Oh Dawn Can You See?

Even as Larry Demmert was holding jurors spellbound, grand jury preparations were moving forward on other fronts. On September 21, 1984, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Dawn Holmstrom came into the D.A.’s office to speak with Det. McNeill, Trooper Anderson and Assistant D.A. Bob Blasco. She was there for a run-through before making her own grand jury appearance.

Holmstrom had already tantalized them with her report of an emotional conversation with Peel at Ruth Ann’s on the morning after the fire. They wanted more. They wanted details.

dawn
Ruth Ann’s Restaurant, Craig, AK (copyright 1994, Leland E. Hale)

Unfortunately, Holmstrom was having difficulty remembering what had been said. So much trouble that, at one point, Detective McNeill suggested she might have a “mind block.” Holmstrom kept insisting that she couldn’t remember what was said. McNeill was equally adamant that she try to remember.

“I can’t,” she told him. “I can’t.”

“I can’t,” McNeill repeated, mocking her. “I can’t.”

Bob Blasco suggested that perhaps someone had overheard them talking. He added that, since the conversation lasted close to thirty minutes — during which time John Peel was crying and drinking beer — she should be able to remember some portion of what was said. But despite Blasco’s suggestions, Dawn Holmstrom continued to insist that she couldn’t remember. They kept goading her.

After shedding considerable tears, and revealing that she was scared, Dawn Holmstrom finally let out snippets of her post-fire conversation with John Peel. About the words they exchanged at Ruth Ann’s. About how John Peel was emotional, about how he wanted to quit fishing, about how he, too, was scared and upset about what had happened on board the Investor. About how John Peel said words to the effect of, “I can’t believe I did it.”

Put in context of Larry Demmert’s admissions, it was another staggering set of revelations. Because the pressure from McNeill and Blasco was so intense, however, the lingering question was whether Dawn was simply telling the authorities what they wanted to hear so she could put their questioning at an end. Dawn would, in fact, later renounce her own statements.

And Dawn’s new information, while perhaps not as damning as that revealed by Larry Demmert, was clearly damaging. By the time she left to have dinner with Trooper Anderson, she was scheduled to testify first thing the next morning.


Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale.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


Craig

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