Bill Says: During the years of 1982 through 1983, Skagway saw a lot of misfortune; the closure of the White Pass Railroad and massive unemployment, the death of one mother through a vehicle accident, suicide of a well-liked older man and the murder of a 17 year old. There was also the death of a young girl in a snow machine accident. The depression from these events was nearly overwhelming, bringing a rise in alcohol and dope usage.
The murder occurred on Christmas night of 1982. I'd been seeing a rise in the problems the male teenagers were having with one another, having broke up several fights in the approaching weeks. But the murder of course shocked the whole community, especially when the victim was a 17 year old, who was killed by a boyhood friend and all over a girl.
I was called from home to back-up Dennis on the call and Ed was also en route. By happen chance or demonic assignment, the trouble began in the lobby of the 3-story hotel, ( the one famous for its 3rd floor ghostly haunts), and moved out into the street. One 17 yr old was defending his older brother's claim on a local girl, while the other boy was defending his right to date the girl. The older brother was out of town at the time. It began with a shoving match, but with so many costly antiques in the lobby of the hotel, the crowd of about 10-local teenagers got the two combatants to leave the lobby and take it outside. It was snowy and temperatures were in the low 20's.
The two of them scuffled for some time and at one point the one kid got the other in a wrestler's headlock, he'd been on the team for three years. In the court trial the other boy said he feared for his life, thinking he was being strangled. Well, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a sheath knife, but in this case a double edged knife normally used strictly for assault. He commenced to stab the other boy 26-times, which caused the boy to bleed out right on the spot and die.
The other kids were interviewed and I went to the suspect's home to arrest him and transport him to jail. We truly had to guard him for the victim's relatives wanted blood in return. Ed had to go to one home and disarm an uncle. We had the suspect transported to Juneau by ferry, where he was held pending trial. Dennis, Ed and I, along with all the kids went to Juneau for the trial. It was the strangest trial I ever testified in and the verdict amazed me- h was found not guilty by self-defense. To this day I never understood that verdict, I at least expected a Manslaughter charge if not Murder in the 2nd Degree. The defense lawyer was one of the best and it cost the family dearly, plus the defendant could never return to Skagway for fear of retribution.
The vehicle accident with the mother concerned two ladies, both who had been drinking steadily in the 3 stroy hotel, (yeah, the one with the 3rd floor haunt). Both had worked in this location for several months and I knew both of them pretty well. They were separated by almost 20-years in age, but were known to drink together often. Tourist season was over and the streets were mostly empty at night. Well, they had left the hotel after midnight and drove down State Street, which was the only paved road in town. At one point, the driver, who was the older woman and mother, accelerated and lost control. She plowed right into a power pole at a high rate of speed. The passenger was injured and the driver was killed instantly. My duty was to go to the home of the husband and deliver the death notification and transport him to the clinic to identify the body. Though everyone on the scene knew who it was. This of course had a ripple effect, causing one young man, who was in love with the older woman, to attempt suicide.
I also had another attempted suicide during this time. A 17-year old, upset with his father, tried dearly and seriously to end his life and all over a botched homework assignment. First, he tried hanging himself in their bathroom with his father's tie and when that didn't work, he sliced his wrists and laid down in the tub. But that was going to slow, so he drank a bottle of bleach. When I arrived I had to break through the locked door, pull him out of the tub and put compression bandages on his wrists. EMT's arrived and we got him to the clinic. Polly, the PA, who had brought him into this world, was not happy. Her treatment was a bit rough, but the kid survived. I went to the Elks Club to get the dad and bring him to the clinic. They eventually worked it out.
It seemed for such a small town, Skagway had more than its share of sadness. The older man, who was single and well-liked by all the teens and young adults, was suddenly rumored to be a pedophile and upon hearing this, he was so hurt by this apparent lie that he went into his bedroom and shot himself. We investigated the rumor and found no substance, only that it was spread by a teen wanting to get back at the older man over a slight issue. All the townspeople were effected by this, Skagway was just too small and he was a lifelong resident.
I got called to the Klondike highway for a snow machine accident. It occurred up above the customs station and I had to use a snow machine to get up there. Now realize this was my first and only time I'd driven such a machine. The highway was closed and there was about 6-8 feet of snow on the roadway. A friend of mine and father of 7 kids, had taken several of his kids for a trip up the highway. On the way home, his teenage daughter lost control and flew off the edge of the roadway, to land on a set of boulders some 40 feet below. She died instantly. I had to use a rope to get down to the scene and wearing Wellington boots, this was not fun. I met the father at the scene and after taking photos, we prepared the body for transport. A squad of Alaska Army National Guardsmen were out and they arrived at the scene to help. They brought the body up and then had to lift me up, my boots couldn't get any grip on the ice for the climb up. Another sad day for the town.
Yes, during my time in Skagway I saw a lot of sadness in the community and some pretty darn strange and eerie events take place. I got into numerous bar brawls and watched a couple of my prisoners freak out as the bear upstairs did its thing. I was no longer concerned with it, but my prisoners were shook up.
Toward the end of summer of 1982, I was requested for back-up at the Red Onion. Dennis had responded to a report of a prowler/ghost in the upstairs and the new bartender was shook up. She was getting ready to close up when the prowler ghost started to tap dance over her head. When I arrived, Dennis and I went upstairs through the only entrance/exit. The Red Onion was famous and visited by the thousands for its colorful history. There were mannequins of prostitutes hanging out the windows, inviting the menfolk in and lots of photos were taken of them. Well, I nearly shot one that evening. We heard the walking about and began to suspect we really might have a prowler. Lots of antiques up there to steal. There were several bedrooms up there, where the women took the menfolk for a little party back in the old days. Mostly now it was all used for storage. Dennis walked up ahead and as I turned to walk into one of the rooms, one of those silly mannequins came flying at me and having my gun drawn, I nearly shot it. Now understand, we never found anyone up there, no one escape through the windows and I never found who tossed the dummy at me. But we left the floor and drove the bartender home. Me, I prayed a bit to calm my nerves. But the best was yet to come.