The Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Suspicion

Given that Beth had planned to babysit for her (foster) cousin, Greg Nicholas, on the night she disappeared, he immediately came under suspicion. Interviews with family members started to fill in some troubling — and conflicting — details.

Beth’s mother, Kathleen, went through her daughter’s letters and found something that, in retrospect, seemed disturbing. In one of those letters Beth had written, “It’s not fun to date anymore.”

“My daughter didn’t want her cousin, foster cousin, Gregory Nicholas, staying on the same floor with her,” Kathleen told troopers after revealing that their bedrooms were next to each other. “It was a poor arrangement. I don’t know if he was getting out of line or if it was for reasons of modesty.”

She added that, “Greg did not get along with my daughter. They bickered with each other since they were four or five years old. This continued until her early teens, when he ran away. After he came back, I don’t have a specific recollection of my daughter’s and his demeanor. There was nothing outstanding. Their attitude toward each other hadn’t seemed to change.”

Beth van Zanten

This alone put Greg under greater suspicion. But a conversation with Kathleen van Zanten’s sister, Eloise Swoboda, brought nuance to that cut-and-dried portrait.

Born to an Alaska Native family, Greg was placed with Eloise as a three-year-old because his family had active TB. His mother died soon thereafter and Greg resented his father for not keeping the family together.

After running away from home, Greg was sent to a BIA school in Oklahoma. There was lots of fighting there, Swoboda said, mostly between Navahoes and Arapahoes. Swoboda said Greg was not a fighter. He was beaten so badly his jaw was broken and he suffered dental damage. They gave him plastic surgery but his face had never been the same. That said, Greg was good at art and math, according to his foster mother, even winning a national contest in Architectural Drawing at the BIA school. He was supposed to get drafting tools and a scholarship but got neither, due to what Swoboda called a “BIA foul-up.”

He instead returned to Alaska, where he was now a subject in a murder investigation.

“Gregory’s reaction upon learning of Beth’s death was that of shock and grief,” Swoboda told troopers. “Later, after being questioned by the police, he was very frightened because he felt the police thought he had done it and he had been out drinking that night.”

Eloise Swoboda added that, “Greg never gave an indication of sexual problems of any sort and I do not think he would attack Beth.”

As with most things in life, the truth of the trooper suspicion resided somewhere between the sentiments of Kathleen van Zanten and those of her sister, Eloise Swoboda.

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