In Bellingham, In Blaine

While Southeast Alaska and San Francisco were places of interest to trooper investigators, they weren’t the only ones. In September of 1982, troopers also travelled south to Washington State, to Bellingham and Blaine. The ostensible reason for that trip was the memorial service for the victims. It was also an opportunity to talk to local folks who knew the deceased. That journey, more than any other, put the murders into context.

The day before the September 18 memorial service for the Investor victims, Miller and Stogsdill went to Blaine, Washington. A fishing community just a mile from the Canadian border, Blaine was the home port of the Investor. While in Blaine, Miller and Stogsdill attended a charity event for the Investor reward fund, armed with composite sketches of the skiffman that Kolivosky got from Page and Domenowske. They distributed those composites in hopes that locals would recognize someone they knew. They didn’t.

That same day troopers also found time to meet with LeRoy Flammang, a former Investor cook and crewman. Flammang had left the boat only weeks before the tragedy. He felt lucky to be alive.

Investor on fire, near Fish Egg Island (Alaska State Archives)

Flammang told Miller and Stogsdill what he could. Of some importance were his memories of where everyone had slept. Kimberly and Irene Coulthurst usually shared one of the two bunks in the stateroom. Johnny Coulthurst, he told them, usually slept in the day bed off the wheelhouse; sometimes he shared a stateroom bunk with his dad. The information about John Coulthurst was particularly telling. The wheelhouse, they knew, was hardest hit by the fire. It was conceivable that, if John had been sleeping there, his body could have been totally consumed by the fire.

The rest of the crew, Flammang reported, slept in the fo’c’s’le — the narrow area located in the bow of the boat. Dean Moon, he told them, was using the bottom bunk on the starboard side. Mike Stewart was in the bunk above him — and that’s where they found Stewart’s body.

Chris Heyman, Flammang said, was on the port side — a place where they’d found bones, a watchband and a molar tooth. Flammang himself had slept in the middle bunk, but wasn’t sure what the sleeping arrangements were after he’d left. Even at that, the troopers felt a bit closer to matching the bodies they’d found with the bunks where Flammang thought they’d been sleeping.

When the troopers asked Flammang about drugs, however — a question they could not ignore, given the level of violence on board the Investor — the former cook was less helpful. He was a retired Customs Officer, he told them. The kids were careful not to use drugs around him.

When Flammang confirmed that he’d left the boat in late August, however, Sergeant Miller had to ask. “Was there a particular reason you left, Mr. Flammang?” At this point, no one was above suspicion.

“There was not a particular reason,” he told him. “Just a combination of I was tired, you know. We fished, I’m getting up in years and there was an irritation on board. For me, the family and the kids. I’m not used to having little kids under foot anymore. But I can’t come up with a particular reason. I was ready to come home.”

The revelation that there was “an irritation on board” the Investor — though buried in the middle of Flammang’s statement — seemed significant. So was another of his revelations.

Flammang, it seemed, had kept detailed records of every dime they’d spent that summer — and every fish they’d sold. They’d sold plenty. And, even though Flammang confirmed that Mark Coulthurst rarely kept cash on the Investor, they wanted to see his records anyway. Maybe, somewhere in those records, he’d written down a clue to the killer’s identity.

Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale. That manuscript, started in 1992 and based on court records from the Alaska State Archive, served as the basis for “What Happened in Craig.”

Copyright Leland E. Hale (2019). All rights reserved.


Order “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE. True crime from Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

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