Third Man Presents A Dilemma

With Jim Robinson’s startling new revelations, defense attorney Weidner faced a dilemma. His instincts told him to move in for the kill. He had one slight problem. Earlier in the investigation, Robinson was shown a photo-book with 27 photos, all of them possible suspects. Eight of those photos were of John Peel [1]. At that time, Robinson said none of them looked like the gas buyer. That was good news for the defense: If Robinson had seen the gas-buyer up close, and could not identify anyone in the photos, that helped eliminate John Peel as a suspect.

John Peel photo-array (courtesy Alaska State Archives)

But Robinson now seemed determined to flip the script. Phil Weidner could hardly ignore the mention of Barry Ewers. He was even more worried about establishing reasonable doubt about Jim Robinson.

In court, he asked only a few questions on the Ewers incident — designed to cast doubt on the mechanic’s memory. He quickly pivoted to impeaching Jim Robinson’s in-court ID of John Peel. He got nowhere fast. The Jim Robinson dilemma only deepened.

John Peel (l) and Investor crewmate Chris Heyman
(copyright Bellingham Herald; courtesy Alaska State Archives)

Who Are You?

Over two days of questioning, Jim Robinson barely budged in response to Weidner’s probing questions about the why’s and how’s of his sudden willingness to incriminate John Peel. The most he got was a veiled acknowledgment from Mary Anne Henry that Robinson was a fugitive from justice wanted on an escape charge in Arizona.

Peel’s attorney ended his second day by renewing his request “for full discovery as to the criminal record of Mr. Robinson and his true name.”

“It’s again denied,” the judge told him.

A Tearful Wife

The defense didn’t take that “no” for an answer. Their suspicion was that the former owner of Craig Auto had struck a deal with the prosecution. That suspicion grew as they dug deeper into his past. A background check on the man, using the name Robinson, turned up nothing. Weidner now surmised the man was using an alias — which prompted charges that he’d perjured himself when he told jurors his name was Jim Robinson.

The defense then turned up a witness who told of a conversation she’d had with the woman who was now Robinson’s wife. Charlotte Robinson had tearfully told a friend on the eve of her marriage that she believed her fiancé was using a false name. And using his mother’s social security number. Charlotte Robinson told that friend she thought her husband’s actual last name was Robertson. Robinson was hiding something — but what?

The dilemma was turning into a nightmare. Whose nightmare was as yet undetermined.

[1] The fact that the photo lineup contained eight photos of John Peel, out of a total of 27, was problematic in itself. That was more than one-quarter of the total. Equally questionable was the fact that the only subject wearing a baseball cap was Peel. Memory expert Elizabeth Loftus called the photo array “grossly suggestive.” And yet… even that had previously failed to trigger Jim Robinson’s memory.

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.


Order “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE. True crime from Epicenter Press.

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