Five Lines of Testimony

Of all the witnesses who appeared during May of 1986, Dawn Holmstrom seemed particularly important. She had plans to meet up with two of the victims — Dean Moon and Jerome Keown — only hours before they were killed. She had heard John Peel make what seemed to be incriminating statements in the days after the murders. But Mary Anne Henry wanted Dawn Holmstrom declared an “adverse witness.” She was biased toward John Peel, Henry claimed. They had been boyfriend-girlfriend, she noted, “though for some reason she’s denying it now.” Worse yet, she had recanted a crucial portion of her grand jury testimony, “after speaking to the defendant’s brother, Robert Peel.” While Holmstrom had taken back only five lines of testimony, those five lines were her best lines. From saying, “It all happened so fast, I can’t believe I did it,” she had gone to saying, “I can’t believe that anyone would do this to our friends.”

five lines
Dawn Holmstrom (2018)

More damaging, Henry said of Holmstrom, “we have recently learned that in all of her prior testimony under oath she has provided a false alibi for John Peel, that is, she claims that John Peel was with her when she saw the smoke from the Investor, when in fact he was not.”

“She had admitted the lie to a friend, Henry continued, but had “maintained that false alibi in testimony under oath, and I have no reason to believe that she is going to change that now.”

Adverse Witness

Over defense objections, Judge Schulz declared Dawn Holmstrom an adverse witness. She testified under immunity from perjury charges for the five lines of changed testimony. That maneuver didn’t solve the problem of Dawn Holmstrom any more than declaring her an adverse witness had.

five lines
Ruth Ann’s Restaurant, Craig, AK (copyright Leland E. Hale)

When Henry asked about the crucial morning rendezvous with Peel at Ruth Ann’s, Holmstrom’s memory turned particularly vague. Exasperated, Henry said, “You were at Ruth Ann’s for 30 to 45 minutes and you can’t tell us anything that you said to John Peel or he said to you?”

“I can’t remember,” Holmstrom declared.

“Well, try to think about it, will you? This is important.”

“I remember parts like how it could have happened, how we thought Mark could have done it.”

“What did you say about Mark could have done it?”

“Well, I thought that — it’s so blurry.”

“I don’t think I heard your last comment,” Henry shot back.

“It’s really blurry. I can’t — it’s hard to remember,” Holmstrom said. “I remember John said he couldn’t believe anybody could do this to his friends. And I just can’t remember.”

“Any particular reason you can’t remember now but you can remember in all your statements?” Henry wondered.

“Objection, your Honor,” Brant McGee interrupted. “It’s a mischaracterization of her previous statements.”

“The statements will speak for themselves, your Honor,” Henry replied. And so it would go for three days running.

Of Note

The notion that Mark Coulthurst somehow freaked out and killed everyone on board had a tenuous link to reality. How he could have shot himself in the head with a .22 long rifle was tough to explain. But tensions on board the Investor were well known among Craig’s Bellingham contingent, especially the crew of the Libby 8, which was tied up behind the Investor and whose crews freely intermingled.

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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