The Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Cousin Greg

Beth’s foster cousin Greg Nicholas gave his first trooper interview on December 26th, the day after Beth was found. As was customary in these cases, they asked him to provide a chronology of December 22nd, the day Beth disappeared. He tried his best to remember every detail.

It was a challenge: the interview took place at the Fly-By-Night garage, where troopers were also talking to Beth’s brothers. To make matters worse, Greg had been on a major drunk the night Beth disappeared. The troopers noticed something else: he¬†was clearly nervous while Sgt. Walter Gilmour was at the garage. Rollie Port observed him quivering and crying; he got the impression that Beth’s foster cousin was hanging around the family in an attempt to appear normal. Of course, it was also true that Gilmour gave Greg the evil eye as he scanned the premises for a match to the wire found on Beth’s wrists.

McHugh Creek: Slope & Waterfall (Jeff Wasson)

Greg Nicholas wasn’t the only one who was scared. That evening the Anchorage Suicide Prevention Center got a call from a 17-year-old who told them his friend’s sister had been found dead at McHugh Creek because “she knew too much.” The young man admitted he had been at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in June and had been seeing a doctor since then. He also admitted he had used a “lid of grass and mescaline.” He was not suicidal, he insisted. Just very, very frightened.

December 26 Interview, Gregory Nicholas
Chronology for December 22, 1971 (Summary)

  • 5:30 am: Got up and got dressed.
  • 7:00 am: Arrived at work [Insulator at E.J. Bartells Co.]
  • 4:30 pm: Arrived home
  • ~4:30 pm: Received call from his cousin, Ronnie, who needed a ride to meet a friend at the airport at 6:00 pm. Quickly took a bath, cleaned up and left without eating dinner.
  • 5:30 pm: Arrived at the Stephen’s residence, where he met Ronnie. The two of them then left to Freda Shannigan’s house; they picked her up and left for the airport. Their friend was not on the plane. They left the airport and went to Freda’s brother’s house.
  • 7:30 pm: They arrived at Jimmy Shannigan’s house.
    8:30 pm: Left for Freda’s house. Ronnie helped Freda take some things inside. Greg and Ronnie then left for the van Zanten residence, so they could drive Beth to a babysitting job for Freda Shannigan. On the way, they decided to stop at the Fly-By-Night garage, owned by Beth’s oldest brother, David, so Ronnie could see Greg’s “new” car.
  • ~8:30 pm: Greg and Ronnie arrived at the Fly-By-Night garage. They smoked a joint and stayed about a half hour. They then left for the van Zanten residence, where they stayed for about “three minutes.”
  • 9:00 – 9:30 pm: Greg and Ronnie left for the Montana Club in downtown Anchorage, where they arrived at about 9:30 pm and met friends.

“We stayed at the Montana Club until time unknown,” Gregory told troopers. “I really got drunk and Ronnie got half-loaded.”

That drunk part was problematic. Greg’s story had him multiple places at the same time — or at times that didn’t add up. And if the troopers thought they had things figured out despite Greg’s inconsistencies, Beth’s brothers collectively threw them for another loop.

The two brothers who’d been at the house with Beth couldn’t remember what they’d had for dinner on the 22nd, besides “some kind of ham.” They didn’t agree on the exact time their sister left for the Bi-Lo, with a time discrepancy that covered a half-hour. When they did agree, it muddied the waters: they claimed not to have seen Greg after he left the house at 6:00 pm; the next time they saw him, they said, was at 4:00 pm the next day.

The mystery now touched on how Greg Nicholas managed to enter and leave the house in the 9:00 pm timeframe but not rouse any glimpse of recognition by the two van Zanten brothers.

And then oldest brother David van Zanten upped the ante. “I think she had an abortion in November,” he told troopers. “The father may have been Ed Tilbury, who is at Cold Bay. Ed is my [business] partner.”

Another suspect?

Purchase Butcher, Baker