Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Greg’s Second Take

Troopers called Greg Nicholas in for a second interview shortly after talking to his blood cousin, Ronnie Broughton. They needed a second take because the discrepancies were starting to mount, not only from Ronnie, but from Beth’s brothers. The key differences were, perhaps naturally, in the timing of Greg’s visits to the van Zanten household and the garage owned by Beth’s brother.

In his first interview, those events all seemed to happen at once. In his second take, troopers had him concentrate on that crucial timeframe.

Second TakeBeth van Zanten Memorial


December 27 Re-Interview, Gregory Nicholas
Chronology for December 22, 1971 (Summary)

  • 5:45 – 5:50 pm: At Stephens house.
  • 6:30 pm: At Freda Shannigan’s house.
  • 6:45 pm: Left Freda’s house.
  • 7:15 pm: Left airport for Jim Shannigan’s house [Freda’s brother].
  • 7:30 pm: Arrived at Jim Shannigan’s house.
  • 8:30 – 9:00 pm: Left Jim Shannigan’s house, took Freda home, then went to van Zanten residence.
  • 9:00 – 9:30 pm: Arrived at van Zanten’s.
    “I ran into the house front door. I can’t remember seeing anyone home. The house was all lighted up. I went upstairs and Beth was in her room. She was laying on her bed looking at books. That was the first time I was in her room… I was there for 3 minutes… She got up and then I left… Ron and I went downtown and parked in front of the Malemute Bar [next to the Montana Club]. No, we stopped by Dave’s garage from leaving van Zanten’s. We stayed 10 minutes.”
  • 9:45 pm: Malemute Bar.
  • 12:00 pm: Left bar.
  • 3:00 am: Started home.

Troopers already knew that Greg had left out one important detail. After weaving in and out of each other’s presence the night of December 22nd — with Greg and Ronnie going bar to bar, getting drunk — they ultimately left Fourth Avenue together. The two of them, in the company of three Alaska Native women, were stopped by State Troopers at about 1:00 am for drunk driving. The troopers made them take a taxi home.

The bigger question was: Did the timing finally add up? If Greg and Ronnie arrived at the van Zanten’s at 9:00 pm and stayed 3 minutes, they would have arrived at the Fly-By-Night garage by 9:12 pm (9:13 pm, when accounting for Greg’s move from car-to-house and back again). If they stayed for only 10 minutes, they should have left by 9:23 pm. It was another 11 minutes to the Montana Club, meaning they could have arrived by 9:33 pm. Greg’s 9:45 pm estimate was now seemingly in the ballpark.

It was possible, in fact, to line it up with Ronnie’s statement: “Freda asked me to call at 9:00 or 9:30. I called her from the Montana Club.”

And yet the doubts persisted. Had they perchance coordinated their stories? After all, both Ronnie and Greg were trying to reconstruct an evening that had gone sideways in many, unexpected ways. The second take didn’t change that. As troopers pulled on all the threads in their probe, they learned one other thing: there was always another surprise around the corner.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

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