Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Scanning the Case Log

Two of Gilmour’s best leads had gone sideways — Greg passed his polygraph and Hansen had an alibi for the night of Beth’s slaying. Under those circumstances, he decided to take another look at the case log, which tracked all the leads phoned in by the good citizens of Anchorage. It was, if anything, a glance into the seamy underbelly of Alaska’s biggest city.

One gentleman, for example, generated six different case calls on four different days. All the reports were that he was jumping out of the woods on the horse trails. As Gilmour notes, “this guy is not just waving his lelly, he is stark, bareass naked.” He seemed to be, moreover, a bit of a fixture on the trails. Naturally, troopers asked why people were reporting him only now, inasmuch as none of them thought him dangerous or involved in the killing and rape.

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Horse Trails, Anchorage Bicentennial Park

The response made sense: none of them knew that for sure and they wanted the cops to check him out. So they did. The guy had a really tight alibi. Even the D.A. was reluctant to charge him, given that in this case everyone seemed to know him and his only crime was showing up naked on the riding trails.

Another guy wasn’t so lucky. Troopers arrested a guy that picked up a 15-year-old, saying he’d give her a ride home, then forcing her to perform oral sex instead. He told her there was no use in reporting it, because without physical evidence it would be her word against his and, since she was smoking dope, it would get her put in the youth center.


Here’s Gilmour, reporting the rest of the story:

“She was really scared to come in and talk to us, but she thought this guy might be the killer. Anyway, it was good that she came right in (1), because we were able to get a positive acid phosphatase (AP) test by swabbing her mouth (2). It was really a kick when we were able to talk to the suspect.

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“He gave us the normal drivel. Yeah, he picked her up; yeah, she had some dope in her purse and when she started smoking he wasn’t really sure what was going on because he had never seen or smelled m.j. before. But as soon as she started acting crazy, he put her out so that was probably why she was mad at him.

“When we told him about the acid phosphatase test he almost shit. He began to shiver, shake and do a real shake and bake. Then he began to cry and tell us how this would be upsetting to his wife.

“On the other side of the ledger, during the first year of Beth’s investigation one man was implicated in seventeen sexual assaults between the city and state. This guy went to trial a number of times and was acquitted because the women either drank with him or smoked dope — and all of them allegedly went out with him prior to the sexual assaults. Indeed, I was surprised at the number of people — women or the families of women — who called in and said that, while they didn’t think this would have any bearing on the case, that so and so had sexually assaulted them or someone they knew and maybe we should check him out.

We checked each and every one of them regarding their whereabouts the night we thought Beth disappeared. This was quite frustrating and had to be done with a great deal of care, since we had no complaint for a criminal investigation. It was these type of calls that made me believe the high number of rapes that rape centers across the country report, though they are never reported to the police.


(1) Analyses of post-coital swabs show that AP activity will markedly decrease after 24 hours and diminish after 48 hours.
(2) The male prostate gland produces and secrets into semen a high amount of the enzyme acid phosphatase (AP). Using a standard chemical reaction, a forensic laboratory can analyze a given stain for the presence of this enzyme. In the presence of Alpha-Naphthyl acid phosphate and Brentamine Fast Blue, AP will produce a dark purple color in less than a minute. The test for AP remains highly presumptive, however, due to the fact that vaginal secretions and other bodily fluids all contain detectable levels of this enzyme. In the modern era, DNA tests are used instead.

Source: Forensic Tests for Semen: What you should know, Forensic Resources, 2011


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