Mr. Bill and Miz Mona

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Moose Pass Journal/ June 16, 2011- Dillingham Police Cases

Bill Says: I tossed the idea around to put together a folder showing those police cases I worked in my 20-years, which I wanted some record of, to give to my children or grandchildren. Then I decided to put them on this blog. This way, if my kids and grandchildren want a copy of it or any part of same, they can print it out themselves. I won't waste paper and my children won't have to toss the old thing aside, though remembering to thank the old man first with a cheery smile and then later going 3-points for a file-13 shot. I wish my dad and Grandpas on both sides had kept some record of their histories to pass on down, they all lived interesting lives. It has taken me sometime to put together some of the family history.

Anyway, I was in the US Air Force from July 1971 through March 1981. Then stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, I was just about to re-enlist again, when I got the call from Dillingham Police Department. The Chief, Alan Gray, was offering me a patrolman's position. So, I said goodbye to the Air Force, happily going from $8,600 a year to $32,000 a year, and kissed my wife goodbye, ( she was still on active duty and had two years left), and I flew off for darkest Dillingham. I didn't know it at the time, but Dillingham had a lot of similarities to the US Southwest of the 1870's and one's life was often in danger.

Located approx 300 miles southwest of Anchorage, the City of Dillingham sits on the northern shoreline of the famous Bristol Bay, ( a very large body of water). Dillingham plays home to one of the largest salmon fisheries in the world and has one of the craziest harbors ever constructed. Due to severe tides, which range from minus 12 feet to a plus 24 foot tide, the harbor, which was built by the Army Corps of Engineers, was constructed in such a way that during low tides there was no water in the harbor. Boats leaned up against one another. Sometimes these fishing boats would be racked out for 15-20 boats in line and I soon learned jumping from one vessel to the next one could prove quite perilous. Especially if someone was shooting at you from one of the last boats.

Dillingham was the most southern community for the Eskimo people and most northern community for the Aleut people, along with a bunch of whites and a smattering of Orientals. Strangely enough, most of them got a long just fine- while sober that is. Then it could turn into a real Hatfield-McCoy style feud on a Saturday night and no one was quite sure who was shooting at who.

Approximately 3500 people lived in the city, but 7 or maybe it was 8 villages used the city for their shopping and drinking. Most of the villages were considered dry by state law and this meant no booze at all. During fishing season, this number of people could expand to 10,000, especially with the Seattle fishing fleet coming in and all the cannery workers in town. During the winter, the Bristol Bay froze up solid and things could quiet down some- until spring came around and the Beaver Round-up Festival kicked off. A 3-day event that grew louder with each day and a lot of arrests were made.

The Dillingham Police Department was made up of a police chief, who was a former Alaska State Trooper and a Viet Nam veteran, a sergeant- another Nam vet, and hopefully 4 patrolmen. Two out of the 4 were also Nam veterans. There were also 5 female dispatchers, but none of them were Nam vets, though two of them were married to Nam veterans. Turns out the Chief had a soft side for Nam veterans and this is why I was invited down for my interview and then he liked my size. The police department shared a old two story building, which set out all by itself on a busy intersection, with the volunteer fire department and a youth center. We had a dispatch area, two very small offices ( more like walk-in closet size) and that's about it. The dispatch area was also used as the city's DMV, where complaints were filed and lunch room for officers and dispatchers. We had a reloading bench in the office set aside for patrolmen and barely had enough room to write our reports and black powder was always getting all over everything. Long before I arrived the police department building had received the name of Fort Apache and I was to soon learn why, the bullet holes on the outside walls were very real.

Dillingham was a place of dirt roads, few trees, high winds, the constant and nauseating odor of fish and I found it extremely hard to locate an address when being dispatched. ( turn right at the third tree after the large grave marker on your right). Oh, we also had a dog catcher- Norman Johnson, who was quite a good man and at one point saved my life. It was a very cold place to work in the winter months and really buggy in the summer.

The city also had an Alaskan State Trooper stationed there to handle the villages and his office building housed a two-cell state jail and his living apartment.

Roads consisted of the main town area and harbor, a 5-mile dirt road to the Knak-Knak ( I think hat's how it was spelled) Native Hospital, a 16-mile dirt road to Alegnagik Lake and village, a 3-mile long Wood River Road and multi-off shoots in all directions. Lots of cemetaries too and a nice airport with numerous charter businesses and host to Wien Airlines. Alaska Airlines would later take over when Wien went out of business.

This was a very beautiful area, where hundreds of really nice people lived and there was always great fishing. The occasional bear or moose could wander by, but mostly it was all about fish, fish and more fish. From herring, red salmon, silver salmon and king salmon.

It was Mona who supported me in my in applying for the job, we'd only been married about 7 months when I applied. Though I really didn't think I had any chance on getting hired, ( my past had some serious bumps in it), and my resume, (which was my first ever and looked like something a high schooler put together) seemed a bit over the top. But, God was in charge here. I was soon invited down for an interview and an oral board, where the city manager, police chief, magistrate and the state trooper, were there to hit me with a barrage of questions to see what I was made of. I was beginning to think they were going to bring out the heat lamps and rubber hoses, but then it was over. Then I flew back and soon received a call from the chief saying the city manager had made the final decision to select an Oregon cop, who had already gone through a recognized police academy. This in fact saved the city quite a bit of money, because they would have to send me. So, I said my thanks and prepared to re-enlist. I was also on my way south to attend helicopter maintenance school, which I'm sure would've put a strain on our new marriage. But three days before I was to be sworn in for another 4-year hitch, Chief Gray called and said he was given another patrolman's slot and wanted to know if I was interested. I looked at Mona, she agreed and I put in my papers to separate from the Air Force.

Arriving at Dillingham in the middle of February, taking terminal leave from the service, I had no police uniform to wear and I wouldn't for 3 weeks. But I was promptly sworn in and handed a Smith & Wesson .44 Mag revolver. The was the chief's weapon of choice for the department and he just happened to have a few to sell. That night I attended my first autopsy for a homicide. It got busy after that.

I'll continue on in the next blog. 

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