Eileen Wafer: A Teen Goes Missing in Haines

Eileen Wafer of Haines, Alaska, was baby-sitting her younger brothers the evening of June 10, 1982. When her mother returned later that night, the young boys were sleeping, but Eileen was gone. Her family reported her missing. Four days later, her older brother and a friend found her partially clothed body in bushes along the beach at Portage Cove, just several hundred feet from where she was staying. An autopsy ruled she had been strangled.


True Crime Series: Sgt. Glenn Flothe Investigates


Alaska State Troopers investigators theorized that Eileen Wafer knew the person who came to her house the evening she was home with her brothers and coaxed her to step outside. But investigators have never formally named any suspects in her death.

wafer
Eileen Wafer, Missing Poster


Chilkat Valley News
Haines, Alaska
Karen Garcia, May 7, 2015

Cold case unit cut could end work on Wafer killing Lois Wafer moved from Oregon to Haines in September 1981. Her husband Glen Wafer was filing for divorce, and her sister Phyllis Martin, who lived in Haines, was expecting a baby. Phyllis asked Wafer to come up and help out with a few things.

“I didn’t want to go, but I went anyway,” Wafer said.

Eileen initially stayed with her father in Oregon, but moved up to Haines to join her mother about a month later. Lois and Eileen lived in a room at the Mountain View Motel on Mud Bay Road with Eileen’s little brothers Gene, 6, and James, 4.

In the late evening of June 9, 1982, Lois’s friend Ruthie Davis showed up at the motel room asking if Lois wanted to go shoot a game of pool across town. “Eileen said, ‘Oh Mom, don’t go downtown with Ruthie.’ She didn’t want me to leave, but I said I’d be back pretty quick. So I went ahead and went.”

Lois left around midnight, leaving her daughter in charge of her two young siblings. When she returned two hours later, the motel room door was unlocked. Eileen was gone, and the boys were asleep.

wafer

Lois said the boys don’t remember anything because they were asleep the entire time, though Gene vaguely recalled hearing voices. “He felt like he woke up and heard somebody talking, like somebody was talking to Eileen,” she said. “He didn’t know if he was just dreaming or what.”

Lois reported her daughter missing on June 10, but police treated Eileen as a runaway. Eileen’s aunt Phyllis Martin, who died in 2006, told the Lynn Canal News at the time that local police wouldn’t perform a search for Eileen until seven days had passed.

“They treated me like she was a lowly citizen and it wasn’t worth looking for her,” Lois said. “They just acted like it was nothing.”

Family and local volunteers organized a town-wide search, with Eileen’s older brother Corey flying down from Anchorage to help. An hour after Corey arrived in Haines, he and Eileen’s boyfriend Sean Hannon discovered her partially unclothed body in some bushes on the beach, near where the Chilkat Cruises dock stands today.

wafer
Chilkat Cruises dock (Haines, Alaska)

An autopsy showed Eileen had been sexually assaulted and strangled with heavy twine commonly used in commercial fishing. It remains unclear whether she was killed on the beach or if her body was dumped there later. Investigators found no drag marks and noted that party-goers who had been using the beach during the days she was missing hadn’t seen her body there.

The lack of an initial police response and movement of the body by Haines officials before state investigators arrived caused a flurry of accusations about incompetence, crime scene contamination, and a possible cover-up, Lois said.

By 1995, the case ran ice cold. DNA tests had eliminated all suspects, and leads were exhausted. No arrests were ever made, and no suspect was ever publicly identified.


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Drifter Escapes: Hopen & Hartley Murders

On February 7, 1982 the body of a Soldotna woman was found in a burning panel truck. Witnesses reported seeing a black van in the area at about the time of the fire. Michael Andrejko, a local drifter, was questioned in Anchorage after police spotted him driving the van. He denied any knowledge of the fire or the death and was released. Police began searching for Andrejko when the body of the van’s registered owner, Richard C. Hopen, 45, was found on Feb. 8 near Bird Creek by sightseers.

Law enforcement officers, Sgt. Flothe included, were not surprised by the suspect’s identity: Andrejko was already well-known to them, with an extensive criminal record. 


True Crime Series: Sgt. Glenn Flothe Investigates


drifter
Glenn Flothe, AST Ret. (2012)

Oh, help me in my weakness
I heard the drifter say
As they carried him from the courtroom
And were taking him away
Drifter’s Escape,” Bob Dylan


Fairbanks Daily News Miner
February 15, 1982
ANCHORAGE — A man charged with murdering a Soldotna woman was arrested late Sunday in Ohio after highway patrol officers stopped him for routine questioning as he hitchhiked along an interstate highway. Alaska State Troopers also were seeking 33-year-old drifter Michael Andrejko for questioning in the death of a man whose body was found near Bird Creek. Troopers said the Ohio State Highway Patrol stopped Andrejko as he thumbed along Interstate 70, near Dayton. A nationwide crime information computer system tipped the officers that Andrejko was wanted in Alaska. Officers also charged him with carrying a concealed revolver. Andrejko was being held in the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, troopers said.

Daily Sitka Sentinel, Sitka Alaska
February 22, 1982

ANCHORAGE (AP) — The Alaska State Troopers have identified the woman whose body was found in a burning truck in Soldotna as 27-year-old Bonita Loraine Hartley, a local cocktail waitress. The troopers said Ms. Hartley was identified by fingerprints. They said she died of a single gunshot wound to the head. Michael Andrejko, 33, has charged with first-degree murder in the case, which also reportedly involved the shooting of Richard Hopen, 45, of Soldotna. Hopen’s body was found near Bird Creek the day after Ms. Hartley was shot to death. Andrejko and Ms. Hartley had been living briefly with Hopen.

drifter

Daily Sitka Sentinel
Monday, July 12, 1982
Anchorage Police Recapture Escapee ANCHORAGE ( A P ) – Alaska State Troopers on Sunday recaptured Michael Andrejko about six hours after he escaped from the state-run Sixth Avenue Jail where he was awaiting trial on two counts of first-degree murder. A second inmate who tried to escape was recaptured at about 9 a.m., after he apparently broke his leg in the attempt, said Bill Houston, the jail superintendent.

Troopers said they recaptured Andrejko near the pretrial holding facility at about 3:30 p.m. Houston said he was unsure how the two escaped from the 50-foot by 90-foot recreation area. Crisscrossed barbwire anchored to the tops of yard’s four walls forms a cover for the area, and the upper reaches of the 12-to 14-foot walls are laced with razor ribbon, he said.

“We found fresh blood on the razor-ribbon wire,” Houston said. “That indicates they had to have gone up through there.” He said they may have climbed up one of the two doors into the yard to reach the top of the wall through coils of razor ribbon.

Daily Sitka Sentinel
May 12, 1983

Trial To Move, Judge Says KENAI (AP) ~ In the face of extensive pre-trial publicity in a small community, Superior Court Judge Mark Rowland has decided to move the murder trial of Michael Andrejko out of Kenai. Rowland acted Wednesday after a third day of struggling to find unbiased jurors to hear the case of the 33-year-old Andrejko, who is charged with shooting Bonita Hartley and Richard Hopen in February of 1982.

“I have never heard such a large number of jurors say they have an opinion with regard to the defendant doing wrong,” Rowland said. “Everyone has heard or read about the case.”

Rowland said he doubted that careful screening of jurors would be sufficient to guarantee a fair trial. “I’m not comfortable that we will discover all the hidden opinions and prejudices in the community,” he said. Assistant District Attorney James Hanley opposed the move. “The publicity was not prejudiced or incorrect,” he said. But Rowland disagreed, calling some news accounts of the slayings “inflammatory in nature.” A new trial date and location for the drifter’s trial will be decided next week in a hearing in Anchorage.

Daily Sitka Sentinel
September 29, 1983
Sentenced ANCHORAGE (AP) — A man originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder was sentenced Tuesday to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to a single count of second-degree murder. Superior Court Judge Mark Rowland said Michael Andrejko’s 20-year record as a violent criminal made him an unlikely candidate for rehabilitation. The 34-year-old drifter admitted killing Richard Hopen of Soldotna in the winter of 1982. But he said he didn’t intend to kill the 47-year-old Hopen during a fight in the victim’s van. “It just came off too fast,” Andrejko said. “Probably, if I didn’t carry a gun, it would never have happened.”

Daily Sitka Sentinel
July 17, 1984

ANCHORAGE (AP) – The Alaska Court of Appeals’ on Friday upheld a 50-year prison sentence for a man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The court said there was little chance of rehabilitating Michael Andrejko, who originally was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The 35-year-old drifter was accused of murdering Richard Hopen of Soldotna, and Bonnie Hartley. Andrejko and Ms. Hartley were staying with Hopen at the time of the killings, trading work for room and board.

ANDREJKO v. STATE
695 P.2d 246 (1985)
Michael ANDREJKO, Appellant, v. STATE of Alaska, Appellee.
Court of Appeals of Alaska. February 22, 1985.

Michael Andrejko was convicted of one count each of escape in the second degree, burglary in the second degree, assault in the third degree, and attempted kidnapping, and two counts of criminal mischief in the second degree. Andrejko was ordered to serve a total sentence of sixteen years. Andrejko now appeals both his conviction and his sentence. We affirm.

drifter
Judge Seaborn Buckalew, Alaska

We note that Andrejko has an extensive criminal record, both as a juvenile and as an adult. He was first adjudicated delinquent over twenty years ago. Since then, he has continuously been convicted of serious crimes. In 1964 he escaped three times from a correctional facility to which he had been committed. In 1982 he was convicted of murder in the second degree. It was the incarceration for that conviction from which Andrejko fled and thus was convicted of the present offense of escape. In light of Andrejko’s extensive record, the amount of time imposed by Judge Buckalew is justified.


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Facing the Music: Trouble All Around

The body of James Music was discovered in a rural area north of Sutton on January 4, 1982. Music had been shot three times.


True Crime Series: Sgt. Glenn Flothe Investigates


music

The next day, operating on an informant’s tip, Alaska State Troopers began surveillance of a Government Hill apartment which Music shared with Roger Hampel, Tracey “Charlie” Beard, and a sixteen-year-old girl [name redacted].

music

Around 7:00 p.m. on January 5, 1982, two troopers stopped Roger Hampel as he was driving out of the parking area behind his apartment building. The troopers’ vehicle blocked the path of Hampel’s car. With guns drawn, the troopers asked Hampel to exit his vehicle. Hampel was subjected to a pat-down search and placed in the troopers’ vehicle while they waited for an investigator, Sergeant Flothe, to arrive. Hampel was not told that he was free to leave.

Sergeant Flothe told Hampel that his vehicle was possibly involved in a homicide and that the police wanted to talk to Hampel down at the State Trooper’s headquarters. Hampel was told that he was not under arrest. He was removed to Flothe’s vehicle and transported to trooper headquarters, where he was advised of his rights a second time and again told that he was not under arrest. At trooper headquarters, Hampel was questioned for three hours by Sergeant Flothe and Lieutenant Lucking, also of the Alaska State Troopers.

Hampel subsequently admitted shooting Music, prefacing his remarks by stating, “… I’m not sure if I should even say anything right now or not but I’ll go ahead anyway.”

The trouble was, at least as far as the court system was concerned, Lt. John Lucking hadn’t paid sufficient attention to Hampel’s decidedly ambiguous request for an attorney.


Daily Sitka Sentinel from Sitka, Alaska
October 3, 1985

Appeals Court Reverses Conviction for Murder ANCHORAGE (AP) – The Alaska Court of Appeals Friday reversed the murder conviction of an Anchorage man, saying his confession was made after an interrogator tried to persuade him against getting a lawyer. Roger H. Hampel was questioned soon after the body of his roommate, James Music, was found north of Sutton on January 4, 1982. He had been shot three times. Two Alaska State Troopers stopped Hampel as he was driving out of a parking lot behind his Government Hill apartment. They brought him to troopers headquarters in Anchorage, where Lt. John Lucking questioned him. Lucking told Hampel he was the prime suspect in the murder and Hampel asked about the process for getting a lawyer.

According to recordings of the interview, Lucking told Hampel that he was entitled to a lawyer, at the state’s expense if he could not afford one. He also added, “This hour of the evening I’m not sure, it probably… probably have to call the court and find out. I mean I… the court… it’s a whole lot of rigmarole.” Lucking also made statements emphasizing “that Hampel would damage his case if he delayed talking until an attorney could be present,” said the opinion by Chief Judge Alexander O. Bryner.

music
Lt. John Lucking, AST

The high court overturned a conviction made by a Superior Court jury, saying that if a suspect makes an ambiguous statement about requesting a lawyer, it is an interrogator’s responsibility to clarify what the suspect means. “The unmistakeable element of persuasion in Lt. Lucking’s answers was fundamentally incompatible with the need to refrain from further interrogation until Hampel’s ambiguous requests were clarified. Under these circumstance, we are unable to conclude that the state has met its “heavy burden” of showing that Hampel made a knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to have counsel present during questioning.

Hampel v. State. (2/9/96) ap-1457

In 1986, Hampel agreed to plead no contest to the first-degree murder charge in return for an agreement by the state that Hampel would receive no more than sixty years’ imprisonment. Superior Court Judge Victor D. Carlson sentenced Hampel to sixty years’ imprisonment, with twenty years suspended.

In 1989, Hampel filed pro se pleadings asserting that he had made substantial progress toward rehabilitation and requesting Judge Carlson to reduce his sentence. On June 12, 1992, Judge Carlson denied the motion because Hampel failed to meet the rule’s requirements. Hampel appeals, claiming that the superior court erred in dismissing his application for post-conviction relief. Hampel also argues that the court abused its discretion in denying his motion for appointment as pro se co-counsel.

The superior court’s order dismissing Hampel’s application for post-conviction relief was AFFIRMED.


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Overdraft in the Valley: Tim and Tina Spierlings

On Monday, December 28, 1981, Tim and Tina Spierlings were found dead in the bedroom of their Palmer, Alaska, home. The couple owned the Dutch Lion, an art and antique shop near their home at the junction of the Parks and Glenn Highways. By late Monday investigators had not determined if anything was taken from the home and a motive for the shootings had not been established. Police soon learned, however, that the couple’s 19-year-old son had argued with his father about a bank overdraft the previous evening. Certainly murder over money is not unusual. But a bank overdraft? 

Even Sgt. Glenn Flothe had to scratch his head at that one.


True Crime Series: Sgt. Glenn Flothe Investigates


overdraft
Parks Highway


Fairbanks Daily News Miner
December 29, 1981, Fairbanks, Alaska

Palmer couple found shot to death ANCHORAGE (AP) — State Troopers are investigating the slaying of a Palmer couple shot to death at close range while sleeping in a home off the Parks Highway.

The bodies of Timotheus F. Spierlings, 55, and his wife, Beiztina, 51, were discovered early Monday in their bedroom. They were found by two of the couple’s children, who had been sleeping in another part of the house “It appears each had been shot more than once… from a few feet away,” said Capt. Lowell Parker. Officers found empty shell casings in the couple’s bedroom, he said. Parker said investigators found weapons in the home matching the caliber of the casings, but they are not yet sure if any of the weapons were used in the shootings. The couple’s 12-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter told Troopers they did not hear any gunshots during the night.

Troopers are seeking the couple’s 19-year-old son, Onno Spierlings, and a missing brown 1978 Chevrolet station wagon. Parker said investigators do not know if the 19-year-old was forced from the home, west of the intersection of the Parks and Glenn highways near Palmer. “There’s no sign of a struggle or anything.” Parker said, and there was no sign of forced entry. The couple owned the Dutch Lion, an art and antique shop near their home, Troopers said. Investigators by late Monday had not determined if anything was taken from the home, and Parker said a motive for the shootings has not been established.

overdraft
1978 Chevrolet Station Wagon

Daily Sitka Sentinel
December 30, 1981

Son Arrested in Slaying of Two ANCHORAGE (AP) — Alaska State Troopers on Tuesday arrested the 19-year-old son of Timotheus and Beiztine Spierlings, a Palmer couple found shot to death in the bedroom of their home. Capt. Lowell Parker said Onno Spierlings would be charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The Spierlings were shot several times at close range while they slept late Sunday or early Monday.

The Spierilngs’ bodies were discovered by their 12-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter early Monday, but they said they heard no gunshots during the night. Parker said officers do not have a motive for the slayings.

While Spierlings was the focus of a manhunt through Southcentral Alaska on Monday, he surfaced at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday when he walked into the Anchorage Police Department to report a theft. Parker said investigators have evidence the young man was in the home when Spierlings, 55, and his 51-year-old wife were slain. Several guns found in the home are being tested to determine if one of them was the murder weapon, he said.

Daily Sitka Sentinel
Thursday, April 28, 1983

Son Found Guilty in Slaying ANCHORAGE (AP) — A Superior Court jury has found 21-year-old Onno Spierlings guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the Dec. 28, 1981, slaying of his father and mother at their home near Wasilla. The parents, Tim and Tina Spierlings, were killed by rifle fire as they slept after the son and his father argued about a bank overdraft by young Spierlings. The jury deliberated for about seven hours before returning its verdict late Tuesday.

Daily Sitka Sentinel
July 20, 1983

Son Sentenced in Slayings ANCHORAGE (AP) — A 21-year-old Wasilla youth convicted of murdering his parents has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. Superior Court Judge Justin Ripley suspended 30 years of the sentence until the end of 1985. “We didn’t apply concurrent 50-year sentences after considering the testimony,” the judge said. Ripley said that Onno Spierlings could be treated successfully for the emotional problems that led to the slayings.


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Glenn Flothe’s 1983 Caseload

In a very real way, Glenn Flothe’s Alaska State Trooper career has been defined by the Robert Hansen serial murder case. I certainly have made my own contributions to that assessment. But it’s not entirely fair. What’s missing is the background and context: how was it that Flothe could jump in and solve the Hansen case? Surely he didn’t come to the assignment as a blank page. In fact, he had a significant caseload.

Here, and in the next few installments, we’ll consider that caseload as foundational and look at some of the previous homicide cases in Flothe’s back pages. We’ll start with the first one Flothe listed. The Walatka case reconstruction, taken from court records, is based on the Alaska State Trooper investigation. As noted, it was but a small slice of Flothe’s caseload during this period. Flothe had a caseload that would break a lesser man. A caseload from hell.

caseload
Glenn Flothe and his wife, Cheryl, after her successful kidney transplant in 2007


Caseload Summary: Mildred Walatka

One of the first cases mentioned in Glenn Flothe’s caseload was the murder of an Alaska pioneer and her son. It was, from beginning to end, a vexing case.

On the thirteenth day of May, 1981, Scott Walker, Dale Willhite, and Timothy Hopkins burglarized the residence of Harvey Noble and obtained several firearms. On the twenty-ninth day of May they planned to burglarize the Anchorage residence of Alaska pioneer Mildred Walatka. The three apparently intended to burglarize the residence when it was unoccupied, but when Walker knocked on the door to make sure no one was home, Mrs. Walatka’s son, Herbert Oakley, opened the door.

Walker stated that he was surprised when Oakley answered the door, so as prearranged he feigned car problems, planning to leave without further incident. Walker testified that Hopkins then changed the plan and they remained at the house. They were allowed to enter, claiming they needed to make a phone call as a ruse.

While Scott Walker was using the telephone, Willhite pulled a gun. The three then proceeded to take ivory and jewelry which was in the home. They then forced Mrs. Walatka and Herbert Oakley into a car at gunpoint. With Walker driving, the five went to Walatka’s bank, where she was forced to remove $600 from her account. Again with Walker at the wheel, the burglars took Walatka and Oakley away from the city, where both were shot to death. Walker assisted in hiding the bodies after the homicides.

While in jail Walker wrote out a statement in which he stated that he and Willhite shot Walatka and Oakley and related a version of the killings. In that version Hopkins was the person who did not shoot. Walker placed this statement in a box with some personal possessions and placed it under the bunk of Van Travelstead, who had been assigned to the same cell as Walker. Travelstead took the written statement from the box and turned it over to his attorney who turned it over to the prosecution. Walker moved to suppress the statement and the motion was denied. The statement was admitted at Walker’s trial.

“Certainly you must have been aware these people were going on their last ride. These people were executed so they could not testify.” Judge Seaborn Buckalew

Sources:


Santa Cruz Sentinel Sunday, June 14, 1981

Alaskan Faces Murder Charge ANCHORAGE (AP) – Two weeks to the day after an Anchorage woman and her son were found shot to death along a country road north of Palmer, an Anchorage man has been charged with two counts of first degree murder. Timothy Hopkins, 20, was identified by a bank teller as the man who allegedly accompanied Mildred Walatka when she withdrew $600 from her account May 29, according to court documents filed Friday by District Attorney Larry Weeks.

Mrs. Walatka, 71, and her son Herbert Oakley, 48, were abducted from their home in an exclusive Anchorage neighborhood, police said. The teller told troopers that because of the suspicious circumstances of the transaction, she called her supervisor and another bank employee to watch as Mrs. Walatka left the bank and got into a car matching the description of Mrs. Walatka’s car, which was found abandoned in a shopping center parking lot the next day. The teller said there were two or three other persons in the car. Troopers speculated earlier that one of them was Oakley.

Hopkins was arrested Monday night on a misdemeanor theft charge stemming from a house break-in near Wasilla last month in which several handguns and a shotgun were taken, police said. All the guns were discovered in a downtown hotel room rented by Hopkins, police said, except for two 9mm pistols. An autopsy showed Mrs. Walatka had been shot six times and Oakley four times with a pair of 9mm pistols. Two other men, Scott M. Walker, 19, and Dale J. Willhite, Jr., 22, also have been charged with second-degree theft in connection with the Wasilla burglary. Police declined to say whether they also will be charged with murder.

Daily Sitka Sentinel, Sitka, Alaska, August 19, 1981

Accused Murderer Granted Immunity ANCHORAGE (AP) — One of  three men charged in a double murder in May and a break-in of a home from which five guns were taken, has received immunity from prosecution. He originally pleaded not guilty to both counts but in return for information leading to the recovery of two guns believed used in the murders, he changed his plea to guilty as part of the agreement.

According to court records, information provided by Dale Willhite Jr. led investigators Tuesday to the body of Ray Newhall Jr., 22, of Wasilla, and two 9mm pistols that State Troopers believe were used to shoot Mildred Walatka and her son, Herbert Oakley. Newhall, last seen by family members May 20, died of multiple gunshot wounds. His body was discovered along Lake Louise Road. Lt. John Lucking refused to speculate on a possible motive for Newhall’s murder.

Under the agreement, all eight charges against Willhite for his alleged role in the Walatka-Oakley killings will be dropped if he testifies against Timothy Hopkins and Scott Walker, also accused of the murders. Willhite also agreed to provide information on the whereabouts of the murder weapons and details of an unspecified hit-and-run accident on May 26. Willhite now faces only two counts of burglary and theft stemming from the May 13 robbery.

Daily Sitka Sentinel, Sitka, Alaska, Monday, May 17, 1982

Jury Acquits Kidnapper ANCHORAGE (AP) – A Superior Court jury has acquitted Timothy Hopkins of murdering long-time Anchorage residents Mildred Walatka and Herbert Oakley, whose bullet-riddled bodies were found off a lonely road near Palmer last year. However, the panel after two days of deliberation convicted Hopkins of kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary, theft and receiving stolen goods. None of the three men who have admitted taking Walatka and Oakley from their Turnagain home May 29 last year has been convicted of taking part in their deaths.

Two weeks ago, Scott Walker, the second of the three men who have admitted taking Walatka and Oakley from their home, was convicted by a different jury of kidnapping and armed robbery. The third member of the trio, Dale Willhite, received immunity from prosecution in return for taking police to one of the weapons used in the murders and testifying against Walker and Hopkins. Whillhite also led police to the body of a third murder victim, Ray “Doody” Newhall, near Lake Louise. Hopkins has been charged with Newhall’s murder. That trial begins this week.

Daily Sitka Sentinel, Sitka, Alaska, Monday, August 23,1982

Kidnapper Draws 89 Years in Prison ANCHORAGE (AP) — A 20- year-old man convicted of kidnapping an Anchorage man and his mother who were killed along a remote road near Palmer has been sentenced to 89 years in prison. Superior Judge Seaborn Buckalew sentenced Scott Walker to consecutive 40-year terms for the kidnapping of Mildred Walatka, 72, and Herbert Oakley, 48. The rest of the term comes from a variety of related burglarly, theft and robbery charges.

caseload
Judge Seaborn Buckalew

Walker could have been sentenced up to 99 years on each of the kidnapping counts. Walker was one of three men arrested last May in connection with the double murder which Buckalew called “an outrageous crime.” He was acquitted on two counts of first-degree murder after admitting he witnessed the murders but did not participate in them.

Timothy Hopkins, 20, also was acquitted of murder charges but convicted of kidnapping in the case. In each trial, the defendant pinned the shooting on the other man and a third suspect, Dale Willhite. The 23-year-old Willhite escaped prosecution by agreeing to assist in the prosecution of the other two. “Certainly you must have been aware these people were going on their last ride,” Buckalew told Walker at Friday’s sentencing. “These people were executed so they could not testify.”


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Sgt. Glenn Flothe Takes On Nowhere

“Five days after the second body was found on the Knik, Lieutenant Bob Jent of the Alaska State Troopers assigned Sergeant Glenn Flothe (pronounced “Flowthie”) to the Knik River murders. At that time he’d been working on seventeen other homicides. He’d solved all except one of them, but most still needed follow-up. That meant Flothe was stuck shepherding his cases through the judicial system.

“Jent changed all that. Flothe was to work full-time on the Knik cases.”

Excerpt From: Walter Gilmour & Leland E. Hale. “Butcher, Baker.”


The sense that Sgt. Glenn Flothe was an ace homicide detective was borne out not by braggadocio but by facts. He got results. But he was not the stereotypical hard-nosed cop. The professorial Flothe had a manner that was more supportive, even-handed, confessional. As Walter Gilmour once said of Flothe, “we put all the asshole cops on the missing dancers case and they didn’t solve it. We figured it was time to try the nice guy.”

glenn flothe
Sgt. Glenn Flothe

Here’s Flothe’s take on that same period:

“Goulding and Morrow were found before I was assigned in late [September] of 83. During the initial investigation by Haugsven, I was involved in Walatka, Ron & Darcelle Cole, Duncan, Spierings, Music, Harley, Hopen, Dickinson, Wafer, Kwallek, Ballenger, Landesman, Goodman, Krakoff, Farrant, Besh & Investor homicides until Jent assigned me to the case because it had stalled and Stauber was going on the S.O.M.E. run.” [1]

Those weren’t the only items on Flothe’s resume. In Fairbanks, he’d worked a serial murder case involving, among others, the death of Glinda Sodemann — a trooper’s daughter — who was found shot in the face with a .357. Glinda was a newlywed with a small baby and, according to her husband, when he arrived home on August 29 the baby was in the crib, but Glinda was gone. By all accounts, Glinda was happy and had no reason to run away from home; investigators found no evidence to suggest foul play.

The following October, Glinda’s decomposed body was found in a gravel pit near Moose Creek on the Richardson Highway, not far from Eielson Air Force Base and twenty-two miles south of Fairbanks. That location proved crucial: Her killer, Thomas Richard Bunday worked on the base.

There was no denying, then or now, that Flothe had the kind of experience that might break the logjam in a missing dancers case.

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


[1] In 1979 the Alaska State Troopers conducted the first Special Olympics Mileage Event, which later became known as the S.O.M.E. Run. For twelve years this was a Department of Public Safety members’ annual event. It was also a major fundraiser for the Alaska Special Olympics.

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An Investigation Going Nowhere

When Cindy Paulson escaped the clutches of Robert Hansen on Sunday, June 13, 1983, it initially seemed like an isolated incident in a series of missing dancer investigations that were going nowhere. By the time Cindy was kidnapped, police already had the names of fifteen men with whom prostitutes and dancers reported having strange encounters.

And, realistically, the Paulson kidnapping and rape, serious as it was, had not edged into murder. In those days, Alaska had lots of murders to deal with, including the Sherry Morrow homicide. As always, homicides sucked up lots of resources.


So when the Sherry Morrow case was assigned to Trooper Sgt. Lyle Haugsven that June in 1983, it came as a package — he was also assigned the Cindy Paulson case. It was a twofer. It was a shit sandwich.

“This was no stroke of luck for [Haugsven]. His fellow troopers regarded the Morrow case as a hopeless one and the Paulson case would prove no less difficult to put together. Despite these odds, Haugsven was determined to see them through…

“[But] because the Morrow case entailed a lot of work, the Cindy Paulson case seemed like a nuisance. It was true that there was talk of Hansen as a possible suspect in the Morrow homicide — because of his actions in the Paulson case — but he was merely one of many suspects in a case that was going nowhere. Nevertheless, Haugsven decided to take a closer look at Hansen, on the off chance there was a link to the Morrow investigation.”

Excerpt From: Walter Gilmour & Leland E. Hale. “Butcher, Baker.”


It’s the reality of police work that investigators are rarely assigned a single case. The ’80s were a busy time for homicides in Alaska. That Haugsven had two cases added to his workload was not unusual. Even if — especially if — these cases were going nowhere fast. One of Haugsven’s genius moves was to have Hansen’s flights tracked, on the notion that an airplane provided the best access to the remote Knik River location where Morrow’s body was found.

But when another body was found on the Knik River on September 2, 1983. Sgt. Haugsven happened to be on leave for two weeks. Troopers scrambled to fill the gap.

nowhere
Troopers at Knik River gravesite

First up was Sgt. Edward Stauber, who’d been promoted to sergeant only a year earlier, [1]. Stauber’s biggest challenge was just getting to the scene. It was increasingly evident that their killer was using the Alaska bush as his ultimate weapon. Significantly, Stauber was a temporary fill-in until Haugsven returned from leave — and was himself scheduled to take leave for a major charity run. It was not the best staff scheduling; the revolving door was now fully operational.


[1] After retiring in 1997, Sgt. Stauber suffered a tragic accident. On Saturday, December 8, 2001, he was on his way back to Anchorage from his daughter’s wedding in Talkeetna; his 25 year-old son was in the passenger seat, while his wife Nancy followed in the car behind them.

At about 7 p.m., near Mile 74 Parks Hwy. in Willow, Stauber apparently hit an icy patch and swerved sideways, crossing into the northbound lane. The Hogan family of Palmer was in the other vehicle, a 1996 Ford Pickup traveling north. The family told troopers that Stauber seemed to be trying to avoid the accident by tapping on his brakes and swerving to the right. The pickup hit the passenger side of Stauber’s Ford Explorer. The Hogan’s suffered minor injuries. Both Ed Stauber and his son were killed.

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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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.

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Murder on Knik River Rd: Next Shoe Drops

The next shoe has dropped.

In June and July of this year, I wrote extensively about the murder of Palmer teen David Grunwald. Thanks to my friends at KTVA Anchorage, I was also able to follow — and comment upon — the arrest and trial of Erick Almandinger, the first of four teens accused in Grunwald’s murder. The trial of a second accused teen, Dominic Johnson, started in November 2018. In less than a month at trial, his jury reached a verdict.

shoe


On December 27, 2018, Dominic Johnson was found guilty of first degree murder. The jury also found him guilty of kidnapping, arson, assault, vehicle theft and destroying evidence. All in all, quite a shoe drop.

In its broadest strokes, the trial was reminiscent of Erick Almandinger’s trial. The basic fact pattern remained consistent. That said, there were at least two new revelations. Another two shoes, as it were.

The first new shoe was that Dominic Johnson got himself a jailhouse tattoo. In “before” and “after” photos captured by KTVA-Anchorage, they show the tattoo of a pistol on Johnson’s right hand during his October jury selection process. A tattoo that was not present during Johnson’s August 14-15 evidentiary hearing.

Excuse me while I say, WTF?

Yeah, I know he is young. And stupid. But, to me at least, that tattoo says, “Yes, I was the shooter.” No, wait. I got that wrong. It says: YES, I WAS THE SHOOTER.

And, yeah, I’m not the intended audience. That audience is Johnson’s fellow inmates. I trust that they’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted.

shoe
Before: August Evidenciary Hearing (courtesy KTVA)

shoe
After: October Jury Selection (close-up; courtesy KTVA)

shoe
Dominic Johnson conceals his tattoo (courtesy KTVA)

THE SECOND big revelation was really a confirmation of what troopers suspected during Erick Almandinger’s trial: that there was video evidence of Dominic Johnson bragging about beating David Grunwald in the hours before Grunwald’s murder.

Here’s how the judge summarized that video during Johnson’s trial: “Judge Gregory Heath read a transcript of the video: “First of all it’s an indiscernible line. Then [it] goes ‘As hard as I can, in the head just to try to hurt him, just to try to fucking hurt him.'”

Not only was that evidence miraculously found but it formed a series of revelations that Dominic’s mother, Misty Johnson, knew way more about her son’s involvement in David Grunwald’s murder than she let on during the first trial. Here’s a series of messages discussing the video:

Misty: There's something else that has surfaced that's VERY VERY 
VERYBAD!!!!!!! idk if the cops have it or not if they do they r 
definitely waiting til trial to bring it out.

[Misty's friend]: Oh god what else

Misty: I'll have to tell u in person or have Andrea show u. If 
they have it he will 100% get life. And if I were on the jury 
id actually be in favor of it even after seeing that little 
piece of the puzzle.

Misty Johnson also talked about wanting to get one of Dominic’s sweatshirts. She sent a message to “Johnson” on Dec. 11, 2016 that read:

Me too. I slept in his bed the night they took him. It was hard but 
i needed to feel close to him. Does he have any hoodies there? We 
had to "get rid of" his American Eagle one he wore all the time cuz 
it was....on him. Ya know...during....

She later replied:

It'd be weird for me to have that hoodie tho knowing what happened 
in it and knowing where the blood was on it. But I've always loved 
his hoodies and I gave Sammy back the one I gave dom of his. Now 
there's none.

You can’t make this stuff up.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

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

Craig

Autopsy And… A Tale of Two Cities

In this installment of Walter J. Gilmour’s original drafts, we explore the aftermath of the Knik River investigation. An autopsy is conducted and a victim ID is made. Troopers start to wonder if this murder is connected to another series of Alaska homicides.


Walter J. Gilmour

“The autopsy of the mystery body was conducted by Dr. George Lindholm. Lindholm made a dental comparison and determined that the body was that of Sherry Morrow, who had been reported missing nearly a year before. The cause of death was a gunshot wound. Dr. Lindholm found pieces of copper jacketed bullet fragments in the victim’s chest cavity.

autopsy
Sherry Morrow

“The case of the missing dancers had suddenly taken on a new importance. So much so that Lt. Patrick Kasnick was assigned to the case to provide much needed assistance to an already overworked crew of investigators.

autopsy
Lt. Pat Kasnick, AST

“At the same time that dancers were disappearing in Anchorage, evidently to meet the same fate as Sherry Morrow, other women were being killed in Fairbanks. It was natural to take a look at those cases to see if there was any connection. The attempt to establish a link between the Fairbanks and Anchorage serial murders was both extensive and expensive, with our investigation relying on some of the most sophisticated computer systems available at the time.

“In our look for a link in the cases, a database inquiry was conducted; it cost $300,000 just to feed in all the information. We also used the services of an FBI psychiatrist who specialized in serial murder cases.

“In the Fairbanks serial murders, the killer tied the victim’s hands behind their backs and we thought that was a key similarity to the Anchorage murders. A high caliber weapon was also used and the Fairbanks killer blew the women’s heads off in an attempt to destroy their faces. The bodies were left close to the road, moreover, with no effort to hide them.

“The FBI psychiatrist told us there was something ritualistic about the killings, but no apparent connection between the serial murders in Fairbanks and Anchorage. The minicomputer analysis also told us “No,” there was no concrete link between the killings in the two cities. Even the autopsy results pointed in different directions.


In 1982, the Fairbanks killer was identified. His name was Thomas Richard Bunday. By grim coincidence, Sgt. Glenn Flothe, who would later play a crucial role in the Hansen investigation, was one of the initial investigators when Glinda Sodemann — a trooper’s daughter — was found in Fairbanks, shot in the face with a .357. Bunday would commit suicide before he could be brought to justice: he rammed his motorcycle into a tractor-trailer while a fugitive in Texas.

autopsy
Thomas Richard Bunday

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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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.

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On the Knik River with Rollie Port

The scene investigation at the Knik River gravesite would be directed by the AST Palmer post. The macabre discovery was, after all, within that post’s immediate jurisdiction. What our killer had not counted on, though, was the man from the Palmer post who would guide that exhumation: Sgt. Rollie Port.


Walter J. Gilmour

“Rollie Port is a trooper that criminals fear. It is not that he is mean — he’s probably one of the gentlest troopers I know. On meeting him, in fact, one is struck by how small his voice is compared to his body. No, criminals fear Port because once he’s on your case, chances are good he’ll make it. To prove that, Port has made a higher percentage of cases than any other trooper presently active in the organization [Ed. note: Gilmour draft from 1984].

“The secret to Port’s success is a thoroughness and determination that every cop would do well to emulate.

Rollie
Rollie Port (2015, North Dakota)

“When Port arrived on the Knik River scene and started to direct the exhumation, he did so with his characteristic penchant for detail. As the body was unearthed from the shallow grave, he noted that the victim was fully clothed, and wearing blue jeans; a baby-blue ski jacket, with dark blue trim on the shoulders; a sweater; panties and bra.

Rollie

Rollie

“The victim was shoeless, although a pair of moon boots would eventually be found in the grave. An Ace bandage had been wrapped around the woman’s head like a blindfold; extending from forehead to nose, it was secured with metal clips. More important, as the body was removed from its disrespectful resting place, Rollie Port made a key discovery.

“He found a single .223 caliber cartridge case.”


As some of you will recall, I have written about Rollie Port before. It’s a piece worth re-reading. The key thing in both pieces is this: when Rollie Port found that .223 caliber cartridge case, he helped nudge the investigation toward a single man. Robert C. Hansen. Hansen not only owned a .223 rifle, it was his favored weapon. Increasingly, that weapon looked like a pair of handcuffs.

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

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

Craig