Lost a valuable underwater after partying too much in the Ozarks?
He’ll help you find it—for a fee.
How many times have you lost your keys? Your wallet? A purse? Passports, earrings, headphones, socks, that old beaten-up cooler, passwords, bottle openers: they all ebb and flow on a mysterious, absentminded tide in and out of our lives. That’s because humans are adept at losing things—maybe nowhere more so than the Lake of the Ozarks, which might as well be a swirling watery void. Or it was, until people started calling the Walrus to help them find their valuables, and, in turn, his legend grew for safeguarding their return.
The Walrus’s real name is Tim McNitt, and he’s a professional diver who has found a treasure trove of items in his watery backyard. McNitt isn’t simply a thief or a good Samaritan (though there’s a case to be made for the latter), he’s a businessman and owner of Atlantis Dive & Dock Salvage where he and his team have made a living finding and returning an assortment of items to their owners. He also assists insurance companies in extricating boats and other vessels following an accident. He locates bodies—what he refers to deferentially as “souls.” But he does that free of charge, because McNitt believes in a karmic scale that balances everything. And when you’re diving down into the murky depths of the largest lake in Missouri, you don’t want to take any chances, physical or moral.
I called the Walrus. Not because I had lost anything, but because I was looking for something only he could provide: a reason behind his life’s work. The friendly, down-to-earth McNitt showed me around his shop and his adjoining man cave, where he was fixing up a ’68 Barracuda in anticipation for his 12-year-old son, Finn, who is a three-time state jiujitsu champion.
Power & Motoryacht: What have you found in Lake of the Ozarks during the span of your 30-year career?
McNitt: I’ve recovered over $2 million worth of jewelry. I’ve gotten two single teeth in my career. [As for dentures] I’ve gotten uppers, lowers, partials. I’ve gotten three artificial legs. Ten souls. Three dogs. One hand.
Power & Motoryacht: An actual human hand?
Power & Motoryacht: Wow. What else?
McNitt: Thousands of boats. I’ve gotten helicopters, bulldozers, dredges. I’ve gotten an airplane. Then we go from glasses to stuff you don’t want to grab, like dildos, bikinis—you name it. From toilet seats to BMWs. You never know.
Power & Motoryacht: Are these items typically lost by distraught people who call you requesting your services?
McNitt: Yeah, or it’s insurance companies or the State of Missouri calling me up and asking for assistance. We work with local fire departments, police departments, water patrol.
Power & Motoryacht: What was your most recent haul?
McNitt: Last night I was at jiujitsu with my son, and I got the call. It was about 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. And I told the guy, “I can’t be there until about 11:30.” He said, “Well, I lost my wedding ring.” I said, “Are you in the water muckin’ it up?” He goes, “What do you mean by ‘muckin’ it up?’”
“Are you in [the water] trying to find it, messing up the area?”
“Get out of the water!”
I said, “It’s $200 if I find it and $150 if I don’t.” He said, “You can come tomorrow.” I said, “I’m comin’ tonight!” When I got out there he kept telling me, “Everyone said call the Walrus, call the Walrus. Get the Walrus, he’ll find it.”
Power & Motoryacht: Why do they call you the Walrus?
McNitt: That’s what he was wondering, too. I said, “Well one, I’m kind of chunky as you can tell. Two, I love walruses; I have walrus tusks and I’m built like a walrus. Walruses aren’t too smooth out of the water but in the water they’re very powerful.” And I said, “I just really like walruses. So that’s my nickname.” Plus I’m in the water in the wintertime, and you have to be half walrus or just nuts to be in the water then.
Power & Motoryacht: So what ended up happening?
McNitt: I went out and I searched the area and kept searching, expanding the area, kept doing my grids back and forth. And finally I look down and there it is: the ring. So I always pull a trick on ‘em. I have my hand cupped. I say “I’ve got a crappie hook in my hand. I need a bandage!” And they say, “Oh man, you’re hurt, you’re hurt!” I’ve done this hundreds and hundreds of times. But I keep saying, “I’ve got a hook in my hand! I don’t want to let go because it’s just going to squirt blood everywhere!” And he’s going, “Oh my God! Honey, get the pliers-—he’s got a hook in his hand!” He’s got his people there. So I’m like, “You’ve got the pliers?” And then I open up my hand and go, “Well that’s not a hook, that’s a stupid ring,” and he goes nuts. And then I put it back on his hand and I go, “Now let that be a lesson to you!” And he goes “Oh my God, the Walrus! The Walrus!”
Bam—it happens just like that. When you least expect it, you’ll have four or five recoveries just for small items: glasses, teeth, wallets. Sometimes you’ll have a twofer: “I lost my glasses and my keys!”
Power & Motoryacht: What’s the feeling like when you return these items back to their owners?
McNitt: To [find] a woman’s piece of jewelry—they’ve lost their wedding ring—to some of them it’s like losing a child. It’s unbelievable. And they’re just so grateful. People always tell me, “You should charge more money.” And I say, “I could.” And they say, “Well you could steal it, couldn’t you?” And I say, “Absolutely, I could steal it easily. And you would never know.” But here’s the problem with stealin’: I’m going to be in 80 feet of water and God says, “It’s time to pay.” I don’t want to pay in 80 feet of water. I want to pay when I’m in my ‘jamas and have my slippers on in my bed. So far I’m holdin’ my end of the bargain, and so far He’s holding His.
I’m a firm believer in karma. So, like I told the people last night, I come out and I get your ring. It’s a man’s ring. How much is it worth, $300? But it’s your wedding ring. Forever [after] [when you lose something] who are you gonna call? You’re gonna call the Walrus; you’re gonna tell your friends, “Call the Walrus,” and now I have a friend forever. And I have a client forever.
Power & Motoryacht: Have you worked with any celebrities?
McNitt: I’ve gotten Sir Richard Attenborough’s glasses, who was the scientist in Jurassic Park; [pro-wrestler] Harley Race’s keys to his DeLorean; George Michael’s glasses at the Blue Heron off the private dock 25 years ago; and Nelly’s producer’s $60,000 diamond ring, who wrote “Hot in Herre” (sic).
Power & Motoryacht: How much has your legend grown over the years?
McNitt: I don’t have to advertise. I don’t have to wear Atlantis shirts. They know who I am, and they’ve known for years. And they call [me] directly and news spreads.
Power & Motoryacht: Have you always been preternaturally skilled at finding things?
McNitt: I’ve always been really lucky at finding things, I don’t know why. It’s a gift. I grew up on the Mississippi, so I’m used to no visibility and a strong current. [In the Ozarks] we don’t really have a current, but sometimes [the water] is like chocolate milk. I’ve always been really comfortable not being able to see in the water—it’s just always been that way. If you grow up poor, you have two choices: You get to work or you steal. You’re either gonna go to the bad side, or you’re going to work every day.
I’ll get up at midnight on a Sunday if you call me; I’m coming out there. For [the farther away requests], sometimes I’ll throw out higher prices hoping that they say, “No, don’t come.” But it’s usually, “Okay, let’s give it a shot.” I’ll go out and find it, and a lot of times I’ll give them a discount.
Power & Motoryacht: So you’ll throw on the suit any time of day?
McNitt: Any time. Anywhere. Two in the morning, four in the morning. It’s been that way several times. I’ll get a call from water patrol at 2:30 a.m.: “Hey, can you come to the crash site?”
We’ve never, ever, charged to recover souls—I call bodies souls, that’s just how it is—or dogs or animals. We never, ever, turn down helping someone to come and get their family member. You can’t charge for that. If their boat sank and they’re inside this thing, there’s no charge to go get ‘em, but I have to charge to raise the vessel.
Power & Motoryacht: Why do you believe so strongly in karma and doing the right thing?
McNitt: It’s a fear of dying and going to Hell, I guess, or not doing right. That’s maybe why I’m so lucky in the water. I’ve always been lucky but I’ve always been just and fair and honest. I want to find that thing and I want to put it back on you. When I got Sir Richard Attenborough’s glasses it was the funniest thing—he gave me a picture of him dressed up as Santa in Miracle on 34th Street and signed it “Always believe.”
I do it for selfish reasons, because I’m hoping it comes back to me. And it does. People ask if I go to church. I tell ‘em, “Yeah, I go to church. The church of underwater holiness. That’s where I pray. I lift a rock and there He is.” When you’re underwater, you put yourself in deadly situations all the time. You’re struggling to hook up a bag [of air], you’re raising a 60-foot boat and if it rolls the wrong way and you’re underneath it, you’re not getting out. I just try to give back and hope. It’s selfish, but at least I’m honest about it.
Power & Motoryacht: What was your craziest 24 hours in the water?
McNitt: I was over in Hurricane Deck in over 70 feet of water. [I was called to raise a 27-foot Fountain standing on its nose] owned by an attorney from Kansas City. I went down and put airbags on it and I’m pumping, I’m pumping—and nothing is happening. I said to myself, “The air hoses have to be kinked ‘cause it’s not getting air.” As I’m going down, I made a deadly mistake and I was pulling the rope [attached to the vessel] between my legs headin’ down to it. I see the boat, and as soon as I touch the nose—up she came. Well, now I’m hooked. So at that point, you’re coming to the surface pretty quick. I took a big breath of air, and it threw me about 30 feet high and 30 feet away. If I didn’t do that, it would’ve fallen on me and probably killed me. So, luckily it threw me. I had a lot of comments on that. People came up to me afterward saying, “I heard you went flyin’ today” and I was like, “Yeah, I was flyin’ pretty good.” But that’s where karma comes in.
That was the [same day] my baby was born. I always told my wife, “I probably won’t be there, I’ll be raisin’ a boat stuck somewhere.” She called me up right after this saying she had to go to the hospital. So within eight hours I raised a vessel, almost got killed and my son was born.
Power & Motoryacht: Tell me about your vessel.
McNitt: It’s basically an oversized pontoon boat, but it’s built with I-beam construction; it’s all aluminum pig iron. It weighs 60,000 pounds, but if it was like a regular barge it’d only go 4 mph. I can go 25 mph with 20,000 pounds of concrete on it. When I first got it, she had a top speed of 40 mph, but after I added everything, she goes about 34 mph now. She’s got twin 225-hp 4-strokes with extended shafts.
Power & Motoryacht: Did you beat somebody at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout?
McNitt: Yes! I won the championship class. As a commercial vessel, no one can beat me. No barge or tug can touch this. I just fly down and back sayin’, “How you doin’ buddy? Sorry!”