After a two day delay brought on by Larry Demmert’s antics, the Ketchikan grand jury was finally ready to begin. Mary Anne Henry was in an unenviable position. This was her first major case as chief district attorney. The case before her was, at best, circumstantial. There was no smoking gun — there was only a string of events, actions and statements pointing in John Peel’s direction. Hence the need to bring this before another set of eyes.
Indicting John Peel meant that the grand jury had to follow a sometimes meandering thread of argument clear through till the end. Given the complexity — and the difficulty — of the prosecution argument against him, there was a felt need to impose a narrative onto their grand jury presentation. What better person to do that, the prosecution reasoned, than Sergeant Stogsdill. Nevertheless, it was an astonished trooper who made his way to the grand jury at quarter past nine on Friday, September 21, 1984. He thought the summary statement should have gone to someone else.
When Stogsdill addressed the grand jury, he tried his best to stick to the central themes of the prosecution case. John Peel, he told them, looked like the man that witnesses had seen. John Peel, he told them, had the opportunity to kill everyone on board the Investor. And John Peel, he told them, was a liar.
After noting that Mark Coulthurst had fired John Peel, thus implying at least a partial motive for the crimes, the trooper explained that the way the victims were killed — and the fact that all of them were killed — said something about the nature of this crime. The Coulthurst’s, he noted, had been shot multiple times. More times than was necessary to kill them. “This showed us that there was some overkill,” Stogsdill testified.
“That’s not a type of crime committed by an armed robber or a wandering crazy. This is somebody who knew the people they were killing.”Sgt. Jim Stogsdill to the Ketchikan Grand Jury
And of the people who knew the Coulthursts, Stogsdill insisted, John Peel was the only one who seemed unable to tell them where he was when the crimes were committed. “Where was John Peel the next day, Tuesday,” Stogsdill asked. “Where is he when the fire begins? We don’t know. We cannot account for John Peel’s whereabouts. Sunday night, the night of the murders? We can’t account for him, except for one isolated moment. We’re not even sure what time that was. Sometime in the afternoon. We can’t account for him on Tuesday or Monday night until after the fire. He remains a mystery. His crew people can’t account for him. And that’s why we’re here today with John Peel.”
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.