Viking Serenade

The ship as the Viking Serenade.

Third District City Councilwoman Suzie Price wrote Thursday in an email to constituents, “It is rare to get to see your Councilmember working in their ‘day jobs,' but here is an opportunity to do just that this Friday night, Jan. 8."

The councilwoman has spent more than 20 years in her career as a prosecutor, and is currently serving as Assistant District Attorney and “Head of Court,” managing one of the four branch courts at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Friday, the NBC show "Dateline" will feature the case of People v. Kocontes, prosecution of Lonnie Kocontes for a murder that occurred in 2006, off the coast of Italy. Price was the lead prosecutor.

“I filed this case seven years ago (2013) and the trial finally began in January 2020.” Price wrote in the email.

According to Price, the trial lasted six months (due to a COVID break from March to May) and the jury reached a verdict on June 15. The defendant was sentenced in September. Micki Kanesaki’s family finally obtained justice 14 years after her death.

The ship where the crime occurred is no stranger to Long Beach — nor is she shy when it comes to getting attention. As the Grunion's On the Water columnist, you know I feel obligated to share some of the vessel’s history — especially since I’ve sailed aboard twice.

First of all, any ship whose godmother is Whoopi Goldberg has got to be interesting.

The ship started as the MS Scandinavia in 1981, as a ferry, with the deck below to carry cars. Records show she was the biggest car ferry in the world at the time. In 1985, she became MS Star Dancer and started sailing from Los Angeles on 3- and 4-day party cruises to Ensenada.

Next, she was the MS Viking Serenade — by then the car decks had been converted to passenger cabin decks.

According to Betty Morgan of American Express Travel, the ship was considered the ugly duckling of the Royal Caribbean Fleet, and sailed Alaskan cruises for a number of years.

In 1988, Scott Rolston murdered his wife Karen Waltz by strangling her and dumping the body overboard. According to news accounts, his plan was make it appear a drowning. Since the ship was built as a ferry, it was not tiered — so the body fell straight down. The unique history of the ship and its design was a key factor in the covering up a murder.

Soon after, the ship sold again and became MS Island Escape.

That’s when the ship was the star of a reality TV series, a precursor to Bravo’s "Below Deck." The 10 episodes featured after-hours stories of crew members.

On May 25, 2006, while aboard the Island Escape, Micki Kanesaki was murdered, and the prime suspect was her ex-husband, Lonnie Kocontes. Some news sources reported Kanesaki was murdered in the same manner as Karen Waltz 18 years earlier.

The ship changed hands several more times, including a buyer who planned to convert it to a hotel, one that used her as a facility for asylum seekers, and after some dubious service in Khalifa, Abu Dhabi, she was scrapped in Alang.

Councilwoman Price’s note closes with, “Tune in to see this interesting case and get a chance to learn more about the work I do in my career.”

She also suggests residents order take out or delivery from a local restaurant and enjoy dinner and a show from home.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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