Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Whodunit?

The lonesome death of Beth van Zanten remains a “whodunit.” No one was ever convicted of this crime, much less arrested. That doesn’t prevent me from having a “reasoned” suspicion.

At the end of the string, there are three suspects: Beth’s cousin Greg; convicted serial-killer Robert Hansen; and certified psychopath Gary Zieger, also a serial killer. Let’s consider each of them in order.

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Beth van Zanten

Cousin Greg: In the classic “motive-opportunity-evidence” triangulation of criminal investigations, Greg scored highest in “opportunity.” He lived in the same house as Beth, even had the bedroom next to hers. A motive was alluded to — that there was sexual tension between them — but never adequately established. Along the evidence dimension, the best information was Greg’s request that Beth babysit for him on the night she disappeared. The trouble is, Greg cannot convincingly be put anywhere but downtown Anchorage, drunk and high with his cousin and their friends.

It is also worth noting that Walt Gilmour kept a wary eye on Greg in succeeding years; Gilmour never found another reason to suspect him.

Robert Hansen: With Robert Hansen, we’re looking at a burst of incidents, each one representing an escalation of violence worse than its predecessor. These actions occur in the space of a month, leading up to Beth’s disappearance and murder. Hansen was arrested and convicted in conjunction with the first two.

  • November 21, 1971: the attempted kidnapping at gunpoint of real estate secretary. Hansen followed her home, used a lame excuse to get into her house, then returned days later, threatening to kill her if she screamed.
  • December 19, 1971: the kidnapping of a teenage prostitute, who was bound and taken south along the Seward Highway and the Kenai Peninsula, where she was raped, and her life threatened, by Robert Hansen.
  • December 22, 1971: Celia “Beth” van Zanten hitchhikes to a local convenience store and is found dead at McHugh State Park on Christmas day. She’d been sexually assaulted; her hands were bound behind her back.

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whodunit

Gary Zieger: Gary’s first known act of rape and murder occurred in the summer of 1971, with the killing of a young Native boy whom he’d forced to perform fellatio. Zieger was fairly “silent” until the following summer — and then the summer after that — when his killing spree spiked.

  • August 28, 1972: Zingre “ZeZe” Mason is found in a gravel pit near Anchorage International Airport. She was last seen hitchhiking in the vicinity. She was raped and stabbed to death. Evidence points to Zieger, but he is acquitted at trial.
  • August 22, 1973: Zieger, supporting Wesley Ladd’s felonious bid to regain his massage parlor, kills Anchorage club owner Johnny Rich.
  • November 26, 1973: Gary is implicated in the murder of nightclub owner Jimmy Sumpter’s wife and step-son in a burglary that netted $20,000 in cash and jewelry.
  • November 27, 1973: Gary Zieger is killed by a shotgun to the gut at Milepost 110 of the Seward Highway.

Maj. Walter J. Gilmour, being the tenacious cop that he was, always kept an open mind as to “whodunit.” I don’t have the same professional limitations.

Robert C. Hansen is whodunit.

Within the span of a month, Hansen had stalked and kidnapped (or attempted to kidnap) two women, both in their late teens. Beth van Zanten, also in her late teens, was kidnapped and taken to McHugh Creek. She was bound and sexually assaulted, just like the young prostitute Hansen kidnapped only days before. Beth escaped and froze to death.

Yes, Hansen had an alibi. When he was arrested in the rape and kidnapping of Cindy Paulson, he also had an alibi. An alibi that later proved false.

But I’m open-minded, too. Leave a comment and let me know whether or not you agree with my assessment.


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Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Bob Was Busy

Gary Zieger was killed on November 27, 1973. There’s no question that he was busy between August 1972 and his death, with scores of murders in his wake. As it turns out, Robert Hansen was also busy. And it’s all the more remarkable because from March 1972 to November 1973, Hansen was in a halfway house for the assault and attempted kidnapping of a real estate secretary.

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Robert Hansen in a lineup photo (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

We defer to Maj. Walter J. Gilmour for the narrative:

“As for the other suspect in Beth van Zanten’s murder, Robert C. Hansen was apparently a model convict at the halfway house. The fact that he had a trade — he had stayed a baker like his father — made him seem more salvageable than most who embark on a criminal career. It didn’t hurt that he had a family, either, or other interests that made him appear normal. Aside from his avid participation in bowhunting, at which he evidently excelled, Hansen had a strong love of fishing and boating.

“And so it was that Robert Hansen spent the 4th of July of 1973 boating in the waters off Seward, to the south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. Perhaps it was just coincidence that Megan S. Emerick would be reported missing three days later, on the 7th of July. A young woman enrolled at the local trade school, with no known record of trouble, her body has never been found.

“By November of 1973, Hansen was paroled on the Assault with a Deadly Weapon charge and went free. He was seemingly able to keep his nose clean, for a while at least, and began to fade from police attention.”


It is important to note here that Hansen’s Fourth of July trip to Seward was cleared by his parole officer. It is also crucial to note that Hansen ventured to Seward by himself. His wife, Darla, disliked boating and the long-haul from Anchorage to Seward with a boat in tow.

On his own, without adult supervision, Robert Hansen was capable of the most heinous crimes imaginable. And some that cannot be imagined. Like killing young Megan Emerick and tossing her overboard into the depths of Resurrection Bay, her body never to be found.


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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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Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Zieger Kills Again

With John Rich dead, Gary Zieger still had the stolen dynamite and marijuana stash charges to worry about. His trial came in October, two months after the Rich murder, and he was convicted on all counts. He decided to appeal the ruling. But attorney’s cost money and Zieger didn’t have any, certainly not the ten-thousand-dollar advance his attorney wanted.

But Zieger had an idea where to get it. Jimmy Sumpter owned two of Anchorage’s most popular topless joints, the Kit Kat Club and the Sportsman Too. And he was rumored to keep a huge stash of cash at his house.

Zieger (Stephen Cysewski)

On November 26 something awakened Sumpter at about 2 A.M. He thought it was the sound of a window breaking, but decided it was not a noise but a premonition. That, in turn, gave him good reason to check his clubs. Sumpter was at war with the Brothers motorcycle gang, which was attempting to control the flow of topless dancers into Alaska and to organize the girls at his clubs. These were the cutthroat days in Anchorage, when pipeline money was surging and everybody wanted in on the action.

As Sumpter left the house, the intruder quietly unlocked the broken window, slipped into the house, and went looking for cash and jewelry. When he entered the master bedroom, Sumpter’s forty-year-old wife, Marguerite, heard him and screamed. The burglar shot her and set the bedroom afire, then ran to the basement where he shot Marguerite’s sleeping thirteen-year-old son, Richard Merck, in his bedroom.

Richard’s sixteen-year-old sister had heard her mother’s screams and ran out of the house, unseen. She returned after the intruder left, kicking in a basement window in an attempt to rescue her brother from the growing fire. She found him dead in his bed. Investigators said whoever killed Marguerite Sumpter and her son escaped with twenty thousand dollars in cash and jewelry.”

Excerpt from: Tom Brennan, “Cold Crime”

Jimmy Sumpter, blaming the Brothers gang for the murders, put out a $10,000 reward for information. The Brothers knew better. And soon, the troopers did too. In canvasing Sumpter’s neighborhood, they came across a terrified woman who’d seen a Dodge pickup truck leave the scene. She’d taken its license number. Bang. It belonged to Gary Zieger.

Now, Gary Zieger had two widely divergent groups after him. It was simply a question of who got there first.


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Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Gary Zieger Goes Free

While in jail on the ZeZe Mason charge, Gary Zieger met a gangster wannabe named Wesley Ladd. Ladd was nothing if not a schemer, and once Zieger was free, he met up with him again. Ladd tried to involve Gary in plan to hustle fish but when the price of halibut dropped, they decided to hustle marijuana instead. They’d buy it cheap in Anchorage and sell it dear in Cordova. Along the way, one of their crew introduced Zieger to a man who worked for a drilling company that occasionally did blasting work. Zieger asked if he could buy some dynamite.

A free Gary Zieger was a man made for trouble.

Near noon the next day, on the road from Valdez back to Anchorage with Ladd and the another accomplice, Zieger stopped for gas. A trooper pulled him over and searched his truck. He found not only two cases of dynamite but eleven pounds of marijuana. Zieger was arrested and taken to Anchorage, where he was jailed on a fifty-thousand-dollar bond. He was charged with burglary, grand larceny, and possession of narcotics with intent to sell.

Not free anymore.

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Wesley Ladd with police after his murder arrest (Anchorage Daily News)

Then Zieger was released from jail. The prosecutor fought his release, presenting psychiatric testimony from the ZeZe Mason murder trial that described Zieger as “immature, impulsive, aggressive, anti-social and extremely hostile with proneness to acting out his hostility.” The judge reduced Zieger’s bail from $50,000 to $1,500.

Ladd put down the cash bond and Zieger was free once more.

Soon, he was engaged in Ladd’s plan to wrest control of a massage parlor from a serial entrepreneur named John Rich. As Kim Rich notes in her book, “Johnny’s Girl,” it was then that things took a turn toward darkness.

“Well, the conversation again picked up concerning John Rich and the massage parlor… we were all seriously talking ’bout doing away, one way or another, with John Rich, and we’d get in on the massage parlor. I don’t think it had actually been, at this point, I don’t think it had actually been anybody committed themselves exactly how we was going to get rid of Rich, but the fact was there, that we was going to do something to recover that massage parlor, and getting him out of there would be one of the necessary moves.

Well, at this time I had made several efforts to contact John Rich, but I had not contacted him. I had not seen him at all no where. And, uh, I mean, this went on for a period of, it must have been four or five weeks, just talking about doing something. And finally Gary [Zieger] says, “Well, if you can’t find him, take Benny and I. We’ll find him. We know better that you do anyway.”

From Wesley Ladd’s confession to AST Jim Vaden

In short order, Ladd and his accomplices dreamed up a scheme to have John Rich sign a power of attorney document that wrested control of the club from Rich. After several back-and-forths getting the document right, they set out to find John Rich. They found him at a local auction, where one of Ladd’s sidemen told Rich he knew someone who wanted to buy two shotguns. They agreed to meet once the auction was over, at eleven at PJ’s, one of the clubs owned by John Rich. Until then, Ladd, Ramey and a third accomplice drove around, picking up Gary Zieger at the last minute.

At PJ’s, Gary Zieger and a guy named Benny Ramey forced John Rich into is own vehicle, grabbed his keys and drove him to Eagle River, where they expected him to sign the power of attorney. “If I sign this, you’ll kill me,” Rich told Wesley Ladd when confronted with the proposition. “I’m afraid I won’t walk out of here.”

“John, we talked it over, you got my word,” Ladd said. “We aren’t going to hurt you.”

Ladd and Rich argued. Suddenly, Ramey walked over and slammed his gun against John Rich’s head. “Just sign the damn papers! We don’t want to hear any more crap,” he said.

While Ladd was out of the cabin, Ramey alleged that Gary Zieger attempted to force him to shoot John Rich. Ramey says he refused. Zieger then fired. When Ladd returned, he found John Rich lying on the floor. He was dead.

Based on “Johnny’s Girl,” by Kim Rich and “Cold Crime,” by Tom Brennan.


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Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Arrest & Trial

When it came time to arrest Gary Zieger in the Mason murder, several pieces of evidence were critical. The trucker identified both Zieger’s truck and Zieger himself in a line-up. The inverted tires on Zieger’s truck matched the tracks found at the scene, where it was evident from a pool of blood that the truck had been stopped and the body dragged deeper in the pit where it was eventually found.

The friend’s statement had placed Zieger at the gravel pit — and in the truck when they picked up a female hitchhiker. We had further obtained a search warrant for Zieger’s truck and ran a precipitant test on three small blood spots splashed up by the dash in the interior of the vehicle. Zieger claimed he had been hunting rabbit; the precipitant test came back positive, which indicated human blood. 

We later found the site near a creek where Zieger had washed the truck, with those same weird tire tracks. There was no question that we should arrest him.

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And although the M.O. was somewhat different, I now had the strong feeling that it was Zieger who was responsible for the death of Beth van Zanten. A part of me wanted to arrest him on that murder too.

At Zieger’s murder trial, everything that could go wrong went wrong. An FBI agent who had helped test the tires found on Zieger’s truck testified that the inverted tire was on the left rear of the vehicle instead of the right front. That meant he had the truck going in entirely the opposite direction in the gravel pit, testimony that was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the cops. A scientist who was a hematology expert was brought in as a defense witness. He was asked to specify the range of applicability in the precipitant test.

“Is there any blood besides human blood that can bring a positive reaction to the precipitant test?” he was asked.

“Yes,” came the forthright reply.

What the defense line of reasoning failed to reveal was that there is only one other living being which produces a positive on the precipitant test: an orangutan.

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Most damaging, however, was the testimony of a store clerk who claimed she knew ZeZe Mason and had cashed one of ZeZe’s checks on the 22nd of August. Mason had disappeared the 14th of August and we placed her death on the same day. Although the pathologist who did the autopsy initially indicated she had died within 24 to 48 hours of the time we found her, on August 28th, he later corrected it to say it was much earlier — that the chill of the gravel had slowed rigor mortis and other signs of death, like insect growth.

If ZeZe had been alive on the 22nd of August, as this store clerk testified, there was no longer a clear link to anyone as her killer. We produced the cancelled check, the store’s dated ticker tape, even the store manager. All the information indicated by the clerk was wrong. The check had been cashed on the 12th of August, prior to ZeZe’s disappearance.

The witness was unshakeable. She didn’t know anything about the checks or when they were cashed. She was certain she had seen ZeZe on the 22nd of August. When all was said and done, Gary Zieger was acquitted.


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Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Snow Tires

In this installment, we continue Walter Gilmour’s narration of his encounters with Gary Zieger. Here we learn that a set of snow tires can loom as critical evidence. This account, taken from the earliest drafts of “Butcher, Baker,” has never been published before.


“Six months after he was sentenced for his role in the killing of the Native Alaskan boy, Beatty was placed on work release. It was then that he stole some snow tires and helped mount them on Gary Zieger’s truck. He remembered that one of the tires had been mounted on the rim in an inverted fashion. That remembered fact turned out to be a crucial variable in the ZeZe Mason murder investigation.

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“ZeZe was a 20-year-old airline employee who was hitchhiking to town on her day off. As she hitched near one of the many gravel pits in and around Anchorage, a truck driver picking up a load of gravel noticed her. He also spotted two men in a white 4-wheel-drive truck stop and pick her up. When the driver returned to get another load a half hour later, he saw the same young woman in the same truck, this time at a more remote site within the gravel pit, accompanied by only one male.

“When her half-clothed, sexually assaulted body was found on August 28, 1972, we noted that the pit where she rested was accessible only by a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. We also noted some distinctive tire tracks: where all the tires should have their knobby edges biting outward to provide more grip, one of the edges was biting inward. This was the mysterious inversely mounted tire that Zieger’s buddy was so helpful in identifying.

“Shortly after we discovered ZeZe’s body, a funny thing happened. We got a call from a woman who identified herself as the girlfriend of a man who was in the white 4-wheel-drive truck on the day ZeZe Mason was murdered. She told us she wanted to make sure we were looking for the right person in the truck that day. That person was not her boyfriend, she said, but someone else. Gary Zieger.

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1970 Chevrolet 4×4 Truck (example)

“We talked to the boyfriend, but he was not too helpful, other than confirming that he and Gary had gone for target practice near the gravel pit and had picked up a female hitchhiker. He wasn’t sure if it was ZeZe Mason; all he knew was that it was “some girl.” They left the gravel pit with the young woman riding in the middle, he said, and then Zieger dropped him at a nearby fire station. After that, Gary and the female continued on their way; the witness wasn’t sure of their destination.

By then we had a pretty good idea exactly where they were headed.


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Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Stone Cold Psychopath

His name was Gary Zieger. Kim Rich wrote about him in “Johnny’s Girl,” and how he turned her life inside out. Tom Brennan wrote about him in “Cold Crime,” describing the investigation that pegged him as a stone cold psychopath. One of my earlier blog entries has its own Zieger story.

And then there is what Walter Gilmour wrote about Gary Zieger. This account, taken from the earliest drafts of “Butcher, Baker,” has never been published before.

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Gary Zieger, Psychopath


“With Beth van Zanten’s foster cousin cleared by the box, and Hansen with an alibi, things were looking bleak, although I had still not run out of suspects, even with a long dry spell where there were no leads worth investigating. In August of 1972, at about the time Robert Hansen was transferred to a halfway house, a young woman named ZeZe Mason was found dead in a gravel pit just outside Anchorage.

“She had been missing for several weeks and our investigation quickly identified Gary Zieger as the prime suspect. I knew Zieger was a killer because he had come to our attention in another case, although he had never been arrested for his involvement.

“In the summer of 1971, State Troopers found the body of a young Native Alaskan boy in a secluded area of the Anchorage International Airport. To the best of our information, the boy had been murdered about three months before we found him. He had been shot six or eight times by a .22, and it was evident he had been running for his life, because there was a trail of shell casings stretching for 60 to 70 yards from where he had fallen.

“Just after we found the body, a guy named Beatty came in with his girlfriend and confessed to the murder. He came in because his girlfriend wouldn’t marry him until he came clean. That was fine. We had a body and a confession. Now all we needed was the murder weapon. While we worked on getting a search warrant for Beatty’s house, we kept it under surveillance. One night, a man unknown to the police came to the house, entered and then left shortly afterwards. We asked his name. He identified himself as Gary Zieger.

“When we finally got the warrant and searched Beatty’s house for the murder weason, it was gone. Zieger was our number one suspect; he was the only person who had come or gone from the residence.

“Beatty had not implicated Zieger in his initial confession. As part of his sentence, however, he agreed to give us the details. He revealed that he and Zieger had kidnapped the Native Alaskan kid in Zieger’s truck, and then forced him to perform oral sex. When he was finished, they told him he’d better run for his life, and he did.

“Zieger, who was a powerfully built man at 5’8” and 185 pounds, ran alongside the boy and shot him with the .22 pistol. Since a .22 isn’t the most lethal weapon, it had taken quite a chase and a whole lot of shots to bring the boy down and finally kill him.

This act alone marked Gary Zieger as a psychopath. There would be more.


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Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Frustration, Politics, Reality

Then-Corporal Walter Gilmour had reached a point in the Beth van Zanten case where, in his own words, “I couldn’t sleep for shit and I needed help.” At the peak of his frustration, he sought out fellow trooper Sgt. Don Church. Now assigned to Alaska’s statewide unit of major crime investigations — the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) — Church had met Gilmour when he was a recruit in the state police.

Even then, Church was a certified hero: during the 1964 earthquake, he was instrumental in saving hundreds of lives as he sent seismic warnings all over the villages in the Aleutian Chain, using his marine radio. He did more than that.

A coveted award citation from the National Police Officers of America noted the following of then-Trooper Church:

“On March 27, 1964 after completing a regular tour of duty this officer learned of an impending tidal wave and with complete disregard of his own safety spread the alarm to villages along his post. He continued for several days to search and rescue victims despite all obstacles.”

Gilmour needed a place to lay his frustration. More than that, he needed the guidance of this man who always stood cool under fire.

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Trooper Donald D. Church in 1964 (Click for Details)


The two of them met at Leroy’s Pancake place in mid-town Anchorage. Gilmour wasted no time getting to the point.

“Don, I’m really up a duck’s ass with this case. The Colonel thinks I’m pushing too hard but he won’t be specific as to what he is talking about and I’m not sure where he is getting his information. I really feel that I can make this case but there seems to be things going on that I’m not aware of. What do you think? Are we missing anything that should be done on this thing?”

Sgt. Church was immaculate as usual, always dressed in a suit and tie. He seemed to ponder the question as they were sitting there and, at one point, Gilmour thought he was not going to answer.

“Well,” says Church, “welcome to the real world. When you were in Fairbanks, you had everything your own way. And that’s why you were brought down here so that they can keep an eye on you. Then when things went your way on the Mayo case (1), you really pissed some of them off. Now you are stumped and they feel free to criticize your methods. It doesn’t make any difference what you do. If you don’t solve the case, you’re wrong.”

And then Church took Gilmour into the politics of frustration. He point-blank told him that another officer, Sgt. Anderson, was now a rival in the minds of both trooper leaders and, worse, his fellow officers. In part that was because Sgt. Anderson was the kind of trooper they admired: calm, collected, got along well with the local D.A.

“Some of the men worked for Anderson before you came along and some see themselves getting included in the CIB,” Church told him. “So they’re over brown-nosing him. Some guys think you are all wet thinking that this case is going to be solved. The worst part is that I have been told it doesn’t make any difference one way or another.”

“Shit, Don, you gotta be shitten me,” Gilmour replied. “What the hell. I was talking to the Director and he told me I could have anything that I needed and to see you if I needed any help.”

“That’s what I mean. Anderson wants the CIB to take over this case. But they are still calling it a local case. I told them you should keep the case, but they really want to take it, so they are going to be second-guessing you all the way along. If the Statewide theory of a criminal investigation bureau is going to have credibility, then they will need staff authority.

“And,” Church continued, “if this case isn’t solved they will decide that the CIB should have line authority. Even if the case is solved, you just got lucky again. Either way you’re the loser. Anyway, I heard that they are going to reorganize and put all the investigations, both local and statewide, under Anderson. That will give him enough to make Captain. Which might not be too bad; at least then there will be no question who is working for who. Because Anderson is the one with the real authority anyway.”

Gilmour’s frustration now met reality. As he later mused, “The thought that the men who were working under my command really felt that their best career bet was to show loyalty elsewhere always made me feel that I couldn’t be sure everyone was as enthusiastic for my plans and guidance as I might have wished.”

It was all there. Frustration. Politics. Reality. Truth was, none of it helped Gilmour solve the van Zanten case one way or the other. Some way, some how, they needed a break.


(1) In September, 1971, a Birchwood youth and his adult companion were found dead down a slope from the Glenn Highway in the Sheep Mountain area. According to police, Lorance Zimmerman, 44, of Spenard, and Paul Hair, 11, of Birchwood were last seen leaving Hair’s home on an errand to Gunsight Mountain. Police would not speculate on how the pair died, but the vehicle they’d been riding in was not found.

The vehicle was later located in Fairbanks. Troopers sent Gilmour to Fairbanks and he ultimately fingered a 21-year-old drifter named Willis B. Mayo, an escapee from the prison farm in Palmer, who was eventually arrested in Washington state for the murders. But not without controversy. The Fairbanks district attorney complained about what he saw as interference by Gilmour, because an Anchorage-based trooper had taken over an investigation in the Fairbanks Police jurisdiction.

For more on the Mayo case, get Cold Crime, by Tom Brennan.


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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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