed from Victoria, B.C., on its return to San Francisco. The ship's surgeon confirmed her death and Frisbee was put in another cabin.

San Francisco police questioned him for several hours, then booked him for investigation of murder.

Mrs. Barnett lived in an exclusive 14-story apartment house, built by her husband, on Russian Hill.

A friend said the Barnetts and Frisbee were 'inseparable' companions and did everything together, including attending the theater and the opera, dining and going on steamship cruises.

Frisbee kept an apartment in Pacific Heights but said he was with Mrs. Barnett nearly 24 hours a day.

'We never had any altercations,' he said.

He told the Chronicle he was an ex-alcoholic but had started drinking again on the ship.


Frisbee, born as Robert Dion in Massachusetts, said he changed his name and moved to San Francisco in 1950 to become a hairdresser.

The Royal Viking Star sailed for Japan Wednesday.

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