While Sgt. Stogsdill and Mary Anne Henry were holed up with the grand jury, three of their compatriots — McNeill, Blasco and Holland — were with Larry Demmert, Jr. They were trying to make sure he was ready for his cameo before the grand jury. Demmert quickly led them through the sequence of events, as if he just wanted to get it over with. But McNeill insisted that he start over again. From the top. And that’s when things started getting interesting. They were about to learn the deeper reasons for Larry Demmert’s recently troubling behavior.
As Demmert related it, on the Sunday evening of the murders he saw John Peel clambering onto the deck of the Investor. Authorities had never heard that detail before, because Larry had never told them. Larry Demmert sobbed as he related the story. He then related additional layers of details. All of them previously unknown.
Among them, the detail that Larry Demmert slept fitfully after seeing John Peel board the Investor. “And then I woke up at about two a.m.,” he added. “I don’t know why I think it’s two a.m. But that’s what time I think it was. And I woke up suddenly. I heard some noises. Like ‘pop, pop, pop, pop.’ It sounded like backfires from a small engine. And then I heard the scream of a woman.”
“What kind of scream was it?” McNeill asked him. “What did it sound like?”
Between sobs, Demmert told them it was a “blood-curdling scream. It sounded like somebody was getting murdered.”
“So what did you do?” McNeill asked him.
“I sat there for a few minutes. Then I opened up my cabin door. And when I looked out, I saw someone walking across the other boats. And the first thing I noticed was this guy had a blue baseball cap with a gold marijuana leaf on it. And then I noticed it was John Peel. In his right hand he was carrying a rifle, with the gun barrel pointed in an upwards fashion. And it was fairly close to his body.
“And that really scared me,” Demmert admitted. “I saw John Peel and I thought about the gun and the noise I’d heard and the scream…”
Demmert was so frightened that he had trouble sleeping. So frightened that he was restless and woke up again at six in the morning. When he looked out the porthole of the “8,” he saw the Investor drifting away from the dock. And saw someone in the wheelhouse. Someone wearing a baseball cap. Demmert was now overcome by his emotions. McNeill wanted to know why.
“I wondered what my crewman was doing in the wheelhouse,” Demmert explained. The person in the wheelhouse was looking straight at him. Demmert said it scared him. He said he “didn’t want to die.” And he revealed that the person he saw was… John Peel.
Although risky, the decision was made to put Larry Demmert on the stand that day, as planned. The challenge was in getting him to calm down. They got him a cup of coffee. They let him smoke a cigarette. Later on, Sergeant Holland brought him a hamburger for lunch. And then it was time.
Larry Demmert’s testimony before the grand jury was riveting. Aware that his revelations might look like something out of Perry Mason , coming as they did on the cusp of his grand jury appearance, Mary Anne Henry had Demmert explain why he had not come forward before. He was scared, he told the grand jurors. And John Peel was his friend.
 The Perry Mason show was late 50’s TV at its best. A defense attorney, Mason’s clients always seemed to be exonerated by a stunning last minute revelation from the witness stand.
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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