March 26, 1986 Phillip Weidner told the judge three inmates had alleged Mark Coulthurst was “heavily involved in dealing cocaine” the summer of the murders. Furthermore, the defense attorney said, the inmates claimed that Coulthurst was using the $700,000 Investor as a fish tender from which he traded cocaine for fish. He added that Coulthurst owed $630,000 on the vessel at the time of the murders.
The trouble with jailhouse snitches is, of course, that their credibility is fungible. Many, if not most, seem willing to help solve any crime. For a price. Indeed, at least two of the inmates Weidner referred to were used by Alaska authorities as informants in other cases. One of them was serving a sentence for possession of stolen firearms and escape. Another was serving time for rape and felony assault. The third was serving a sentence for felony theft.
Mary Anne Henry knew all about these three.
In remarks made to reporters after the day’s courtroom business was finished, Henry took preemptive action. She said Weidner’s suggestions were “absolutely ridiculous.” She’d learned of the inmates’ story about a month after Peel’s arrest. Troopers investigated the story for two months, she added, before determining that their allegations were without merit. She went on to identify the three men in question and the origin of their allegations.
According to Henry, the inmate serving time for felony theft dreamed up the tale. “He told [the other inmates] the story,” Henry said, “and told them maybe they could use it to make a deal” with the district attorney. In situations like this, the rule seems to be, “the more outrageous, the better.” What emerged was a fantastic account.
As Henry told it, the inmates said Mark Coulthurst “ripped off” someone in a cocaine deal. The drug lords hired three “hitmen” from Canada to kill him. John Peel was the “go-between,” they claimed, who showed these hitmen around Craig. According to the informants, Peel took them to the Investor on the night of the murders. Then Peel kidnapped the Coulthurst’s 4-year-old son, John. And allegedly killed him later. To top it off, the inmates claimed, it was also Peel who torched the Investor two days after the murders.
When troopers talked to the informants, and then went to Canada and talked to the three hitmen, they learned something else. They all had alibis.
Judge Schulz knew all of this. He’d even offered Phil Weidner the chance to talk to the inmates many months before. At the time, Weidner demurred. Based on that exchange — and Weidner’s seeming dismissive reaction — Judge Schulz was not certain whether Philp Weidner really believed the story himself.
But here they were, only a month into the trial. Schulz was already hearing about inmates again.
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.