A Torrent of Evidence, A Second Indictment

As the grand jury presentation wore on, Troopers provided another bit of “scientific evidence.” They recruited two volunteers to walk from the cold storage dock to the cannery office in Craig. Walking briskly, one volunteer took ten minutes and 30 seconds, the other 11 minutes and 36 seconds. Walking at an “amble,” it took the same two men 13 minutes, and 14 minutes and 12 seconds, respectively.

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

Under this scenario, John Peel could have left the fire scene, landed at the cold storage dock, then dogged it to Craig. His chance meeting with Dawn Holmstrom would have occurred just as people in Craig were becoming aware of the fire. The trip to the bank provided him cover, they asserted, with the billowing smoke making it seem like he couldn’t have been in two places at the same time. Under this hypothesis, the state’s evidence suggested, John Peel’s timing was perfect.

But Mary Anne Henry still had to explain why the murders had occurred. Mark’s father told them his son had fired John Peel. Roy Tussing told the panel about the time Mark Coulthurst and John Peel got into a suddenly serious wrestling match on the way home from fishing, an indication of an underlying tension between them. LeRoy Flammang told them about Peel’s “heavy” use of marijuana. And Flammang’s fishing diaries provided concrete evidence that Mark Coulthurst was too busy catching fish to be bothered with hauling cocaine.

The testimonial evidence of Coulthurst’s friends and fellow fishermen attempted to close that gap.

Mark Coulthurst (courtesy Coulthurst family)

The grand jury heard from a man who heard Peel call Mark Coulthurst a “fucking asshole.” Heard from a Coulthurst friend who said Mark had a personality “trait” that sometimes caused problems. When Mark was drunk, the friend said, “he could get people kind of riled up.” He related a personal experience during which a drunken Mark Coulthurst started insulting him. And kept insulting him. The witness said he had taken it and kept taking it, but eventually reached the point where he could take it no longer. He got up, grabbed Mark, shoved him into a corner and put a stop to his needling.

The human potential was there, the state argued, for the great explosion that resulted in eight murders. John Peel had it in him. Mark Coulthurst had it in him, too. One of them was now dead. The state was asking that one of them go on trial for the other’s murder.

On October 4, 1985, that’s precisely what the grand jury decided. For the second time in twelve months, John Peel was indicted on eight counts of murder and one count of arson.

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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