To Catch A Killer: Missed Opportunities

By Monday, September 6, the Investor crew is already dead. But three people — Clyde Curry, Dale Rose, and Larry Demmert Jr. — report seeing the Investor drift away from the North Cove docks. And so begins another round of missed opportunities, this time to catch the perpetrator or, at the very least, someone associated with the killings.

F/V Decade

At the start of this day, Clyde Curry wakes up at around 6 am, in the Decade’s wheelhouse. He has a raging hangover. He sees the Investor about ten yards from the Decade, drifting away. A man with blondish hair and a red-checked flannel shirt stands on the back deck. Curry surmises the man is probably Mark Coulthurst — most skippers don’t trust anyone else to maneuver their boat out of the dock. He goes back to sleep.

Decade crewman Dale Rose also wakes up with a hangover. He pukes over the Decade’s railing, then notices the Investor drifting away. The deck lights are on, but the cabin is dark. There’s a man standing in the wheelhouse. The man spots Rose and waves. Rose feebly waves back.

Libby No. 8, Ketchikan (copyright Leland E. Hale)

At around the same time, Larry Demmert, Jr. wakes up in his stateroom on the Libby 8. He peeks out the porthole and sees the Investor drifting away. He sees a shadowy figure in the wheelhouse. He, too, thinks little of it.

None of these three men are alarmed enough to take action. Opportunities are missed.

Later that same morning, Jeff Pfundt prepares to return to the fishing grounds in the Sheila Ryan. He stops at the Cold Storage to restock their refrigeration units with fresh ice. While at the dock, Pfundt peeks out into the harbor and sees the Investor anchored in an unusual spot off Fish Egg Island. He tries to reach her by VHF radio, but doesn’t receive a response. The weather starts changing rapidly, the clouds visibly thickening. By the time the Sheila Ryan leaves Craig at about 8:30 or 8:45 a.m., a storm has set in, engulfing the Investor and hiding her from view.

Fish Egg Island, from Craig, weather closing in (copyright Leland E. Hale)

The Decade crew, meanwhile, notices that the Investor left three of its heavy tie-lines on their boat. No skipper would purposely do this. Their next tie-up requires those lines. Onboard the Decade, these extra lines get in the way of their cleanup. Clyde Curry twice tries to contact the Investor on VHF. He never receives an answer.

By mid-morning, the Libby 8 is on its way to the cannery dock. Larry Demmert and Dawn Holmstrom notice the Investor’s skiff tied up at the end of the L-shaped dock at the cold storage facility. Once again, they are not alarmed enough to take any action. Their own day is a washout. Since it is raining, the Libby 8 crew doesn’t get much cleanup work done.

These missed opportunities stand as an accumulation of little oversights. They stick out only in hindsight. The 1982 salmon season would soon end for everyone. All opportunities gone.

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 (2020). All rights reserved.


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