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.

free
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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