Spoiler Alert!  On this page I describe the basic plot of Anne Jennings Brown's book, "Roatan Odyssey." 

 

Above:  Port Royal harbor on Roatan, including several places described in the book, "Roatan Odyssey."  Use the tools in the upper-left corner to zoom in/out or change the basemap.

 

The Port Royal Saga

As I discovered while researching this story in 2019, Anne and Howard Jennings continued developing their land in Port Royal harbor after my parents had left Roatan in 1968, while Anne battled through an increasingly-unsettled marriage.  The Jennings, in late 1968, sold their house to an American but they stayed in Port Royal and shortly afterwards built two more Tudor-style houses nearby, one of which they moved into.  This new house, on a site occupied by the British Fort Frederick in the 1700s, would be the main locale for Anne's 2007 book "Roatan Odyssey" (the site is now known as Jennings Point).  The two other houses – including the one my parents had visited with the Jennings in 1968 – were never occupied much for various reasons, and by the mid-1970s they were gone, demolished by hurricanes.  But at one time, from 1969 until the mid-70's, there were three, white Tudor houses here, sitting on the bluff above the shores of Port Royal harbor.

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Above:  Anne's drawing of Oak Ridge lagoon around 1900.  This one is similar to the dozens of her drawings of Roatan that she included in her book, "Roatan Odyssey."

While all this construction work was going on, Anne's relationship with Howard, as she describes in "Roatan Odyssey," continued to unravel.  A year after my parents visited Roatan, in 1969, Anne's increasingly-violent husband got angry with her one day and tried to kill her, so she ran out of the house and hid in the hills for many hours cowering behind some trees while Howard, clutching a loaded pistol, frantically searched for her (but thankfully to no avail). 

Things calmed down a bit after Howard tried to kill Anne.  But then, in 1970, Howard was deported from Honduras for having murdered a man in Peru five years earlier after finding some Inca gold, shortly before he met his future-wife, Anne.  Howard, now permanently barred from Honduras, went back to America while Anne, who had enough of him by then, sold their motorboat, bought a plane ticket with the proceeds, and returned to England.  Anne hoped to never see either Howard or Honduras ever again. 

But with no money or prospects, and too embarrassed to ask for help, she led an impoverished life in England.  Howard tracked Anne down in London six months later and, with the promise of riches (as well as the title to their Fort Frederick house in Roatan), convinced her to join him on a slap-dash expedition to Ecuador to search for the Inca’s fabled “Lost City of Gold."  She looked at her meager bank account and, despite knowing his violent temper, agreed to go with him.  In her book, she admitted it was mistake.  In fact, she admitted to a lot of mistakes she made with him, mostly in the hopes of patching up their rocky marriage.

Howard and Anne traveled to Ecuador in the spring of 1971 and began searching for the lost riches, and up in the jungle hills they made a small discovery of gold (which was documented in several magazine articles afterwards).  But following a similar pattern throughout his life, Howard quickly grew covetous of the find and tried to murder Anne, not wanting to share the wealth with her.  She fought him off, breaking his trigger finger in the process and grabbing his gun, then she left Ecuador and fled back to England, where she worked for a few years, deeply shaken by her experience and living in constant fear of her husband. 

The title of the Fort Frederick house was still in her name though, so in 1974, and needing money, Anne decided to return to Roatan where Howard was persona non grata.  She planned to fix up her house and sell it, which she thought would take only a short time, then return to England.  Her house had fallen into disrepair, however, being unoccupied for three years, and it needed a great deal of work, so she stayed in Roatan until 1976.  During those two years in Port Royal, Anne supplemented her meager and dwindling funds by using her artistic skills, drawing several historic maps of the island that were printed and sold to tourists, and which I believe are still in print.  Of course, when I read this I instantly felt a kinship with Anne, being a geographer – no, the Extreme Geographer! – who has many framed historic maps covering the walls of my house, including two 1775 British maps of Roatan.   

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Above:  Port Royal harbor in the early 1970s.  My parent's property is shown in red.  By this time, Anne and Howard had moved out of their first house, the Roatan Lodge, and into the "Fort Frederick" house at Jennings Point.

Anne initially planned to sell her house in Roatan and return to England as quickly as possible.  However, she gradually grew to love Port Royal harbor while living a reflective life there and taking refuge from her volatile husband, who had been banned from the country.  It was similar, I thought, to how pirates had taken refuge in Port Royal 300 years earlier, albeit from the British Navy. 

Anne wanted to live quietly in Port Royal while rebuilding her house (and her life), but the events of those two years proved to be harrowing.  During that brief time, she:  

  • Almost drowned while crossing the reef alone in a small boat one stormy night
  • Fought off a rapist while living alone in her remote house
  • Was unjustly arrested shortly afterwards and was almost thrown in prison, but talked her way out of it
  • Dealt with the murders of several close friends
  • Was poisoned and nearly died
  • Then after recovering, she almost died of malaria. 

Yep, just your typical stuff!  Actually, it reminded me of some of my Dad's adventures. 

Anne wasn’t alone, however.  In her book, she claimed that the spirit of a long-lost Dutch pirate who had once sailed the waters of Port Royal, named Jansen Moller, occasionally visited her.  The pirate Moller, she claimed, gave her sage advice and looked after her, just as locals for centuries had claimed to occasionally see pirate spirits in Port Royal harbor.  She knew such spirit stories would raise eyebrows and cause readers to doubt her sanity and credibility, but in her well-written and engaging book, she claimed the visits – as well as the other incredible travails that she overcame – really did happen.

After I finished reading her book, which concludes in 1976, I learned on the Internet that Anne returned to England and remarried, and she remained married to her third husband for the rest of her life.  In her 50s, Anne began volunteering at an art institute in Tibet while helping local artists there for several months each year, and she died in 2014 at the age of 82, very much loved.  From what I understand, Anne was a caring, resourceful, gracious and spirited person who liked – and was liked by – almost everyone she knew, very different from her abrasive former husband, Howard. 

Oh yes, about Howard:  he lived his own adventures after Anne fled from him in Ecuador in 1971 and died in a jet crash in Yugoslavia in 1976 while heading to Turkey to hunt for treasure.  It was the largest plane crash in history up until that time with the loss of 176 lives (he was the lone American on board).

Incidentally, Anne told a dark story in her 2007 book "Roatan Odyssey" about her husband Howard that could have easily happened to my parents.  In 1969, a year after my parents bought the land on Roatan from him, Howard got into a boundary dispute at Port Royal with a neighbor who owned 22 acres of land, but rather than settle it, Howard decided to take revenge.  After a little palm-greasing with government officials, he was able to temporarily acquire title to the 22 acres of land, which he then "sold" to friends of Anne’s from England, an older couple named Honor and Peter who wanted to move to Port Royal and had staked most of their life’s savings into the property.  After Honor and Peter moved to Port Royal and "bought" the land from Howard, however, they learned that their title was invalid.  It was too late, though, because they had already paid Howard their money (folks, this is why you use title companies).  Howard was suddenly a rich man while Honor and Peter had lost their life’s savings, so they returned to England where Peter was so depressed that he took his own life, and then Honor did the same shortly afterwards. 

That was the kind of person my Mom and Dad had unknowingly dealt with in Howard Jennings, and he could've easily tried to cheat them, as well.  But thankfully, all of my parents' memories of Honduras were pleasant ones.  Perhaps Anne's pirate spirit was looking out for my parents, too? 

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Above:  The 2007 book by Anne Jennings Brown.

In Howard Jennings’ 1974 book “The Treasure Hunter,” which he wrote two years before he died, he tells a very different version of events than Anne describes in her book, “Roatan Odyssey” and, of course, one much more flattering to himself.  In fact, it’s almost a “he said, she said” situation.  Do I believe Anne’s incredible story?  There are certainly holes and questions, such as:  

  • Anne never mentioned my parents in her book, despite my Mom befriending her and my Dad being the first person to buy their subdivided land in Port Royal at a time when the Jennings desperately needed money (something I figured Anne would've written about);
  • She kept going back to Howard despite his abusive nature;
  • She was a well-reared socialite and yet, apparently, had no money or friends to help;
  • Anne's escape in Ecuador from Howard, who pulled a gun on her, seems implausible;
  • And of course, those provocative stories about her protective pirate spirit, Moller. 

Nevertheless, and considering my parents’ warm relationship with Anne Jennings and my Dad’s poor opinion of the sketchy Howard, yes, I do believe her.  Very much so, even the events with the spirit, Moller.

After learning this wild story in 2019 about Howard and Anne Jennings, from reading Anne’s book and from my Internet research, I was utterly fascinated, just as I had been fascinated in 1968 when my Mom and Dad returned from their trip to Roatan with their exciting tales of colorful pirates and buried treasure.  Looking through my parents’ many pictures from that pleasant visit, it frightened me to think of how their lives had once intertwined with Howard.  What if my parents had found pirate gold in Honduras during one of their digs with Howard?  Would he have swindled them – or worse, as he did with the fellow in Peru who he murdered or with Anne in Ecuador, who he tried to? 

It was disturbing to learn about the Jennings' story, before and after my parents visited them in Honduras in 1968 and I'm still shaken by it, although that unsettled feeling is tempered by my admiration of Anne and her courageous story of resilience, endurance, and survival.  I read through some online comments about Anne's book while researching this story, a few of which criticized her in a dismissive way for staying with her abusive husband, Howard.  A similar thought, as I mentioned above, ran through my mind as I recently read "Roatan Odyssey."  But then I considered the era:  this was during the 1960s when women were much more financially-dependent on their husbands or boyfriends and it wasn't as easy then for women to leave an abusive relationship and get a decent-paying job to support themselves. 

Of course, I never met Anne Jennings but after learning her story, reading her sometimes-dark-and-yet-uplifting book, seeing how, in my Dad’s pictures, she had obviously been kind and helpful to my parents in Roatan, and learning how she had befriended my mother (not to mention the historic maps that she drew), I somehow felt close to her and was saddened to learn of her recent passing.  I wish I could've met her. 

My Dad’s 1968 photo of Anne in the motorboat with my mother had intrigued me for years.  Indeed, in 2019, that one picture had triggered my decision to research my parent's visit to Honduras in the 1960s, not realizing what an incredible tale it would reveal.  But now that I knew this woman's story, I understood the sadness in her eyes, having to deal with an abusive and violent husband but unwilling or unable to say anything.  It struck me how a single photo (plus a little Internet sleuthing) can open your eyes to a totally different world and can so deeply affect how you view a chapter of your past.  Their story also made me realize how little, sometimes, we really know about those who are near us – as my parents had known so little about Anne and Howard's real story.

I'm sure my parents, during their visit, had no idea of the turmoil that Anne Jennings was enduring or of the sinister character of her husband, Howard.  If they had, I know they would've helped her.  But totally oblivious to all this drama with the Jennings, as I mentioned, my Mom, Dad, and two brothers all had a wonderful time in Roatan during that spring trip in 1968 and returned to Michigan happy and excited about their amazing adventure.

My Parents' 1968 Photos of Port Royal, Roatan

Their Final Visits to Roatan

I knew that my parents, who died many years ago, had returned to Roatan a few more times in the 1970s but I didn’t know exactly when.  In 2019, shortly after I'd read "Roatan Odyssey" and as I was looking through my Dad’s old slides while doing some unrelated family history work, I got excited when I noticed some images of a large, two-story white house sitting on a bluff above a tropical coastline.  I quickly realized that this was the fabled "Fort Frederick" house in Roatan, the Jennings' house which was the main locale of "Roatan Odyssey."  The book, which had captivated me for the month it took me to read (yeah, I'm a slow reader), has no photos, only Anne's gorgeous drawings, so these were the first pictures that I'd ever seen of her former house. 

Looking through the rest of my Dad's slides in that group, I deduced that he must have visited Port Royal around March of 1971.  From reading "Roatan Odyssey," I knew that this was just a few months after Anne Jennings had closed up her house at Fort Frederick, sold her white motorboat, and moved back to England, hoping to never see her ex-husband Howard (who was exiled from Honduras and living in Florida), or Roatan, again. 

During my Dad’s visit in 1971, he took several slides of the three white Tudor houses in Port Royal harbor at that time.  Listed chronologically (and from north to south), these included: 

  • The Jennings’ original house, which my parents had visited in 1968. The Jennings had sold that house in 1969 to an American named Bob Smith, who had turned it into an inn called the “Roatan Lodge,” which he was operating during my Dad’s 1971 visit;
  • A two-story house the Jennings had built for an American named Thayne, a pilot, who constructed a landing strip on nearby Fort George Cay.  Sadly, Thayne died in a plane crash a few months after my Dad’s visit in 1971; and
  • The large house called “Fort Frederick” (or "Fort Fredrick"), which was the main setting for Anne Jennings’ book, “Roatan Odyssey.” The house was empty during my Dad’s 1971 visit, but Anne would return to Roatan in 1974 and spend two years fixing it up.

I’ve posted photos of the three houses below, which I believe are the only photos of these houses on the Internet.  From my Dad’s slides, I realized that he spent a lot of time at Port Royal during his 1971 visit and likely met Bob Smith, owner of the Roatan Lodge.  I believe my Dad stayed at a newly-opened diving resort on the north shore of Roatan called Spyglass Hill, which has since closed (I found an interesting story about the construction of the first road to Spyglass Hill, from Oak Ridge, in the early 1970s at http://texascoastgeology.com/stories/road.htm).  

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Above:  Anne and Howard's first house in Roatan, called "Roatan Lodge," during my parents' visit in 1968.  A year later they sold it and built a larger Tudor house a hundred yards to the south, called Fort Frederick.  Today nothing is left of either house except ruins. (Clickable version is below)

Many years ago, my Dad told me a few stories about diving in Roatan which, based on these slides, I believe was during this same visit in 1971.  My Dad, who was 47 then, went on a diving trip to the Roatan reefs, and he told me that one of his diving guides was an attractive young woman.  Dad, who always had a good sense of humor, said that he pretended to know nothing about diving, so the woman took him under her wing (which I’m sure he enjoyed).  “Just stick with me,” she told him.  They dove together and it wasn’t until after they surfaced that she realized that she’d been hoodwinked.  She noticed how little oxygen he’d consumed during their dive, a sign of an expert diver, so he confessed that he had done a lot of diving (during World War II had been one of the original Navy SEALs).  That story made me chuckle. 

The other diving story he told me years ago was heartbreaking.  On another diving trip during that same visit to Roatan in 1971, he teamed up with a fellow American (divers usually pair up for safety) and they dove through the reefs.  Before the dive, the instructors on the boat had warned the divers not to approach “The Wall.”  The Wall was a steep drop-off where the shallow waters around the coral reef suddenly plunged over a thousand feet down, and it had an almost-hypnotic effect on some divers.  As my Dad and his buddy were diving, his friend suddenly saw the wall and started diving down, following it deeper and deeper.  My Dad tugged at his shoulder and motioned him back towards the surface, but his buddy ignored him.  This fellow continued diving deeper, following the Wall down and my Dad desperately tried to get him to surface, but to no avail.  By then they had dived so deeply that my Dad had to come up, leaving the other fellow as he continued his downward descent.  No one ever saw him again.

On a lighter note, my Dad once told me a funny story about the very first vehicles on the island.  When he visited in the early 1970s, the first real "road" on Roatan, which circled the western part of the island, had just been built.  Two jeeps were shipped over from the Honduras mainland and the Bay Islanders had a big party to celebrate the opening of the road and the arrival of the first vehicles.  The rum flowed freely and everyone got inebriated, then an islander got in one jeep and took off in one direction, bouncing wildly down the roadway, while another person in a similar state of drunkenness got in the other jeep zooming off the other way.  Both jeeps were careening down the circular road, going in opposite directions, but then they collided at the mid-point and both jeeps were totaled.  So much for the first two vehicles on the island!

My Dad’s final visit to Roatan was in 1978, when he, my Mom and some Michigan State folks visited their waterfront property.  Unfortunately, they had just missed Anne Jennings again, who had returned to Roatan in 1974 and spent two years fixing up her house at Fort Frederick before moving back to England for good in 1976.  After that 1978 visit, no one else in my family ever returned to Honduras.  And while I’ve never been to Honduras, I did travel to neighboring British Honduras – now called Belize – several times in the 2000's to do volunteer work, which I described on my travel website, DelsJourney.com

As I’ve mentioned, my parents and the Michigan State folks gradually lost interest in their Roatan property and it eventually reverted to the government for back taxes and was never developed.  The Jennings’ once-magnificent Tudor home in Port Royal that my parents had visited in 1968 – later called the Roatan Lodge – fell into disrepair in the early 1970s, then several hurricanes rolled through the area and today nothing is left of it except a concrete foundation, as with Thayne’s Tudor house nearby.  After Anne returned to Roatan in 1974 and fixed up her magnificent house at Fort Frederick, she returned to England in 1976.  She was never able to sell the house, though, and had it demolished in 1979, so there is nothing left of it, either. 

In fact, virtually every element of this story has quietly faded back into the jungle, and almost everyone involved with it is now gone.  Nevertheless, my parent’s Roatan property had been a fascinating backdrop for yet another interesting Leu family adventure.

"Past, present and future were all there in the room with me, and it seemed the empty house was ready to return to the harbour once more.  It would disappear as I would disappear, a moment in the endless procession of time."

- Anne Jennings Brown concluding "Roatan Odyssey" 

 

My Dad's 1971 Photos of Port Royal, Roatan -- and Afterwards

 

Further Information & Links

  • You can buy Anne Jennings Brown's book, "Roatan Odyssey" through various booksellers.  The printed version is expensive but you can buy a Kindle version ($9.00) from Amazon here.
  • A tribute page to Anne, from friends in Tibet, is posted here.  This is the page with Anne's photo from 2011 that I discovered during my Internet research and allowed me to match her with the pictures of Roatan taken by my Dad over 40 years earlier, in 1968.  It's a touching tribute.
  • Anne wrote an interesting article in 2011 for a Roatan website describing the history of white settlement in Roatan and Port Royal.
  • This site, by Penelope Leigh, has several recent photos of the ruins of Anne's house at Fort Frederick in Port Royal harbor.  How quickly the house has disappeared.
  • Here's an article about Anne by a scuba diver who stumbled across Anne's book and sent her a note a few years before she died.

 

Timeline of Events

I put this timeline together after reading "Roatan Odyssey" and doing some Internet research:

 

1966

  •  Fall - Winter:  Anne Jennings meets an American, Howard Jennings, in England.  They decide to marry.

1967

  • February:  Anne and Howard move to Roatan.  They begin building their first house (later to be called the Roatan Lodge).
  • March:  My Dad visits Roatan for the first time and meets Howard and Anne.

1968

  • Spring:  My parents visit Port Royal with the Michigan State group and buy Howard's first subdivision plot of land, 10 acres.  Howard and Anne finish the Roatan Lodge.  
  • Summer:  Thayne Muller, an American, visits Roatan and buys land just south of Roatan Lodge.  Anne Jennings starts designing his house.
  • Fall:  Bob Smith, an American, visits Port Royal and agrees to buy Roatan Lodge.  A week later, Thayne arrives and the Jennings begin building his house.
  • Fall:  In Oak Ridge, the boat-builder Mel is killed by his young wife, Margarita.  Merlee, who loved him, dies of heartbreak a month later and is buried next to Mel in the Oak Ridge cemetery.  The Happy Landing bar closes for many years.

1969

  • January:  Howard Jennings finalizes the sale of the Roatan Lodge to Bob Smith, then Howard and Anne start building Thayne's house.  After Thayne's house is partly-built, the Jennings move out of the Roatan Lodge and into Thayne's house.
  • Spring:  The Jennings begin building the third and final house, Fort Frederick.
  • Summer:  The Jennings finish Thayne's house and move into the shell of Fort Frederick.
  • August:  Anne's friends, Honor and Peter, visit and decide to buy the Redoubt area.  They are later swindled by Howard.
  • September:  Hurricane Francelia hits Roatan.  Thayne's house is mostly destroyed but he begins rebuilding.  There is major damage to Roatan Lodge and over the next few years, it falls into disuse and disrepair.

1970

  • Spring:  Howard is deported from Honduras and returns to the U.S.

1971

  • January:  Anne sells the motorboat, closes up the Fort Frederick house and returns to England, where she gets a temporary job.
  • March:  My father, Don Leu, visits Port Royal on a diving trip.  He visits his property but the Jennings are, of course, gone.
  • May:  Anne and Howard's ill-fated expedition to search for Inca gold in Ecuador.
  • June:  Anne returns to England and works as an interior decorator for three years.
  • Summer:  Thayne dies in a plane crash in the U.S.

1974

  • November:  Anne Jennings returns to Roatan to repair and sell her house at Fort Frederick.  The Roatan Lodge and Thayne's house, by this time, have been partly demolished.

1976

  • September:  Howard Jennings dies in a plane crash in Yugoslavia.
  • November:  Anne leaves Port Royal for the last time and moves back to England.

1978

  • March:  My parents and a few Michigan State folks visit their property in Port Royal for the last time.

1979

  • Anne has the house at Fort Frederick demolished.

1980s

  • Anne begins visiting Tibet and doing volunteer work there.

2014

  • Anne Jennings Brown dies at age 82.

 


 

 
 
 
 

 

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