That was the word I kept hearing to describe the death of Phil Masterson, my friend since we were both 15.
His lifeless body was discovered in a wooded area on Put-in-Bay Island on Labor Day, 2011. Phil was found wrapped in tarp and missing his clothes, save for a pair of mesh shorts. He had been savagely beaten.
The media reported that Phil, 25, died in a “senseless beating” at the hands of a fellow MMA fighter, Zachary Brody, also 25.
Starting the day Phil's brother, Mark, found him wrapped in tarp behind rental cabins, the storyline remained unchanged. It was the story of two men, Phil Masterson and Zach Brody, who liked to fight. In fact, via MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), they planned to make it their livelihood. They engaged willingly, fueled by too much beer and too much testosterone. Sadly, one ended up dead.
It helped explain why only one person, Zach Brody, faced criminal charges. It was why he was sentenced to 16 years, an incredibly light punishment for a convicted murderer. It was tragic, it was “senseless,” and it was what we all knew—and it was wrong.
Phil’s story faded from local headlines after Brody’s conviction. But it has never been over for the Masterson family: Phil’s parents, Kevin and Georgeanne, his sister Molly, and his brothers Mark, Matt, and Jimmy. Jimmy Masterson never recovered from Phil’s murder, and he, too, died in 2018, at age 29.
Jimmy’s death was truly senseless—an accident. Phil’s death, on the other hand, was not “senseless.” The people involved thought rationally, every step of the way. They covered their tracks, concocting clever legal defenses as they drove off the island. For days, they dodged authorities. They played hide-and-seek with the police and refused to talk. They did it even as the Mastersons searched the island for Phil's body, hoping he was still alive but knowing deep down that he was dead.
Thanks to the work of Phil’s brother Mark, now a Cleveland attorney, two more people have finally been held accountable. This autumn, a jury ruled that two of Brody’s friends, Cameron Parris and Clifton Knoth, were also responsible for Phil’s death. Judge John O'Donnell ordered them to pay roughly $23 million in damages. The jury found no negligence on Phil's part.
Mark Masterson took the case on his family’s behalf, alongside attorneys Patrick Farrell and John Forestal. Mark says his family will probably “never see a dime” of the money awarded. But, as Phil’s mother Georgeanne tells me, it’s never been about money. “It’s about the truth,” she says.
So what is the truth? Why did the media report that Phil had died in a two-to-tango situation? And why did some outlets call him "a drunken provoker"?
Because the witnesses lied. Brody’s accomplices, including his girlfriend, Sarah Partlo—who later served six months in jail—knew Phil was dying. They knew that Brody dragged Phil deeper into the woods while he was still conscious but too injured to flee. Brody returned to Put-in-Bay with Partlo to wrap the body in tarp later that day.
I believe these two--and possibly others--planned to dump Phil's body in Lake Erie. Mark Masterson agrees. He also agreed that someone disposed of Phil’s clothing to destroy DNA evidence.
Brody's entourage claimed Phil had forced his way into their rental during a drunken rage. A maid for the Island Club told Georgeanne Masterson they were lying. The property was undamaged when they fled the scene—until someone returned to stage a break-in while no one was looking.
Phil was probably still alive. Not one witness called 911.
During questioning, Brody’s friends began accusing each other. They described watching “someone” wash blood off the deck. If they got too close to admitting the truth, they would backtrack and demand an attorney. They replied to questions by saying, "I do not recall." Georgeanne Masterson says the worst part of the trial was watching witness after witness say “I do not recall” with a smirk on his face. It was clear they did remember the details of the murder. But whatever they knew, they weren’t telling. The family’s last option for justice was a lawsuit in civil court. The Mastersons already anticipate that the men found liable for Phil’s death will find clever ways to dodge paying the damages.
As a fellow Millennial, I will grant these people one thing. In many ways, they are smart. It's obvious that they watch a lot of crime shows. They know how to feign confusion and fear, even righteous indignation at being accused. They claimed Phil made them "afraid" for their own safety—even though there was one of him and a half-dozen of them. They knew how to lawyer up and shut up. They are experts at looking out for Number One.
They're smart, but they have no conscience. No morals. We should shudder at the fact that some of them are now raising children.
We hear enough about the failures of Millenials and Gen Z youths. Maybe it’s time for Cleveland’s Baby Boomers to ask themselves and each other: What kind of kids did we raise?