Hunting Ground: North Pole's Serial Murders
She was just what he was looking for. Young, pretty, and alone. Hunter tried not to stare. This was high-stakes poker. Staring would be a tell.
Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement, and issues crime fighters face. This blog highlights crimes researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein, using publicly available information, court records, and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Listener discretion is advised. Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
Mark: Before we tell this story, I wanna describe the location in Alaska for those who are unfamiliar. These crimes occurred in what Alaskans call the interior. We're talking about right in the middle of the mainland, 300 plus miles north of the south-central coast, where Anchorage is located, and 400 miles south of the north slope oil fields.
Picture a triangle with the city of Fairbanks at the center. The top point of the triangle faces north. There are three highways that lead out of Fairbank. In the triangle example, the north point would be the direction of the Dalton highway, also known as the hall road that leads to the north slope oil fields.
Back to our triangle. The left corner pointing Southwest would be the Parks highway, which is the road to south central, Alaska past Denali national park to Anchorage and then did the Kenai peninsula.
The right corner of our triangle is the main focus of the story. From Fairbanks headed Southeast is the Richardson highway. 20 minutes southeast is the town of north pole 15 minutes past that is Eilson Air force base. 10 minutes past Eilson is the tiny wide spot in the road called Salcha. Past Salcha, Johnson road branches off the Richardson highway and arcs to the Northeast encircling the backside of Eilson air force base.
Marcy: They called Hunter to their hotel room. He obliged because they had traveled a great distance just to speak with him. Hunter was polite like that, but he wasn't gonna take the indulgence as far as giving them what they wanted. He didn't feel the need to make their job easier and he was definitely gonna send them home empty handed.
The most important thing was he got to know what they knew. Maybe it would help him sharpen his skills. The main guy seemed nice on the phone. A Sergeant, like him. Hunter knocked on the hotel room door. Two men greeted him. The Sergeant was older and seemed straightforward and affable. The other guy, younger, definitely not the one in charge, was reserved and seemed judgemental. Both men gave him compulsory smiles that didn't reach their eyes. Hunter tried to give them the same in return. The room was actually two adjacent units. They had maps and pictures on all the walls. Some Hunter recognized. Some of the map locations meant something. The pictures on the walls were the same. Some meant nothing. Some meant everything. Hunter tried not to stare. This was high stakes poker. Staring would be a tell.
The three men sat around a small table, two leaning forward. Hunter, arms crossed, lean back. The salesmen started their pitch slowly. Small talk first. How did Hunter like Texas? Did he like it better than Alaska? What did he miss? What about the heat? Hunter gave them short answers. His nervous edge kept him from getting too cozy. He tried to answer even the easy questions with non-answers. After a while, they started to focus on Alaska. Not down to business yet. Just some background. When did he arrive? Where did he live? What did he like to do? Then the journey into the past. Hunter recognized the danger and kept his bearings. Giving only the most superficial answers. Among the salesman's questions, Hunter's mind drifted between Alaska and Texas. He was in Texas now. Alaska seemed like a distant memory. In some ways the two were so different. In the important ways they were the same.
Mark: He thought back to a recent successful trip. Hunter driven for a few hours to a pre scouted game trail, just rural enough to not be crowded, but populated enough to be productive. That day turned out to be lucky. A girl was right where he needed her to be. He passed without slowing. She was young enough, pretty enough. He turned off and waited a few minutes. Then he re-happened by, He pulled over and she ran up. "Can I get a ride?" He didn't even remember where she wanted to go. It was the Texas heat. It was like Alaska only for the opposite reason. They were desperate to climb into the trap to get away from the brutal hot. You could die out there. The girl happily climbed into the trap. She chit chatted until he pulled off. She hadn't been scared until then, but of course then was too late.
Marcy: The older guy pulled Hunter out of his reverie by leaning forward and saying, "we wanna tell you about some of the things that we know." "Okay," Hunter said, recognizing that they were getting to the good part. The younger guy flipped a picture of a girl across the table. Spinning, the photo, came to rest in front of him. He knew the face immediately. He felted her gaze on him. It was The Mama. Her eyes took him back to Alaska like it was yesterday.
Mark: Hunter first saw the mama outside a small cabin in the neighborhood off Badger road. It was bright, sunshiney and summer. She was young and pretty. The sunlight filtering down through the Birch trees cast her in the perfect light. She was alone, walking across the yard, her feet bare. She must live there. He decided right then that she was his. Hunter circled the area according to his plan. The girl was gone when he parked within sight of the house. He waited there for a while. It was good. Only a couple of cars passed. A sleeping neighborhood on a weekday. The area had several smaller houses that were on large wooded lots. Perfect. Privacy was his most important accomplice. If a cop or somebody happened to stumble across him, he would've said he had a friend who lived in the area, but he was lost. That was a rule. His route had to be near something plausible. In this case, if he was contacted, he'd say, ah, my friend lives on Clydesdale road, but I'm headed to, or from there.
Marcy: The older guy raised his voice causing hunter to focus. "You went to her house on August 29th in 79. She was alone. Did you know her before?" Hunter said nothing, tried to look confused, shook his head slowly.
Mark: The truth was he hadn't known anything about her. So he watched it was a weekday and there's no car. So she was probably home alone. That first day, when he didn't see her again, he drove away and checked other game trails, but Hunter's mind kept returning to the girl off Badger road. The setup seemed perfect. She seemed perfect. Hunter made the house off Badger part of his regular patrol. He caught sight of her twice more before the big day. He was patient. This was risky. But fortune favors the bold.
When he saw her on August 29th, he was committed. He caught her on the way the mailbox. No one else was around. He pulled across the dirt road with his window open. He flashed a smile and said, "hi ma'am, I was hoping you could tell me where..." The girl smiled, veering toward him. "Hang on. I can't hear you," she said. Hunter jumped out as she got close and showed her the pistol. She froze emitting an involuntary whimper. " Get in. Do what I say and I won't hurt you." He pushed her down and through the car, following her in. She tried to continue out the passenger door and screamed as he pulled her back, slamming her head against the dash, and then forcing her down against the seat. She tensed as the car began to move. Simultaneously holding the gun in his left hand while steering, his right hand gripped her hair. He was strong and torqued her head around until she was kneeling in the passenger footwear, her face pressed against the seat. "Bitch, if you don't stop moving, I'll shoot you."
Marcy: The older of the two men interrupted again. Hunter had tuned him out as he was reliving taking the girl. What was his asshole's name again? McCoy. McCain. Who gives a shit? The older guy was saying, "we know you took her to the gravel pit on Moose Creek.
Mark: Hunter's mind snapped right back. The drive to this kill spot was still 10 minutes. He was distracted with excitement and anticipation and caught himself repeating the rehearsed lines. "If you cooperate, I'll let you go. If you don't do what I say, I'll kill you." The girl was sobbing. She pleaded with him, "please. I have a baby. I have to go back." he smiled to himself. That's why she's the Mama. He thought, that's okay. The kid's better off without her anyway.
Marcy: The older guy was saying, "we know you did things to her. You choked her. The only answer we really need is, why? Hunter heard the question. Just shook his head. Even if he was inclined to answer, he couldn't tell them the truth. His mind transported him back.
Mark: He was pulling the mama out. She was small. No wonder he hadn't thought of her as a woman. She already had a kid. Thinking of the kid, made him angry. This brought out the words in his fantasy, his ritual he'd been dreaming of. He made her kneel on the gravel. They were shielded between the car and the dense bushes lining the gravel pit. The momma sobbed and shook as
hunter stood above her. She was weak. The kid was better off without her. The thought peaked his anger. Hunter moved in suddenly, wrapped both hands around her throat. He screamed at her, his tirade reaching a crescendo as he watched her face turned purple. Her mouth parted somewhere between gasp and scream. The momma died with his hands wrapped around her pretty little throat. Tears still streaming across her discolored face. The once beseaching eyes, now vacant, staring up at him. He watched as life left her. It was the moment he'd been waiting for. He collapsed on her, savoring with all his senses.
After a few minutes, Hunter stood up. He grabbed her by the arms and pulled her into the bushes, just off the gravel. He stood above her, holding the pistol. The result was less impressive than he imagined.
Marcy: The older man asked again. "What we need to know is why? Why did you shoot her in the face?" With that question, both men stared at Hunter intently. A long pause, begging to be filled. Hunter felt the pull. But said nothing. He merely shook his head and shrugged.
Mark: After that kill, it had been quiet. The paper said the momma was missing. She was only 19. She was married. She was a trooper's daughter. Now that was interesting. A law man. Well, he couldn't help his daughter.
Marcy: That thought brought him back to the present. The older man, the younger one. He wondered how personal this was for them. The next picture they flicked onto the table was the little one.
Mark: He'd found the little one on the game trail in his safe zone. She wasn't far from where he'd caught the mama almost a year earlier. He'd been patient, watching, sometimes taking pictures, but never going for the kill. When he saw the little one, his heart leapt. It was time again. And she was the one. Hunter took his time stalking. This would be risky. The trail was just off one of the area's biggest roads. There weren't many buildings that faced the roadway, but there were always cars coming and going, unexpectedly popping out from cross streets.
The other problem was, she wasn't always alone. He had seen her with other people, maybe a sister, maybe a brother. He had rules to keep him safe. One of those rules was never act when the trap was compromised. He almost violated that rule with the little one. On the first try he found the little one riding her bicycle alone on the game trail one afternoon. Hunter pulled across the street ahead of her and popped the hood of his car. A few minutes later, the little one pedaled up. He was actually blocking the point where the game trail crossed the side street so she had to slow, ride around. Hunter looked up, "oh, sorry. My car died." The little one smiled and said, "that's okay," as she moved to pass. Hunter asked her, "do you live around here?" The little one stopped, put her feet down, stood straddling her bike. Hunter was about to grab her when the boy, pedaling furiously, approaching fast, came into view.
The little one said, "yes, we live on..." Hunter didn't hear what street she named. He had seconds to make a decision. The rule won out and Hunter focused back on the girl. Sensing his distraction, the little one looked back down the game trail over her shoulder, "oh, that's my brother." Hunter made like he was fiddling with something under the hood as the boy arrived. He closed the hood and said, "I think we should be good now." With a wave Hunter drove away. The close contact had done nothing but stoke Hunter's interest in the little one, but he was proud of himself for being smart. The trap had been compromised, but quitters never win.
Two days later, he saw her again on the same game trail. This time, it was later in the afternoon and she was headed in the opposite direction. He passed her turning off a side street to set up down range. Hunter found a point where the bushes encroached on the game trail and he crouched in those bushes until she arrived. This time, everything went as planned. The little one rode up. Hunter jumped out, grabbed off her mount. He came prepared with a towel, which he shoved in her mouth. She barely got off of sound as he trapped her head under his left arm. He gripped the bicycle with his right and drug both off the trail. On his left side, the little one flailed ineffectually. She was easier to control than he'd anticipated. He dropped the bike without breaking stride and forced her into the car. Hunter gave the same threats he had last time, but the girl was scared beyond reason. Her eyes flashed like a desperate animal in a trap. He forced her down into the seat and sped away, nearly colliding with the car in cross traffic.
By the time they arrived at this kill spot, the little one had exhausted herself. She lay limp, face down, head on the passenger seat crying. She had asked him to let her go several times. He told her he would. Hunter went to the special spot he had selected for the little one. It was in the woods along Moose Creek. He felt at home there, and in the height of summer, the brush was dense. He drove back for several minutes on a single lane, gravel path. He parked the car at a turn where he could see anyone else approaching and pulled the little one out. As he started saying the things he needed to say, she cried again. She looked confused and pleaded over the words. Her hysteria lit a flame inside him. Her weakness. Her vulnerability brought on the rage. Hunter gripped the little one's throat with both hands, forcing her onto her back. He pushed himself up over her. She put up almost no struggle as she changed from living to dead. Hunter continued to say the things he wanted to say, the incantations of his fantasies, and he cursed her for her weakness.
Once Hunter was finished with his kill, he put the little one in the trunk. He drove her to the resting place. A clearing surrounded by black spruce and muskeg. He laid the little one on her back. This time, he took out a preloaded shotgun. He liked the result.
Marcy: "Hey," the younger guy broke into Hunter's jog down memory lane, "pay attention. A witness saw you and your car driving like a bat outta hell from the neighborhood. The girl's brother picked you out. He recognized your car. What we really wanna know is why? Why did you shoot her in the face with your shotgun?"
Hunter's mind was in turmoil. His trap had been compromise. Stupid. Outwardly, his face betrayed nothing. He simply shook his head. No. And remained silent.
Mark: In the days after he took the little one, Hunter learned about her through the media. She was 11. She had a big family. They wanted her back. A search. A vigil. Only he had the answers and he wasn't telling. He liked the game. He liked being Hunter.
Marcy: The next photo they put in front of Hunter was the Hitcher. The older guy said, "so with all the heat, you had to mix it up, didn't you?"
Mark: To Hunter, it seemed like the little one had brought a lot of attention for a long time. His patrols around the kill zone seemed more fraught. He had been stopped a couple times, but nothing came of it. The cops bought his story. After a while, the publicity died down. But then someone found the mama. He couldn't believe it had only taken weeks. Her discovery was a setback, timing-wise. Hunter had been preparing to strike again, but it became too hot on his usual game trails.
He decided to proceed carefully, maybe go further afield than he wanted. As the new year was about to dawn, Hunter decided to give himself a gift. He had been patient. Waiting till the heat died down from the discovery of the mama and the disappearance of the little one. Hunter decided that a kill in the winter would require a new tactic.
He began scouting the roads in the periphery of Fairbanks in his pickup truck. He spotted several possibles, but they were never alone. Then, he saw her in the dim winter light, the girl walking on the Parks highway. She had a nap sack, like she was headed somewhere. He drove past her a couple times, scoping the area. Aside from a couple of other cars that didn't stop, the road was isolated. When Hunter pulled up to her, she was cold, almost desperate to climb into the trap. The hitcher asked, "are you headed south?" Hunter, "yeah." Hitcher, "I'm trying to go to Anchorage." Hunter, "I'm not going all the way, but I'll drop you." "Okay. Cool." Hunter was out of his kill zone, but he had a plan. As they drove, the girl was eager to break the ice. She needed to go the 300 miles south to Anchorage because her father was in the hospital. She was worried he might die. Hearing about her close relationship with her father made Hunter angry. By the time he pulled off the road, they were away from Fairbanks and he was dying to shut her up. It was a turnout that led down to a gravel pit, but he saw no one around. So he parked just off the highway. When the Hitcher questioned the stop, Hunter turned towards her, hit her with a solid right jab. She was dazed. Hunter leaned across her. She started to fight back. He pulled the release, the seat collapsed flat. Hunter wrapped his hands around the hitcher's neck, slid across the console and straddle her in the seat. With the Hitcher beneath him and her arms pinned by his knees, Hunter said the words he needed to say. He gripped her throat, harder as she tried to scream,-. He took his time, winding himself up, his rageful words a torrent spilling out. When the time was right, Hunter flattened himself on top of her, pinning the Hitcher down by the throat. Her face seemed to turn black by the dashboard lights, her eyes gleaned brightly until they didn't.
Hunter finished the drive with the Hitcher lying next to him. It took an hour to get back to the kill zone and his pre-selected spot not far from the little one. Once there, he pulled her out, placed her on her back. Hunter retrieved the shotgun and fired a blast obliterating the hitcher's face.
Marcy: The younger guy had gone through this one. Hunter had to admit it. They pretty much had it exactly right. Like they said, they knew who, and they knew how they just couldn't prove it. They threw a picture of the fish that jumped into the boat in front of him. The younger one said, "this one was your fuck up."
Mark: For as much publicity as there was for the mama and the little one, Hunter was surprised that there was almost complete silence after the Hitcher. She had been so easy it made Hunter rethink how he would do things. It was much less risky to pick up a girl looking for a ride than to grab her off the street.
He come to this conclusion just as the next girl came into view on the highway. Later after it was all done, he thought of this girl as the fish that jumped into the boat. There are days when it's better to be lucky than good. There are days when the sun shines on a dog's ass when the clouds part, even in wintertime Alaska, and you can sense an order to the world that usually seems so lacking. That day in early March 1981, was like that. He was driving. There she was. Pretty. Young. Ripe for the plucking. And she wanted a ride. She got right into the trap like she was the gingerbread trusting him, the Fox. What happened then was, after all, his nature.
The girl ran up to his truck and asked if she could get a ride to her friend's house. Just up the highway. Hunter smiled at the pretty girl and said, "I'll take you." Hunter's kill spot was very close to where the girls said her friend lived. So there had been no conflict until the very end when he pulled on to his favorite gravel road. Then he pulled his pistol on the fish that jumped into the boat and told her he'd kill her. She cried, but complied. Hunter performed the ritual and just like the others. She lay there helpless and gave up her life to him.
Each time for him was a release, a catharsis, a banishing of demons. The fish that jumped into the boat had been such an unexpected surprise that Hunter hadn't even picked out a final resting place. As he drove her lifeless body up Johnson road, he could feel the others calling out to him from their wooded cripts. When he felt confident no one was around, he picked a spot, pulled the girl from the truck out onto the ground and destroyed her face with a shotgun blast.
Hunter learned from this that as good as the fish that jumped into the boat had been, so simple, everything with home court advantage, she almost was a poison pill. He was shocked to see the media coverage that her body had been discovered just three days later. Worse, a news report said that a witness had seen the girl getting into the pickup truck before she went missing. Hunter cursed himself for his impulsivity. He violated his own rule by not making sure the trap wasn't compromised. On the other hand, the witness obviously hadn't gotten a good look because he wasn't in jail. Hunter vowed to be more diligent in the future,
Marcy: Almost as an answer to Hunter's memory, the younger one, who had just finished going through the case facts, leaned forward, staring into Hunter's eyes and said, "and you know what? You killing her, where you put her, tied it all together for us." The older one slapped the last photo down. It was the parting gift.
Mark: Hunter had been ordered to leave Alaska. He didn't want to go. He felt like he was just warming up. On the other hand, his activities had been noticed. A few weeks after the discovery of the fish had jumped into the boat, the Hitcher had also turned up. People and the media were asking if a serial killer existed in Fairbanks.
Hunter didn't like the publicity, but if he was being ordered to leave Alaska, he wanted one last harrah. He knew that the cops were watching his sacred ground. Well, he would send them a message. So in the height of the Alaskan summer, Hunter again ventured away from his kill zone. He saw the parting gift near where he picked up the Hitcher.
She was just what he was looking for. Young, pretty and alone. Hunter checked the area before approaching, but once it was clear, he pulled over. He didn't even remember where she wanted to go. It didn't matter, did it? The parting gift, it went exactly like the Hitcher. He took her to the same gravel pit turn out off the highway. Only this time, being summer, he had to drive her into the bushes out of side of the road. Parting gift was more suspicious, probably more ready to run away because it wasn't the middle of winter. She stopped fighting when he pulled the gun on her. He promised to let her go after he got what he wanted. He lied. Like the Hitcher, parting gift laid dead in the seat next to Hunter on the hour long drive back to the kill zone. He put her right in the middle of where the others were or had been.
Marcy: When the older one was finished talking about the parting gift, they looked at him expectantly. Hunter looked back. Well,