Where Do We Go From Here?

Physical evidence, two years after the fact, was hardly better than it had ever been. The FBI told them that the bullets they retrieved from the bodies could have come from the rifles given them by Larry Demmert, Jr. Or, the agent told them, they could have come from thousands, if not tens of thousands, of other, similar, rifles. Ditto for the ammunition. Troopers were left to wonder: where do we go from here?

The forensic evidence — the bones and the teeth and who knows what else — was languishing in the trooper evidence room in Anchorage, awaiting the science that would unlock its secrets. Beyond that, there wasn’t much evidence save for what they’d managed to scrape off the Investor. Everything else had been destroyed by fire.

Investor hull, Fish Egg Island (Alaska State Archive)

The troopers had only one option left. Only one place else to go. That was to contact a few of the witnesses again. Maybe something more compelling would emerge. Maybe — finally — including photos of John Peel into the mix would shake loose a memory or two.

It fell on Trooper Anderson, the trooper assigned to Prince of Wales Island, to interview a man who rented an apartment above Craig Auto. It was the only gas station in Craig at the time. “I remember this fellow coming in with a little jerry jug and wanted gas and he was real excited and acted like he was in a hell of a hurry,” the renter told them. The man’s behavior had been odd — so odd, in fact, that the renter and the gas station owner both commented on it once the guy left on foot. “What did we care why he wanted the gas,” they said to each other. “It wasn’t that important.”

Asked to describe the man, the witness said he had seen a young guy wearing a halibut jacket and baseball cap, with medium long hair, a clean-shaven face and standing about six feet or five feet eleven inches tall. Give or take an inch or two, that description fit John Peel. Trooper Anderson pulled out the photographs. They had to go there.

The first group elicited no response. Trooper Anderson sent him through the next set of photographs, twenty-one pages in all. When he got to page seven, the man stopped. “Number seven is real close,” he said.

“The top or the bottom,” Anderson asked.

John Peel, Bellingham Police Station (Alaska State Archive)

The gas station witness pointed to the top photograph, the one of the man wearing a baseball cap. The one of John Peel. The renter’s identification of John Peel seemed to close another door on John Peel’s litany of alibis. They had someone who had seen him on Tuesday, before the fire. They had someone who had seen him buy the gas. This was good stuff. Nothing more happened to move the case forward, however, until August.

Dean Moon, Blaine High Yearbook, 1980

On the 14th day of August, the Ketchikan coroner ruled that Dean Moon and Chris Heyman were presumed dead in a homicide and were last seen alive in Craig, Alaska, on September 5, 1982. The ruling came as a great relief to the families. Ruth Moon, especially, felt vindicated. She had never thought her son a murderer, had always believed Sergeant Miller had gone down a blind alley when he kept pointing the finger at Dean. The allegations that Dean was a big dope dealer were preposterous. The Harlan Dean story about spotting him in San Francisco only made things worse.

Although troopers were already leaning away from Dean Moon, the ruling finally let that fade into the background. They were now concentrating on one theory: The killer came from outside the Investor. He was not a crewman [1].

[1] The troopers started leaning toward the non-crewmember theory beginning in late 1983, as they detailed their investigation for the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal.

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.


Order “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE. True crime from Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

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