When Decade skipper Clyde Curry went before the Grand Jury in Ketchikan — a Grand Jury that twice indicted John Kenneth Peel for the Investor murders — he sounded a note of caution about his own testimony. “I’m not even real comfortable about answering these questions here now because I’m not sure whether it’s something I remember or something I read some place, you know. That’s just the way it is.”
It was a pitiful place to be. Clyde Curry’s boat was 20 feet away from a gruesome mass murder and he was not in the least bit aware of it. If there was any comfort in that, he wasn’t the only one. In a devastating piece for the Bellingham Herald, entitled “Two Years of Frustration End With Arrest,” journalist Trask Tapperson wrote a what-if list that counted the ways things had gone wrong.
It’s a long, frustrating philippic, quoted below.
- “If the crew of the Decade, to which the Investor was moored the night of the murders, had not gotten drunk, might they have seen who crossed their deck to kill?
- If the hungover crew had acted next morning when they saw the Investor drifting out to the channel without power, with its lines left on the Decade’s deck… might the killer have been caught red-handed?
- If Decade skipper Clyde Curry had notified authorities as he left for a fishery opening that afternoon that he was unable to raise the Investor on radio, might the killer have been caught on shore where he awaited the Investor’s sinking?”
Tapperson was just getting warmed up.
- “If anyone had investigated why the skiff was tied to a cold storage float, would not the killer, or an accomplice, have been found in this tiny fishing port? It was a skiff [AST Sgt.] Stogsdill once described as painted like “a little baby Investor,” just sitting for two days in a village so small that [AST Sgt.] Miller once said “you could throw a rock from one end to the other”?
- If the crew of the Casino, which encountered the skiff leaving the burning purse seiner from Craig, had taken its occupant into custody…?
- One man unwittingly helped the killer tie up the skiff, and another spoke briefly with him even as the Investor was becoming a floating firestorm — what might have happened if one of them had tried to stop him?
- If it had not rained so hard on the skiff, might not fingerprints of the man have been found?
- And how quickly might have the case been solved if authorities had been able to seal off Prince of Wales Island before the man in the skiff slipped through…?”
Of course, we don’t live in a world of what-ifs. Trask Tapperson’s missing links were scraps of reality, gone forever. Tragic mistakes left for some future investigation to avoid.
But oh how tantalizing they are…
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.