Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Family & Friends

Troopers had their hands full with what turned out to be a clusterf*k of witnesses. There were the people who knew Beth — family and friends who could speak to her character and her habits. There were those in the neighborhood who may have seen Beth on her way to — or at — nearby businesses. Finally, there were Greg Nicholas’ friends, who could either alibi him or not. In all of this, truth was a runaway child.

Family & Friends
The most haunting refrain from Beth’s family was the direct quote from her letters: “It’s not fun to date anymore.” It was a theme worth pursuing.

Troopers wasted no time contacting family friend, and Beth’s ex-boyfriend, Ed Tilbury. They ruled him out as a suspect — he was in Cold Bay, Alaska, a thousand miles away at the tip of the Aleutian chain — and had an airtight alibi for the night in question. Even so, Ed provided new insight into Beth’s psyche. “I would classify her as an extrovert,” he said, “even though she was quite naive.”

Family
Beth van Zanten

Fellow students at Anchorage Community College painted a similar picture.

ACC student Curtis Ebeling, focused on her naivete. “She had some beliefs that should not be allowed into the State of Alaska any newcomers. She had some wild idea about building a complex of lodges back in the bush, that would only be occupied by people of her choice.”

Another ACC student, David Crewsdon, told troopers that, “[Beth] was very friendly, had an extrovert personality… The impression I got from her was that she didn’t want to be involved with anyone and as far as I knew, she didn’t date anyone in particular… She would not hitchhike,” Crewsdon added. “And in fact I remember a conversation with another subject that she was lecturing to abolish hitchhiking.”

There was, in these impressions, the notion that while friendly toward family and people she trusted, Beth had a genuine loathing of strangers. The reality of her bound wrists reinforced the idea she had been taken against her will. Either that or… she was taken by someone she trusted.

School friends Andrea Taggart and Louise Hawkins added another dimension to that assessment. Taggart told troopers that, “I was in the Tiki Room [the night of December 22] at approximately 1:00 am.

The Tiki Room was in the Tropics Hotel on Spenard Rd. That was significant: It was across the street from the Fly-By-Night garage owned by Beth’s brother, David.

“I went to the bathroom and as I walked into the girl’s room, sitting on the counter, facing the door with her back to the mirror, was an individual I know as Beth van Zanten. I have known Beth for approximately ten years and have been in several classes at West High School with her. I noticed it was Beth and said, ‘Hi.'”

“She looked at me and smiled like if she should know me,” Taggart continued. “I went to the bathroom and came out and fixed my hair and tried to make conversation with her. I said, ‘How are you?’ and she said, ‘I am really blown away.’ I said okay and goodbye and left.

“Approximately 15-20 minutes later, she came out of the restroom and as I looked up I saw this tall person standing next to the bar. At that time I saw Beth walk up to him. He appeared to be getting some change and both walked into the lobby area. In a minute or two they returned and walked through the entire bar area and out the back door of the Tiki Room.

“Beth was wearing a green ski jacket and scarf… She looked like her hair was a mess, not combed or clean… She hung her head and looked droopy…

“Beth didn’t look good at all.”

“They were not drinking,” Taggart added. “The man was a white male, very tall, 6′ or 6’2″, rather skinny legs. I would say 180 pounds. He was wearing an OD-colored (olive drab) military type parka with a full hood and wolf appearance around it. Jeans, not bell bottoms. Black shoes. Clean hair, dark brown, 1″ or 2” below the ear. Not well-kempt. I’d say he was 22 or 24 years old — or younger. He had a large nose. I did not notice a beard or glasses.”

Hawkins told a similar story. “I saw Beth come through the front door with a man. She then went to the bathroom; while she was in the bathroom Andrea [Taggart] got up and went into the bathroom also. Pretty soon Andrea came back out and told me that was Beth van Zanten in the bathroom and she was stoned out of her mind. That she could barely talk to her…

“The man with Beth was young, early to mid-twenties. Thin, tall, 5’8′ to 6′, with long, dark brown hair. He may have been wearing light, horn-rimmed glasses and possibly a few days growth of beard on his face.”

Based on these conversations, troopers interviewed the bartender and waitress who were working that night. Neither remembered seeing Beth. They also questioned Greg’s cousin; Ronnie Broughton told them:

“When I was at [Dave’s] garage, I went to the bathroom by our car. I did not go into the Tropics [Hotel] bar or bathroom that evening. I have never met or seen Beth van Zanten to my knowledge.”

Soon, troopers sent out a bulletin putting folks on the lookout for the young man Andrea and Louise had seen during the early morning hours of December 23rd.

A slender, long-haired young man believed to have been with Beth the night she disappeared is being sought. Troopers are also looking for the clothes Beth van Zanten had been wearing and ask any person finding a pair of blue jeans, a green down-filled parka or a pair of smooth, rubber-soled green hiking boots to notify authorities. 


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 2

There’s a wonderful bit in the Robert Hansen portion of Hidden City: Anchorage where Marcus brings in professional tracker Ty Cunningham to give a sense of what Hansen’s victims were up against. It’s an extremely powerful segment. Except that the segment was filmed in winter snow. According to Robert Hansen:

“This was a summertime project.”

Since Hansen’s wife was a teacher, and often travelled during the summer, it kind of makes sense, you know? When the cat’s away, and all that… But let’s not take this summertime thing too far. Hansen kidnapped and raped a woman back in 1971, just days before Christmas.

Of course, he also had the good sense to take that victim to a motel.

Bonus: Video Clip: Hidden City Anchorage: Tracks of Terror (tracking in the snow)

What about the chase? It is, after all, a recurring theme in discussions about Robert Hansen. Well, the chase started the minute he first stalked his victims. But in Hansen’s universe, the chase was always (out)balanced by questions of control.

We know that Hansen worried about the intangibles. The known unknowns. The women had to be alone when they reached the rendezvous. Hansen always picked a spot where he could see everything and everyone. Even early on, he used a restraint of some type, eventually graduating to handcuffs. By his own admission, he was obsessive about the mechanical reliability of his car when he kidnapped women. Didn’t want to break down with some woman in handcuffs.

Those control issues extended to the bush. Even in the bush there’s the risk that some hooker can outrun him, even for a little while. She can kick her heels off, right? And, you know, the Alaska bush ain’t no frickin’ island. Those were troubles he just didn’t want. Given all that, it’s my view that he started shooting sooner rather than later.

Loss of control, baby. Not so good. And being “in control” ultimately trumped other considerations. Including the chase. He really, really liked this “game.” Lose control, you lose everything. In fact, there was one who got away. Yeah. She was the one who brought him down.

Quotes from Robert Hansen’s Inconvenient Confession (February 22, 1984)

RH: I only, I only used the airplane three times and maybe if I kept on going like that I would have had a problem… [But] where I have my plane parked there isn’t a lot of people in and out right there and the girl was almost more scared of being in the airplane than she was scared of me…

GF: Scared of being in the airplane. You mention that this area was pretty populated but in the winter time with skis you were somewhat unlimited as to where you could go. Your privacy was pretty much up to you. Or were you concerned about flying a long time? You mention three girls but I’m just wondering, with skis, you know in the winter, you could go just about anywhere.

RH: I could but winter time wasn’t the time to do it. Things were dormant in the winter time. This was a summertime project.

GF = Glenn Flothe
RH = Robert Hansen

Want to learn more about the Robert Hansen murders? Read “Butcher, Baker,” by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale. More here…

Nicolas Cage Gets It Half Right

Nicolas Cage recently did a webchat over at Empire Online. He takes fan questions and talks about his movies and approach toward acting. Too much fun. Moviefone picks up on it, too, under the headline, “Ridiculous Quotes From the Oscar-Winning Actor.” Dunno. That last one looks a little like link-bait to me.

First things first. There is no mention of “The Frozen Ground,” the movie based on the Robert Hansen story, which was first chronicled in “Butcher, Baker.” Or Cage’s role in that movie, as Glenn-Flothe-cum-Jack-Halcombe.

No surprise there. It’s still too early for promotional appearances for that film, which is currently in post-production. But there is one juicy quote, at least from my perspective, because it provides possible insight into the evolution of Cage’s Alaska State Trooper character in The Frozen Ground.

The Quote

The way I can realise my film acting dreams of abstract expression is by finding characters that are flawed in some way that will provide a context where that expression still works: for example, Ghost Rider is a demon, a fallen angel. Blaze feels the pain of the transformation.

That pain provides a context where I can be very abstract in my vocalisation and my movements. Bad Lieutenant, I play a cop who’s high on drugs. Those drugs are why he can be so extreme in the portrayal. These ideas are not always popular with critics, but there is a school of thought that says if you piss the critics off, you’re probably doing something right – and all of my heroes, whether it be in music or painting or cinema, have pissed the critics off.

Maybe that explains why Cage ditched the real-life Sgt. Glenn Flothe character. I know Glenn Flothe and, while he’s flawed, I don’t think he’s flawed enough to serve as a model for Nicolas Cage. Flothe is relentlessly nice. Cage’s favorite characters, not so much.

Odds & Ends

A few tidbits that caught my attention during the holidays. Or about the holidays. Or ignoring the holidays, for as long as possible.

Book & Movie News

  • Alaska filming has ended on “Frozen Ground,” starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack.
  • From the you-can’t-make-this-up department: As the story goes, there’s a scene [in Frozen Ground] where a moose menaces the teenage hooker-heroine who helps nail Hansen. So they rounded up a regular street moose that promptly got spooked and charged for real.
  • Anchorage even cooperated with moviemakers by delivering an early big dump of snow.

Black Friday/Monday News
Mobile (and cyber) sales are finally taking off, as recent IBM data for Black Friday shows.

  • 10.3 percent of online sales came from mobile shoppers.
  • 17 percent of all shoppers used mobile devices to track exclusive offers and sales updates.
  • iPhone continues to lead all mobile device traffic at 6.58 %, followed by Android at 5.20% and iPad at 4.71%.
  • Equally interesting, iOS led mobile device traffic at 11.29% compared to 5.20% for Android. Or more than double.

The biggest change here is the that retailers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Macy’s and Apple targeted mobile devices with shopping apps, notifications and alerts. In the grand scheme of things, this tells us at least two things: First, retailers have found ways to go directly to consumers and skip Google’s intermediating engine; second, it further explains Amazon’s strategy of putting out a device that’s a pipeline to their retail experience — and which, by the way, also skips Google’s intermediating engine.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

  • Finally, there’s this story about how two recent market studies leave out iPad sales in their tablet market reviews. This lets them write headlines suggesting that “a large group of consumers are looking for alternatives [to the iPad tablet].”
  • But it’s not true, actually. John Gruber estimates that the iPad actually has, oh, something like 89% of the market. Which means that 11% are truly looking at alternatives — and some of them bought HP tablets at fire sale prices.

Here & There

Today’s blog is a grab-bag of stories, culled from a range of sources. We’ve still got crime on our mind.

First up, Frozen Ground film news fresh from Alaska.

  • We have a couple of shots of Nicolas Cage in Anchorage. In this slideshow, Cage is seen on the Frozen Ground set. And what would a Nicolas Cage story be without some smack from gossip site TMZ? Their spy camera captures him purchasing a $2,000 ivory-handled knife.
  • The Anchorage Daily News reports that Alaska filming on “Frozen Ground” could wrap by Friday, November 18 — a one-month shooting schedule.
  • The Alaska backlash against film subsidies, meanwhile, is starting to heat up. More on this issue in another post.

We also have an update on the Mike McQueary story, in what amounts to another round of media counter-attack. I’m guessing anyone who follows the news is already aware of these revelations.

What’s worth comment here is that the basis for much of the reporting is a 23-page grand jury presentment. A summary document. It leaves out details. That gives the folks involved a brief-window to manage the news by releasing self-serving details of their own. My money is still on Sara Ganim, the intrepid reporter who first broke this story.