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.

tires

“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.

tires
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.

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