Police try to piece old crimes together

Posted: Sunday, November 17, 2002

A 65-year-old woman was killed near Kasilof in 1977. Another woman was shot to death in her house in 1985. A college coed was murdered in 1994. An aircraft mechanic was killed in his Nikiski hangar earlier this year.

All of the crimes are unsolved, and, although the trail to the suspects gets colder and colder with time, Alaska State Troopers have not stopped searching for answers.

In fact, last summer, a new program was started by trooper Col. Randy Crawford assigning investigators attached to the Criminal Investigation Bureau to specifically look at old and cold cases.

Initially, one investigator was assigned to Fairbanks, two were assigned in Anchorage and, in September, Bill Gifford, recently retired Anchorage detective division captain, was assigned to the trooper detachment in Soldotna.

In 1994, college student Bonnie Craig, 18, was found murdered near McHugh Creek between Girdwood and Anchorage. The coed had last been seen heading to class at the University of Alaska Anchorage on the morning of Sept. 28.

Her body was found by someone walking in a park. Though the cause of death was never disclosed by police, her body did have blunt trauma injuries.

"There have been hundreds of leads over the years," said Gifford. "And it's been in Crime Stoppers a lot in Anchorage."

Gifford is revisiting those leads and reviewing a large case file that has been created in the past eight years.

"I'm looking at changes in technology that have come about since then, and I'm looking at past leads and comparing them to information that has come in since the initial investigation," he said.

"There's a fair chance of getting it solved. It will take a tremendous amount of work. I'll recontact some of the people who were initially contacted.

"We'll continue working until we've exhausted every possible avenue. I'll meet with the detectives and officers and discuss what's been done and we'll brainstorm on tactics."

A case that is not so old is the Gerald Sibley murder.

The 62-year-old aircraft mechanic was shot to death last Jan. 4, apparently during a burglary in the Nikiski hangar where he lived and worked.

Through studying the case, Gifford believes more than one person was involved in the crime.

"I'm confident that more people know about the case than just those who did it," he said.

Now Gifford says he is following up on leads that are present in the case and talking with people who know the victim's background.

"I'm also communicating with the state lab in Anchorage," he said. "There might be something forensically that might pop up."

Twenty-five years ago, Florence Tagala, 65, was murdered in her house off Echo Lake Road just past the Kasilof River. She had been strangled, her residence was broken into and appeared to have been ransacked.

Police had suspects early on in their investigation and now, Gifford hopes advances in DNA evidence technology can identify the killer or killers. He has resubmitted physical evidence in the case to the state crime lab.

"If we get DNA, somebody's going to jail," Gifford said.

He also is looking at possible DNA evidence to help solve the 1985 murder of Opal Fairchild. She was shot to death in her house on East Poppy Lane in Soldotna.

Police did not find evidence of a break-in and Gifford said they are looking for some people who were living in the area at the time who may have information about the case.

Gifford said police first started using DNA in Alaska in 1988 or 1989.

Advances in the past two or three years, however, have made DNA evidence more specific to an individual.

"Quite often, the results of DNA testing will exclude all other people on the planet," he said.

He is so convinced by the results of the relatively new DNA technology, he said he believes the state needs a law requiring all felons to submit DNA samples that would be entered into a database.

"Usually when people get to the point of committing murder, they've already committed other felonies," he said.

Gifford does acknowledge that the state lab, like law enforcement in general, is understaffed.

"These old cases take a long time and are difficult to do. It's a time-consuming process," he said.

"In the Tagala case, I'd be surprised if I get the (DNA) results back in six months. Of course, if an offender is still out and is active, they'll prioritize the work," he said.

In addition to new technology, Gifford's work also is dependent on help from the public. He said anyone with information on any of the unsolved homicides can call troopers or call him directly at 262-4453, or they can call Crime Stoppers at 283-TIPS or toll free at (800) 478-HALT.

"One of our biggest tools is the public ... if they have information and they provide it," Gifford said.



CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS