Joe Weiss was a fisherman who had seen the Investor skiffman the day before the Coulthurst boat burned. Weiss told detectives that he was at the cold storage dock in Craig at about nine or ten o’clock in the morning. The weather was overcast and a storm was gathering. Visibility was limited, he remembered, and he was on the dock getting ready to shove off.
His encounter with the notorious skiffman was brief. Weiss watched the Investor’s skiff come in “at full speed and [the driver] shoved it into reverse full force, bringing the nose right up to the dock.” The skiff operator then shut off the engine, grabbed the bow line, quickly tied the skiff to the dock and leapt out of the boat. Weiss greeted the young man, but was ignored. “He walked by me up the dock,” Weiss recalled at the time.
The man Joe Weiss saw was five foot ten inches with a clean-shaven, full face, a “squared off chin” and a “not-quite button nose.” He had “blond to very light-brown hair a little bit over the ears,” he told troopers, and a build that was “rather muscular, not overly stocky.” He said the man was wearing a red and black plaid jacket, with a cap on his head.
A Day in Court
Four years later, Joe Weiss was in a courtroom. After more than a half hour of preliminary questions, Pat Gullufsen finally asked him the question that everyone was waiting for. “I’d like you to take the opportunity to look at the gentleman at the end of the table here who has the pen in his right hand and is writing and has a brown sweater,” Gullufsen noted.
“Yes,” the Weiss responded calmly. “I see him.”
“In terms of the skiff operator,” Gullufsen asked, “does that person resemble the skiff operator?”
“Yes, he does,” the young graduate student answered.
“To what degree would you say he resembles the skiff operator?” Gullufsen asked in follow-up.
“I would say he very closely resembles the skiff operator.”
Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale.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.