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Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Kodiak Coast Guard Murders

Posted by on Sat, Apr 14, 2012 at 3:20 PM


ANCHORAGE (AP) — Law officers are reassuring residents of Kodiak Island in Alaska that they are not in immediate danger after the fatal shooting of two workers at a Coast Guard communications station, but the lack of reports of any arrests have left people on edge.

Wendy Cavender, a bartender at the B & B bar in Kodiak, a city about eight miles from the Coast Guard base, said residents were getting jumpy because they had few details about what had happened.

“I just think they need to release all the information they have, so people don’t get crazy and paranoid, which might lead to violence,” Ms. Cavender said. “All anybody knows is that there is a shooter and that person might still be at large.”

This story grabs my attention partly because I was born on Kodiak Island, the son of a Coast Guardsman, who says there were basically three kinds of families on the island—Coast Guard families, fisherman families, and Native American families. (And the bar-owning families, who were kept busy by the other three.) "In a place like Kodiak," my dad wrote in an email this morning, "there are so many possible angles to this type of homicide. Crime of passion, disgruntled spouse, angry employee, pissed-off fisherman, etc.?"

Four anecdotes about the place that I grew up hearing as a kid:

1. While we're living there, a fisherman gets home from sea a few days early. His first stop is the bar (of course) where he sees his wife getting too cozy with some public official. (I think it was the town mayor.) The fisherman walks up and slits the public official's throat. The public official doesn't die, but carries a nasty scar. If I recall correctly, no charges are filed.

2. Electricity was erratic at our house, as was TV and radio reception, so my mom would pass the time when my dad was at sea by reading to me by candlelight (usually Shakespeare, she used to say, which I think explains a few things about my life) and/or shoving me in a basket and hauling me to the local bar, where she'd hang out with helicopter pilots and the wives of sailors who were at sea (which also explains a few things). "It was said there were as many churches as bars on Kodiak," my dad wrote, "and you took refuge in one or the other." My parents, for the record, took refuge in both.

3. "One of my favorite stories," he added, "was about the guy on my ship who got drunk and wandered into a strange house. He snapped out of his alcoholic haze looking down the barrel of a .44 magnum, held by some woman from whose house he beat a hasty and most apologetic retreat."

4. One of my dad's favorite bars up there (not on Kodiak, but in Dutch Harbor) had a wild-eyed, grizzled old guy who looked like a ghost from the Gold Rush era. The guy used to jump up on tables and recite Robert Service poems if someone would buy him a beer. That bar, the Elbow Room, is a legend for its violence, often between crabbers and fishermen who'd just gotten home from sea with either a) shit-tons of money in their pockets or b) seething resentment for the ones who'd made a good catch. Typically (or so I'm told), people would start fighting, get shoved out the door by the staff and patrons, duke it out in the street while everyone watched, and then come back in and buy each other drinks. Apparently, Jimmy Buffett played there in his early days.

So: Who killed those Coast Guard guys in the communication station? And why? I bet it's a hell of a story, on a Shakespearean scale, that we'll never know the half of.


Comments (19) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
You should write a book of your stories, if you have enough of them.
Posted by floater on April 14, 2012 at 3:46 PM · Report this
Vince 2
A shooting says cheating spouse. It's impersonal. Vengeful.
Posted by Vince on April 14, 2012 at 3:47 PM · Report this
I think The Elbow Room closed a couple of years ago. And good riddance.
Posted by Toe Tag on April 14, 2012 at 4:17 PM · Report this
rob! 4
I always enjoy the direct or indirect contributions of Stranger staff family members--it helps flesh you guys out, in the same way I like meeting family members of my friends. So, Brendan's dad, Ronald Holden ("Cornichon"), Bill Savage (Chicago Fan), Terry Miller, Schmader's hubby, ciennasmommy, Christopher's dad during Obama's inauguration, thanks. Did I miss anyone?
Posted by rob! on April 14, 2012 at 4:56 PM · Report this
internet_jen 5
For two summers my friends and I worked at a bar in a town called Pelican on Chichagof Island. One of the long time residents would affectionately refer to it as an open air prison. The place was only 1/2 mile long and mostly built on a boardwalk.

Photo from the plane ride in:…

Emergency Services info Sheet that was next to the phone:…

Posted by internet_jen on April 14, 2012 at 5:06 PM · Report this
@3, I was always a-scared to go there whenever the boat hit Dutch. I stuck to the boring old Unisea. Still plenty of trouble to get into, less bloodshed.
Posted by gloomy gus on April 14, 2012 at 5:17 PM · Report this
Posted by Soo on April 14, 2012 at 5:57 PM · Report this
I love how where I grew up (Fairbanks) is a magical wonderland of prosperity and modernity.

There's the sarcasm tag..kind of..hanging out not sure what to do, Grant. Let's look at until it gets uncomfortable and goes back to the lower 48.

Posted by LORD ZOD on April 14, 2012 at 7:37 PM · Report this
Canucky Yank 9
Jimmy Buffett played the Elbow Room in the early 90s - not quite his "early days." He also played the "Road House" in Akutan - an island with no roads. He'd flown out to the Aleutians to get rated on the Grumman Goose - one of the few places in the world where that plane is flown commercially (still is, by the way).
Posted by Canucky Yank on April 14, 2012 at 9:21 PM · Report this
Kind of a BS artiste, are ye? Forty five years here and none of what you say rings true.
Posted by Amutaq on April 14, 2012 at 10:49 PM · Report this
emma's bee 11
Your anecdotes greatly enhance a mental portrait that began with the bartender's statement: "I just think they need to release all the information they have, so people don’t get crazy and paranoid, which might lead to violence".
Posted by emma's bee on April 15, 2012 at 5:15 AM · Report this
in-frequent 12
I hears they still use the word, "ye," out there.
Posted by in-frequent on April 15, 2012 at 12:00 PM · Report this
slade 13…

It was some young rouge Polar Bears.
Posted by slade on April 15, 2012 at 12:24 PM · Report this
@ 10. Sorry if it doesn't ring true to you—but that doesn't mean it isn't true. They're all stories told to me by my parents. I was too young to remember any of that first-hand. But per the first one, my mother worked in a town office as a secretary at the time and had the displeasure of having the fisherman and the town official happen into the office at the same time, shortly after the throat-slitting. The latter was wearing big bandages around his neck. "It was awkward," my dad says, "to say the least."

I'd get her first-hand account, but she's passed on.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on April 15, 2012 at 2:43 PM · Report this
Brendon, I was working in Kodiak in the late 60's and later in the mid- 70's. What your parents told you was true. The events you described seem pretty 'everyday' for that island. BTW, the B&B, commented in the original story, was alive and well back when I was there.
Posted by Fairhaven on April 15, 2012 at 3:12 PM · Report this
This is your shot at the brass ring, Brendan. Smilla's Sense of Snow, Insomnia, the Millenium Trilogy, The Killing -- arctic/septentrional mysteries are a bankable niche. Don't call it Kodiak. That's too obvious and it sounds like chewing tobacco. Use some native word, like for a vengeful spirit animal or something. Have a treatment on my desk in two weeks and we'll talk. Love ya, babe.
Posted by PCM on April 15, 2012 at 4:09 PM · Report this
On my short visit in Cordova island, I remember sitting in the town bar and listening to a man relate the story of local crimes that almost mirror Mr. Kiley's story.

I already posted Brendan Kiley's name on my e-note pad. I'll be keeping an eye on his first edition of wild Alaska stories.
Posted by Hawaiiantraveler on April 15, 2012 at 11:44 PM · Report this
TLjr 18
Haven't heard yet from anyone who spent time in AK who'd doubt Brendan's Kodiak stories. Don't expect to, either.
Posted by TLjr on April 16, 2012 at 11:03 AM · Report this
I live in Kodiak, and have spent most my life here. Our electricity rarely goes out and there are only two groups of people here, locals and transient, Coasties fall under the latter as they are only temporary residents. Fisherman are often native as well, though the natives do cling close together they are quite accepting of the non native locals as long as they arent liberal looneytree huggers or PETA members. There are no longer as many bars as churches and alot of the locals hate the B&B because it is a druggy bar. Fisherman do have a saying that when they leave town, they don't lose their wife, they just lose their turn. The traffic killing of those two men shocked everyone, it is believed to have been an inside job because it happened in a secured location. People are understandably upset that the police don't release the identity of the shooter as he would then be unable to hide in such a small town and because he does pose a threat to all residents.
Posted by gena123 on April 18, 2012 at 9:58 AM · Report this

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