Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: The Killer Is Killed

With Gary Zieger now confirmed beyond all shadows, and all doubt, to be a merciless killer, the authorities knew they were in a race against time. They quickly named him one of two suspects in the Sumpter murders. And they had their motive: having been convicted in the Cordova dynamite theft, he needed money for his appeal. Funny thing: around twenty thousand dollars in cash and jewelry had been stolen from the Sumpter home.

Police served Zieger with a warrant to impound his truck in connection with the Sumpter murders. From here, some of the details get sketchy. In one rendition, the officers offered to take Zieger into protective custody, but Gary turned them down. In an alternate take, he asked his attorney to call police, requesting protective custody, a request that was denied. In any event, Gary Zieger the killer was now on his own.

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Gary Zieger and his Dodge truck

From here, we’ll let Maj. Walter Gilmour take up the narrative, in his never-before-released commentary on Gary Zieger.

“Although Zieger was free [after his acquittal in the ZeZe Mason murder], we still had him under surveillance. Once a killer, always a killer. In the months after his acquittal, I got a call from Trooper Meyers, one of the troopers assigned to me. He was on his way to a movie with his wife when he spotted Zieger driving a different truck. He immediately gave me a call, postponing his evening’s entertainment in the line of duty.

“Say, Walt, I just saw Zieger driving a new truck. Never seen it before. I got the license number for you.”

“That night, two people were found shot to death in a suburban home.”

“Our first sweep of the neighborhood for witnesses didn’t turn up anything. On a second attempt we came across an elderly woman who’d been up late to water her plants on the night in question. She lived across the street from the Sumpters, and had seen an unfamiliar truck parked out front. She’d also had the presence of mind to take the license number. Sure enough, it matched the plate on the truck Trooper Meyers had seen Gary Zieger driving the previous evening. Gary Zieger the killer had struck again.

“While we were making preparations and mobilizing to arrest Gary Zieger for his latest round of murder and mayhem, somebody else got him first. We found him at mile 110 of the Seward Highway, just up the road from where Beth van Zanten had met her fate. He was sprawled in the middle of the pavement, with a fatal shotgun blast to the belly.

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Milepost 110, Seward Highway Gary Zieger’s body was found here, near Beluga Point (courtesy Vanya Keyes, Google Street View)

“Though by no means a neat ending, with all the loose ends tied in place, the murderous career of Gary Zieger had finally come to an end. I wouldn’t miss the asshole. Although I had no positive proof that he was Beth van Zanten’s killer — we had found similar wire at his house, but the FBI discounted the match — I felt a certain sense of relief, knowing that at least Gary Zieger would kill no more. And somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I was sure Gary Zieger was just as likely responsible for Beth’s murder as anyone else I had come across in my investigation. There were even people who suggested that Zieger looked a lot like the composite picture of the man purportedly seen with Beth on the night of her disappearance.

“My conviction that Zieger was involved in Beth’s death was not without its irony, either. In our follow-up after Zieger’s death, we found an informant who told us that Beth’s cousin Greg had lived with Zieger in the months after her death, when he presumably was no longer welcome in the van Zanten household. I was never sure what to make of that connection. But there it was.”


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