Evil in the Air

Maybe it was something in the air. Or, more likely, the slap of police shoe leather on the pavement. Whatever it was, things seemed to be moving on the Bellingham front. Bellingham Detective McNeill managed to contact Larry Demmert, Jr. — and he brought in the .22 rifle he’d had on the Libby 8. One of Larry’s former crewmen also brought in a .22 rifle, one that was on board the Libby 8 the previous year. Either of them could have been a murder weapon.

Libby No. 8 (copyright Leland E. Hale)

When Stogsdill travelled south, he learned more. A Blaine fisherman told him that, in 1982, John Peel hitched a ride north on his fishing boat, the Cleveland. During the long ride up the Inside Passage, the fisherman said, Peel stayed drunk most of the time. One night, dead drunk, Peel badmouthed Mark Coulthurst. According to this new witness, Peel said that, “Mark Coulthurst is a fucking asshole.” Peel meant it, the fisherman insisted. There was anger in his voice [1].

F/V Cleveland (courtesy Blaine Fishing)
F/V Cleveland, foreground (courtesy Blaine Fishing)

Larry Demmert, Jr., also provided new information. On the night before the murders, he calmly told Stogsdill, he saw someone on the dock who appeared to match the skiffman’s description. But, he added, he had never seen that person before. He also told the sergeant he remembered waking up at two a.m. Monday morning. He said it was for a “funny reason.” He didn’t think anyone else was aboard the Libby 8, either, because he didn’t hear any sounds.

Craig fuel dock, looking toward Fish Egg Island

This wasn’t the first time Demmert had spoken of awakening that Monday morning. Only months earlier, he called the Bellingham police and told them of waking up to “something strange.”

“I felt evil,” Demmert asserted. ”I felt evil in the air.”

And Demmert told Stogsdill that, on evening of the fire, he made one trip out to the Investor on his father’s boat, the Cindy Sue. John Peel hadn’t gone with them, he insisted. He said Peel told him he, “didn’t feel like going out to the fire,” and went up to the [Hill] bar to get a beer instead.

When talk turned to Dawn Holmstrom’s relationship with John Peel, Demmert had yet another revelation. John Peel and Dawn Holmstrom, the skipper said, were more than just friends. The air was starting to thicken with possibilities.

[1] For troopers, this wasn’t exactly a revelation: They knew Mark Coulthurst had a reputation for being difficult.

Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale.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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