Doubts about boater's death continue

Andrew Biddle, missing since a boat crash in July in Longport.
Andrew Biddle, missing since a boat crash in July in Longport.
Posted: August 07, 2014

LONGPORT, N.J. - Andrew Biddle commandeered powerboats internationally, so his supposed plight in a crash of his pontoon boat in Longport last month was curious to some.

"He's going to know those channels really well," Tom Murphy, 42, thought after Biddle's crash. But it took a little more than unsubstantiated suspicions for Murphy to seriously consider that the boat accident he witnessed may have been planned.

"There were a lot of rumors going around since he disappeared, but I thought it was probably all nonsense," said Murphy, a Villanova, Pa., resident who was at his Shore home on Atlantic Avenue at the time of the July 20 incident and went into the water to assist immediately after. "It's starting to sound a little more believable."

Egg Harbor Township police confirmed late last week that they were considering that Biddle, 44, may have faked his death to avoid criminal charges. Since then, the disappearance at the sleepy southern tip of Longport has remained enveloped in mystery.

On Tuesday night, Egg Harbor Township police, in an e-mail, said Biddle had been entered into the National Crime Information Center as a "wanted person with 'full U.S. extradition,' all 50 states."

Biddle, an Egg Harbor Township resident and highly regarded powerboat racer, was declared missing after his boat hit a buoy and then plowed into a jetty about 11:30 p.m. The lone passenger, Justin Belz, 23, swam to shore and was recalled by witnesses as calling for "Andy." The incident initiated an 18-hour search by the Coast Guard for Biddle that spanned 60 miles. Belz was being interviewed by authorities.

News emerged that Biddle may be on the run Friday, after the Atlantic City Press obtained a flier circulated among law enforcement officials saying Biddle was believed "alive and well." In a statement Friday, township police said it was a scenario that "must be considered."

Police have not answered requests for further information this week on the case.

"I am continuing the investigation as if he were still alive," Detective Ray Theriault told NBC10 last week. "Given the knowledge I have of what's occurred in the past, it certainly makes me skeptical."

Theriault also said the boat involved in the accident was "stolen by the business that he was a part of."

State police are treating the incident as a boat crash involving a missing person, said Capt. Stephen Jones, but the department is aware of Egg Harbor Township's investigation.

Biddle, who helped run Professional Boat Sales in Northfield, is facing theft and fraud charges related to allegations he and the company's owner, Tracy Blumenstein, deceived customers, according to multiple complaints on file with the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office. One complaint alleges the pair accepted a $20,000 down payment on a boat but never produced the vehicle.

On the water, the two were esteemed racers with a presence that stretched across the Atlantic Ocean.

With Biddle as the driver and Blumenstein navigating by his side, the pair took top honors twice in P1 Superstock's U.S. championship, a national series of offshore races in which professional powerboat drivers compete against each other in identical vessels.

Last year, they won both in the U.S. and the United Kingdom championships (a first for the Superstock series). Biddle and Blumenstein "crisscrossed" across the Atlantic for the competitions, which each include five weekend-long events between April and September, a P1 spokesman said.

"It brought international flavor," Roy Mantle said from London. Mantle said travel expenses are not covered by the championship. "It is demanding. If you're running a business as well, it is quite stressful."

Mantle described Biddle as a "well-liked guy, a real character, always fun, always bouncy, bubbly." Blumenstein, he said, was quiet, "a man of a few words."

"And yet there was a great friendship and bonding between them," he said. "They were a great double act."

As Team Pro Boat, Biddle and Blumenstein were on track to clinch another national victory this year. The team remains placed No. 1 in the U.S. championship. The last round, in Tampa, Fla., took place days before Biddle's disappearance. The fourth scheduled round, in Cocoa Beach, Fla., is planned for this month.

Mantle said he was aware of the police investigation from news accounts, but refrained from drawing conclusions.

"You're always going to get speculation when someone's missing," Mantle said. "What can one say? He's missing and nobody knows the facts."

Competitors in the U.K. race have applied stickers to their boats honoring Biddle. "Andy Biddle," the black-and-white stickers read, "you are in our thoughts."

"It was quite a difficult decision," given the unclear circumstances, determining how to honor Biddle, Mantle said. "'Thinking of you' was probably the best way to reflect our emotions."

An attorney for Biddle, Mark Roddy, said he would need written permission to discuss any of his client's cases. "Obviously in this case, I can't get it," Roddy said.

Likewise, Steven Kaplan, who represents Blumenstein, said he would not comment on the charges. Numerous messages left at the boat business were not returned.

There was no answer at Biddle's home Tuesday; no one appeared to be there.

A page on Facebook dedicated to Biddle's "safe return" had attracted more than 800 "likes" in the days following July 20. On Tuesday, the page was no longer active.


afichera@philly.com

856-779-3917 @AJFichera

Inquirer staff writers Stacey Burling and Jacqueline L. Urgo contributed to this article.

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