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

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.


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.

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.

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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