True Crime: Partial Witnesses

We’ve already written reams about Jim Robinson, AKA Kenneth Robertson. A fugitive from justice in Arizona. Owner of Craig Auto. Ultimately convicted in a vast scheme to defraud Exxon after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Robinson was one of the partial witnesses in the Investor murder case.

Jim Robinson in Ketchikan Courtroom
(copyright Hall Anderson, 1986)

Two Days After Fire

On Thursday the 9th, two days after the fire, troopers came to Robinson’s gas station. They asked if he remembered anyone suspicious buying gas. According to court records, he said he remembered someone buying gas in a jug, but wasn’t sure if it was on Monday or Tuesday. He remembered telling the guy to go ahead and pump his own gas. Said he was a “real decent type.” Said he recalled that he was wearing a blue hat, but then said it could have been black. Thought he was “kind of a young guy.” Said he might have been wearing glasses.

Most importantly, Robinson thought the man was short and stocky. John Peel was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed 155 pounds. Not a good match. Not even a partial match.

But, like Richard Olmstead, Robinson was there when “something” happened. He just had trouble forming a complete memory.

Craig Alaska Aerial (copyright Chris Summers, Google Maps)
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE (Illustration Leland E. Hale)

Two Years After Fire

Over the next two years, Troopers interviewed Robinson twice more. In both instances, he was unable to identify the man who bought gas on the day of the Investor fire. By February 7, 1986, however, John Peel’s defense team thought it had definitive evidence from none other than Jim Robinson — evidence that they thought cleared Peel of the crime.

The defense had tracked down Robinson and gotten a signed affidavit. In it, the former gas station owner said he had been shown police line-up photos by Trooper Anderson, some of which included a person “coming out of a pickup truck, and also in what I assume to be a police interrogation room.” Those photos were of John Peel. But what got the defense excited was that Robinson failed to identify Peel as the man he sold gas to on the day of the Investor fire.

Partial No More

And then, on February 10, 1986, Jim Robinson had an epiphany. Called to a hearing on a defense motion to dismiss the Peel indictment, Robinson once more failed to identify John Peel from a book of photographs.

John Peel photo array (police interrogation room – right)
(courtesy Alaska State Archives)

But afterwards, in the hallway, he approached Prosecutor Mary Anne Henry and said he recognized Peel, who was sitting at the defense table. This, he said, was the man who bought gas from him in 1982. “I remember a face,” he testified later. “I don’t hardly forget a face when I see one.”

Jim Robinson was now the proud owner of a partial ID. Partial because the circumstances of his identification were… suggestive. Yeah, he identified a guy sitting at the defense table. The chief suspect. You think it’s him that you saw? Sure. Nearly four years after the fact? Of course.

Richard Olmstead came forward only two months later.

Copyright Leland E. Hale (2022). All rights reserved.


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

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