Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Michael Rockefeller

New Guinea Today

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art

In many regards, Dutch New Guinea is a different place today.

Just two years after the Rockefeller disappearance, the Dutch gave over control of the country to Indonesia.

The country's name was changed to Irian Jaya, and the capital city of Hollandia became Jayapura. The eastern half of the island, Papua New Guinea, won independence in 1975.

Mapping and census-taking have progressed on both halves of the vast island.

Yet some things haven't changed. In April 2005, the New Yorker magazine featured a story about a guided tour to Irian Jaya for "first-contact" visits with primitives — even though hundreds of other first contacts have been claimed for 200 years. The story characterized the nation as one of the world's last unexplored places, just as it was in 1961.

Even today, the name of Michael Rockefeller is inextricably linked to New Guinea — or Irian Jaya — and the Asmat people.

Many of the Asmat artifacts and handicrafts that Rockefeller collected are part of the Michael C. Rockefeller collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, into which the Museum of Primitive Art was incorporated in 1976. A wing of primitive art in memory of young Rockefeller was dedicated in 1982.

After three decades of silence, Rockefeller's siblings and friends cooperated with British filmmaker Anthony Geffen in a 1995 documentary about the case for the Discovery Channel.

His twin sister, Mary, was still angry about the "terrible questions" the media posed about Michael's fate. His brother, Rodman, called it "hysterical speculation."

The sensationalism distracted attention from the young man's ambitious goals, they said.

"Michael had a very serious purpose," said Sam Putnam, Rockefeller's college roommate. His plan, cut short by death, was to "preserve part of that culture before it was lost forever."

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