On November 4, 1983, Sgt. Stogsdill received a letter from Arcata, California. The letter was from a graduate student named Joe Weiss, who’d been fishing in Alaska at the time of the Investor murders. He’d just read an article about the unsolved homicides in the October, 1983, edition of the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal. Was this the payoff Stogs was waiting for?
On seeing the composites of the skiffman that accompanied the article, something clicked with Joe Weiss. He’d seen someone resembling the composites. Had seen him in the Investor’s skiff. Had seen him make a power landing at the cold storage dock. At ten o’clock on Monday morning. On Labor Day. The day before the fire.
The man was five foot ten inches with a clean-shaven, full face, according to Weiss, with 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 recalled, 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.
Weiss also remembered an encounter with the Investor’s crew. He had seen them at the laundromat on Sunday night — perhaps their last night alive. They had scraggly beards, he said, and they were smoking pot. Stogsdill called Joe Weiss immediately. And after talking to him, he decided to fly south to California.
In California, Stogsdill showed Joe Weiss two books of photographs. The first one was a photo line-up with six pictures, all head shots. That line-up now included John Peel. “If you were to have to pick a most like, which one do you think?” the sergeant asked.
“If I were to pick a most like, I’d probably ah, I think number three, as a most like,” Weiss replied. He had barely hesitated. He liked the hair color. Liked the hair length. Liked the big bone structure and the full face. He liked number three more than the other five. He liked John Peel.
Then Stogsdill showed Weiss another book of photos, one that contained pictures of the Investor crew. He hoped the grad student could also identify the two guys he’d seen at the Craig laundromat. He was looking for another payoff.
And Weiss did recognize several shots. They were photos of Jerome Keown and Dean Moon. This time, he wasn’t as sure. “I just remember them having kind of dark hair and kind of scraggly beards,” he admitted.
Asked if any of the other photos resembled the skiffman, Weiss pointed at two pictures. One of Chris Heyman. One of Roy Tussing. Weiss liked Chris Heyman best. Heyman had the big bone structure he was looking for. The prominent jaw. The blonde hair.
But Weiss kept coming back to the surveillance photos of John Peel. When all was said and done, Weiss thought only two sets of photographs resembled the skiffman. The assorted photos of John Peel. And the assorted photos of Chris Heyman. Stogsdill made him a proposition.
“How would you feel if you were to see that… the guy in person?” he asked, referring to John Peel. At this point, Stogsdill felt he was close to a payoff. But close was no cigar. In a case like this, Stogsdill needed the biggest payoff possible.
“Hum. I might get a better idea,” Weiss ventured. “Yeah. I might get a better idea.”
At that point, it was agreed that Weiss would come north to the Seattle area sometime during his Christmas break. He had a girlfriend who was in graduate school in Seattle, so it would work out perfectly. But before Stogsdill left, he had to attend to one more detail. He had an officer at the local California Highway Patrol office bring out an Identikit. He had Joe Weiss put together another composite of the elusive skiffman.
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.