The effort to extradite John Peel was a singular distraction. Mary Anne Henry prepared a governor’s warrant requesting Peel be brought back to Alaska to face trial for the Investor murders; Peel’s friends and family circulated petitions demanding that the Washington State governor refuse to honor the state of Alaska’s extradition request. One petition had 1,500 signatures and requested the dismissal of extradition proceedings against Peel, “until such time that further substantial, untainted evidence is produced clearly linking John to the crime.”
Another petition called on the newsmedia to treat Peel fairly and “stop showing its prejudice by disclosing only one side of the story.” That petition also asked the public not to “convict John Peel before all the facts are publicly known” and protested “unreasonable bail” for the suspect.
A third petition contained a character witness statement that vouched “for John’s credibility and good moral character.” The petition included a demand that Peel be released on $1,000 bail.
In the background of the extradition battle, another drama was unfolding. John Peel’s cellmate at the Whatcom County jail was speaking out. He told Bellingham detective Dave McNeill of a conversation he’d had with his cellmate in the days after his arrest. While passing time in their cell, the inmate told McNeill, he’d raised the subject of the Investor murders. “I told Peel I knew the people on board and I was really upset that somebody killed them and then we started talking about that,” the inmate alleged.
“Then he told me that he was sorry he killed them. He did not give me a reason why. He also told me that there was people seeing him leave the Investor on a skiff and there was physical and substantial evidence against him. And he was acting kind of weird in cell Number Seven and I was getting scared of the man myself.”
“Was there anything else said about the Investor?” McNeill asked.
“Ah, the gas cans,” the inmate claimed. “He told me that the people saw him with some gas cans.”
“Prior to the conversation with Mr. Peel, did you have any knowledge about gas or gas cans?”
“No, I did not.”
“Is there anything else that you could recollect about your conversation with Mr. Peel?” McNeill inquired.
“No, not at this time,” the inmate said. “I am still trying to find out why he killed the people. I knew the people on the Investor and they happened to be good friends of mine and I’m kind of upset with the deal. I just wish I could find out why he did it so I can tell you people why he did it.”
McNeill slammed the door on any further assistance from Peel’s cellmate.
“I would like to say something now,” he said, his voice turning stern. “I’m asking you not to be an agent of law enforcement. I’m asking you to not bring up conversations with Mr. Peel regarding this. As of this time, no one has attempted to have you speak with him to gain information with him, being Mr. Peel, in order to find out specific information about the Investor. Is that correct?
“And I’m asking you now to allow the courts and allow the possibility that if it gets as far as a jury trial, allow the jury to find Mr. Peel innocent or guilty. I do not want you acting as an agent for us.”
The inmate agreed to McNeill’s request. As tempting as it was to believe him, the police knew that “startling jailhouse revelations” like these are all too common in spectacular cases, whether extradition was at issue or not. This was all the more so when the cellmate was facing criminal charges of his own. Quid pro quo is one of the first Latin terms an inmate learns.
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.
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