Eyewitness Testimony Meanders Down Memory Lane

In due course, one eyewitness after another followed with a parade of memories, each gently fogged by time. There was a cold storage worker who’d made his way to the fire and happened to intersect with the Investor skiffman along the way. Asked in court if he could identify John Peel as that skiffman, he said he couldn’t say for sure, then asked to see the Trooper photo book. After looking through nearly 30 pictures, the young man announced, “If I remember correctly, the picture I picked out at the time looks like him.”

Craig Cold Storage (copyright Leland E. Hale, 2019)

Another eyewitness was Paul Page. He had seen the skiffman — and talked to him — as they stood on the cold storage dock while the Investor fire raged in Ben’s Cove. In court, Page said the skiffman looked, “like a scared kid.” Asked by prosecutor Pat Gullufsen if John Peel, in a brown sports coat and seated at the defense table, resembled the man he saw in Craig, the 38-year-old ticket agent said, “There is a resemblance, yes.”

Hollis Terminal, where Paul Page was ticket-taker (copyright Leland E. Hale)

Hoping to preempt the inevitable defense questions about the quality of Page’s recollection, Gullufsen said, “You’re not in a position to positively identify that operator, are you?”

“No,” Page said. “After nearly four years and only talking to the person that got off the skiff for at the most two minutes, there’s no way in the world I could say he is or isn’t the person I saw.”

Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale.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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