Word among troopers was that Sgt. D. W. Hughes was “by the book.” In fact, they’d taken Walt Gilmour off the case and assigned it to Hughes because he was by the book. And so it was that Hughes had a checklist with a hardnosed set of questions. And Patty was supposed to have answers for each and every one of them.
The homicide at McHugh Creek that prompted Patty Roberts to come forward in the first place was now front and center.
Q = Sgt. Hughes. A = Patty Roberts.
Q. At any time during the time you were with this individual, did you have any opportunity to escape from him?
A. Yes, when he was stopped at Portage Cafe and I felt he was taking me back to town and there was no reason to escape from him.
Q. At any time you were with this individual that Sunday, did you resist him in any way and if not, why didn’t you resist?
A. Because I’d have been shot or badly beaten.
Q. Did you feel that if you did mot do exactly what you were told to do that you might have been in danger of physical or bodily harm?
Q. Did this man give you a name?
A. Yes, he said I could call him Tom.
A Man Called Tom
Unsurprisingingly, Hughes wanted to know every little detail about this man who called himself “Tom.” Patty told Hughes he had a pocket watch. Wore a wool shirt, maybe a Pendleton. He didn’t smoke. He had a knit type cap with a rolled up edge. His car, she said, had bucket seats, covered in vinyl.
Q. Was there anything about his voice what was distinctive?
A. Yes, it would crack and he’d kind of stutter and gulp like he was real nervous.
Q. Did Tom talk any of hunting or archery?
A. Yes, he mentioned that he had planned to do some hunting that weekend.
Tom is Not Tom
This line of questioning was a tell — Hughes and the troopers already had a line on someone. It wasn’t Tom. It was Robert C. Hansen. And they knew he was a hunter. A bowhunter. With world records. And then there was one last question. A housekeeping question from someone who knew what it was like to drive a car in an Alaska winter.
Q. When you left the Nevada Cafe that Sunday morning, did Tom let you shut your car engine off?
A. No, but when I got back a friend had left a note in the car and the car had been turned off.
And so, out of all this outrage, a small gesture of kindness. Her car was not sitting at the Nevada Cafe with an empty tank. She could make the forlorn trek to a friend’s house and call her dad. One of her own questions had an answer.
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2020). All rights reserved.
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