Dawn Holmstrom Backtracks On Her Testimony

By the time testimony was finished, the Ketchikan grand jury had heard a total of twenty-four witnesses. Larry Demmert and Dawn Holmstrom were joined by another Libby 8 crewman, Brian Polinkus, who testified that John Peel speculated on the cause of the murders, hinting that everyone had been shot before anyone in town knew that to be the case. They heard the coroner testify about the fatal gunshot wounds to the Coulthurst’s and their crew. They heard Roy Tussing say that Mark Coulthurst fired John Peel after the 1982 season. They heard LeRoy Flammang backup Tussing’s assertion.

When Dawn Holmstrom returned to Bellingham she was upset. So upset that she told her father about her interview with the authorities. Her father told her maybe she should get an attorney. He took her to see Philip Rosellini, a former chief criminal deputy in the Spokane County, Washington, Prosecuting Attorney’s office.

Bellingham Bay (copyright Leland E. Hale)

After he learned of Dawn’s meeting with Rosellini, Brian Polinkus decided he too wanted to talk to the attorney. The result of their meetings was an October 18 letter alleging prosecutorial intimidation. In the letter, Rosellini said that Holmstrom and Polinkus, “relate a litany of foul language, threats and accusations” at the hands of law enforcement officials. The letter went on to note that “during the last interview my clients relate numerous threats by law enforcement to the effect that the witness is lying.”

According to Rosellini, Brian Polinkus was pushed to affix times to specific statements or movements by Peel around the time of the murders. The letter said authorities didn’t believe Polinkus when he told them he was uncertain about the timing of key events. Rosellini’s letter added that Polinkus was still uncertain about when John Peel had told him that Mark Coulthurst “tweaked out and shot everybody, including himself.” The letter also said Polinkus was uncertain as to whether Peel was on the Libby 8 during the night of the murders.

dawn holmstrom
Libby 8 (copyright Leland E. Hale)

Rosellini’s letter was considerably more detailed about Dawn Holmstrom’s complaints.

According to her attorney, Holmstrom was told she had “knowledge not earlier disclosed,” and if that information was not disclosed “the witness would be subjected to perjury charges.”

“To secure additional information from Holmstrom,” the letter continued, “she was told that she had additional information about critical events but that she suffered from what her interrogators called a ‘mind block.’ Holmstrom related numerous statements by law enforcement regarding the fact that John Peel is absolutely guilty. And a refusal to give certain testimony was in effect aiding and abetting the crime.”

Rosellini’s letter further alleged that authorities lied to Holmstrom by telling her that somebody had overheard her conversation with John Peel in Ruth Ann’s restaurant. Based on that lie, said the attorney, Holmstrom told them that Peel had said, “I can’t believe I did it.” What Peel actually told Holmstrom, according to the letter, was “I can’t believe anyone would do this to our friends.”

Dawn Holmstrom (2018)

“They made me promise to make this statement,” the letter continued, quoting Dawn Holmstrom. If she didn’t, Rosellini asserted, they were going to bring her up on perjury charges.

Curiously, Rosellini sent the letter to the defense. But not to the prosecution.

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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