Ocean City man missing after stolen canoe capsizes near Fenwick Island

An Ocean City, Md., man went missing in the early hours of March 2 after the canoe he was in reportedly capsized in the bay near Fenwick Island.

Nicholas Townsend, 23, was last seen on the Assawoman Bay, 100 yards offshore, behind the Lobster Shanty, about 4 a.m. on March 2, while canoeing with 20-year-old Fenwick Island resident Matthew Bullen.

According to what Bullen told police, when the canoe capsized for an unknown reason, the two men fell into the water. Bullen reportedly told investigators that he was unable to reach Townsend and then swam shore. According to Bullen, Townsend did not make it to shore.

Following Bullen’s police interview, Delaware State Police learned that, once on shore, Bullen allegedly used a brick to break into a home on Roosevelt Avenue in Selbyville, changed into dry clothes and then returned to his own residence, where he reported the incident to a roommate.

Townsend’s disappearance was not reported to police until approximately seven hours after the incident. Master Cpl. Jeffrey Hale of the Delaware State Police said that he could not comment as to whether Bullen would be charged for not reporting Townsend’s disappearance earlier.

“That’s a still-ongoing investigation. We’re not going to comment on any possible charges related to that,” Hale said.

The search for Townsend was conducted by the United States Coast Guard, with assistance from the Millsboro Fire Department. Hale this week confirmed that the search had been unsuccessful and had been officially called off.

“Now, we just wait and see,” said Hale of the next step in attempting to locate Townsend.

Detectives said this week that they had learned that the canoe the two men had been boating in had been stolen from a residence on Monroe Avenue in Fenwick Island, and there has been subsequent speculation that there could be a link between one or both of the men and the robberies of residences along the water in north Ocean City this winter.

Bullen was charged early this week with second-degree burglary, possession of burglar tools, criminal mischief and theft, and was committed to the Delaware Department of Corrections.

Fenwick Island Police Chief William Boyden said that, while Fenwick Island has not had any burglaries over the winter months, surrounding areas have.

“In the surrounding Route 54 corridor, there has been some,” he said. “I know Ocean City, over the winter, they’ve had some residential burglaries on the north end, along the water.”

A spokesman for the Ocean City Police Department said that the number of burglaries in Ocean City has actually been down over the winter months, but they could not provide additional information before Coastal Point’s press deadline mid-week.

“I’m sure that’s being looked into, but we don’t know for sure right now,” said Hale of any possible link between the burglaries and the two canoeists.

Hale declined to comment as to whether foul play could be a factor in Townsend’s disappearance.

“We won’t know until a body is recovered, the determination of death. But right now we’re treating it as a missing person, that’s it.”

Townsend’s family could not be reached for comment this week.

Detectives are asking anyone with any information the case to contact Delaware State Police Troop 4 at (302) 856-5850. The public may also provide a tip by texting keyword “DSP” plus a message to 274637 (CRIMES) or through lines maintained by Delaware Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-3333 or via www.tipsubmit.com.