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ONE TEENAGE DAUGHTER.
She posted it online: “Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered.” But those simple words written by sixteen-year-old Rachelle Waterman couldn’t begin to describe the horror of the crime: Her mother’s body locked in a van. Doused in gasoline. Burned beyond recognition…
Alaska troopers arrested...
ONE TEENAGE DAUGHTER.
She posted it online: “Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered.” But those simple words written by sixteen-year-old Rachelle Waterman couldn’t begin to describe the horror of the crime: Her mother’s body locked in a van. Doused in gasoline. Burned beyond recognition…
Alaska troopers arrested two young men—both of whom had dated Rachelle and claimed to still love her. Investigators grilled Rachelle until she made shocking and apparently incriminating revelations…
ONE SHOCKING MURDER MYSTERY.
Was this obviously intelligent young woman really an abused child coerced by police—or a deceptive murderess? The answer may lie in Rachelle’s Internet journal, a disturbing glimpse into a troubled girl’s mind. Did she convince her lovers to kill for her? That is the question at the heart of this shocking true story of madness, manipulation, and matricide.
With 8 pages of dramatic photos!
Love You Madly
A night of frigid, blustery winds and light snow turned into a wet, gray morning, the clouds hanging low over the mountains of the glacier-carved valley. As he drove his four-wheel-drive Ford Expedition, Alaska state trooper Bob Claus kept an eye out for black-tailed deer darting onto the slick two-lane road. It was a weekend in November 2004, and the woods would be full of deer, and, Claus knew, men with high-powered rifles.
The road took Claus past familiar scenery: briny inlets, trout-filled streams, snowcapped ridges thousands of feet high and forests of spruce interrupted every few miles by the ravages of clear-cutting, the stumps standing gray like tombstones. The side of one mountain to his left was scraped clean of timber from a 1980s clear cut.
Even after a decade, the scenery never ceased to amaze Claus, an Illinois transplant, just as the scars from logging always saddened him. As one of two troopers, Bob Claus had patrolled wild and sparsely populated Prince of Wales Island for more ten years, working out of a small wood-framed building in Klawock, an ancient Indian fishing village that marks its heritage with a hilltop stand of totem poles.
Driving north out of Klawock, Claus was responding to a call that had come in to the trooper post about noon. No apparent danger loomed, just the prospect of a long cold day in the rain, but Claus had quickly learned that every venturein rural Alaska carried risks that no city policeman could imagine.
Prince of Wales Island is the largest of the islands in Alaska's southern archipelago, about the size of Delaware, but it has only 250 miles of designated road--100 miles paved, the rest compacted gravel, full of potholes and washouts. A routine call could keep him out of the office for hours or days; a complicated call could turn disastrous quickly. Backup--if it could be summoned--might take hours to arrive. Most locations had spotty radio and cell phone reception, and medical services were minimal. Ambulances were converted pickups. The island has one twenty-four-hour doctor-staffed clinic in Klawock. The closest hospital was in Ketchikan, and no road went there. It was reachable by medevac helicopter, floatplane, or ferry.
To prepare for anything, Claus kept the Expedition stocked with camping supplies to last two to three days in the woods, boots with spikes for walking through dense forests, a stretcher, oxygen tanks, and a first-aid kit. He had the tools of investigation and crime scene analysis: tape measure, rules, evidence bags. For protection from man or beast--bears also prowled the woods this time of year, fattening up for winter hibernation--the truck was armed with rifles, shotguns, handguns, and lots of ammunition. Claus wore one Kevlar vest and kept a second as a spare.
He took a second precaution this time: an Alaska Department of Fish and Game trooper who shared office space with him accompanied him in the vehicle that followed.
His route this Sunday afternoon took him twenty winding miles around Big Salt Lake until the road hit a T intersection, one of just three major intersections on the entire island. A left turn would have led to the former logging camp of Naukati, twenty-five miles away over mostly paved surfaces, until the highway turned to crushed rock and continued for a bone-jarring seventy miles of twisting gravel road to the northernmost tip of the island at Labouchere Bay on the Sumner Strait. Claus turned right and went over acurving paved road toward the hamlet of Thorne Bay on the eastern side of the island on the Clarence Strait.
After several miles, Claus looked through rain-streaked windows and found his landmark: a gravel road marked by a small sign several yards to the right of the highway reading Forest Service Road 3012. He pulled off the highway, the Expedition tires crunching on the coarse rock, and came to a stop. He got out and, in the drizzle, met a deer hunter from Thorne Bay named Scott MacDonald.
Only about two thousand people lived on Prince of Wales Island, and Bob Claus knew virtually every one of them, including MacDonald. The thirty-two-year-old hunter worked for the Forest Service, inspecting second-growth groves that sprouted after logging. Glenn Taylor, the Fish and Game trooper following Claus, pulled up to the scene, and MacDonald relayed why the authorities had been summoned.
Scott explained that he had left home at about nine a.m. with the idea of spending his Sunday hunting in the woods off the main highway. He drove to the Forest Service Road 3012 turnoff and made his way down the abandoned gravel logging road. The road went up a steep mountainside through a vast open area from clear-cut logging about ten years earlier. Streams trickled down the mountain and cut small arroyos through the old road. On the periphery stood an old-growth spruce forest, prime deer hunting ground. Scott MacDonald saw three or four other people that morning, all probably hunters, but nobody he knew.
As he drove up a steep section where it continued to switchback through the clear-cut area, Scott MacDonald saw smoke rising about a quarter mile away as if from a chimney, but as far as he knew there were no cabins in the area. Through his binoculars he saw that the smoke originated from the blackened wreckage of a large vehicle, probably a van. Scott drove closer, got out of his truck, and hiked the rest of the way. The wreckage clung to the side of the mountain, having tumbled off the road and then becomingpinned against a log. The van itself wasn't on fire; the smoke came from smoldering branches and logs beneath it.
Peering through a blown-out passenger window, MacDonald made a grisly discovery. He trudged back to his truck and drove down the mountain to where he could get a cell phone signal and called his mom, who worked as a business management supervisor at the Forest Service and knew the local law enforcement people. She put in the call to the trooper post in Klawock.
Claus asked MacDonald to lead him and Taylor to the scene. As he drove behind MacDonald, Claus paid close attention to their route. About one thousand miles of logging roads crisscross the island, almost none of them marked or memorialized on any maps. In rain or darkness it would be easy to become lost or disoriented even within earshot of the cars whizzing by on the main road. Claus wanted to be able to find this road again.
The first few miles took them across a relatively smooth road, and the caravan of three four-wheel-drive vehicles went along at a thirty-five-mile-per-hour clip. Along they way Claus spotted other trucks carrying hunters. The trooper stopped each one and asked if they had also seen a burning van. None had. After four miles the road branched into a Y, with MacDonald leading them along steeper, narrower road. Barely a lane wide, the road was of loose wet gravel, ravaged by potholes and washouts and littered with boulders and old logs. Claus noticed the road also was covered in car parts that he suspected had been dislodged from the van on its way up here. The road forked again, and MacDonald drove on a few hundred yards, stopped, and got out. Claus and Taylor parked their vehicles in a wide section of the road so they could turn around.
The men hiked through the rain over slippery rocks and branches toward the twisted, blackened heap lodged amid fallen timber logs, stumps, dirt, grass, and bushes. A blue vapor rose from beneath the wreck, steam forming off the rainwater creeping onto the smoldering undergrowth and logs in the nearly freezing temperatures. Up close, the vehicleappeared to be a minivan. The fire had scorched away most of the paint, with patches of the original purple remaining. Heat had blown out the windows all around and melted the license plate, now a glob of aluminum puddled beneath the rear bumper. Claus looked for the metal plates stamped with the vehicle identification number, normally affixed to the inside driver's-side door and on the dashboard, but found nothing but twisted metal and ash.
The trooper looked into the backseat area at what had prompted Scott MacDonald's call. Resting on the blackened remains of passenger seat was a skull beside a blackened human torso. Other charred bone fragments and a pile of ash lay nearby. The arms and legs had been burned off, as had the skin, hair and clothing. It was impossible to determine if this had been a man, woman or child. But these were definitely human remains.
Claus pondered his next step. In fifteen years as a trooper, he had handled every kind of case: burglaries, robberies, search and rescue, first aid, medical calls, drunken drivers, disorderly conduct, traffic accidents, and assaults of every stripe. This was the advantage of being only one of two troopers responsible for law and order on the 145-mile-long island. His experience also included a number of death investigations, including missing-and-presumed-dead persons, suicides, fatal accidents, and suspicious deaths that turned out to have medical causes. Every case came with its own challenges and often required improvisation. Hours could pass before a supervisor could even be reached. In past death investigations Claus would do an initial determination of the circumstances, photograph the scene, collect evidence, put the body in the truck, and call the medical examiner and "then ask for permission to do what we just did," he said.
But this case called for more caution. Of his death investigations in the course of his career, only three were homicides, and this one had all the hallmarks of a fourth. Claus could come up with no other plausible explanation for a body found burned up in the backseat of a suburban family vehicle on a desolate, barely accessible mountainside road.Asking Taylor to stand guard against any curious hunters, Claus made his way back down the hill to the main road, where he could get a cell phone signal.
He called the dispatch center, which routed calls for all the public safety agencies on the island, and reported the discovery of a burned van containing human remains on Forestry Road 3012 off the road to Thorne Bay. Claus asked to be advised of any missing-person or missing-vehicle reports on Prince of Wales Island, the trooper assuming jurisdiction. His next call went to his supervising lieutenant in Ketchikan to say that he had a likely homicide and to request help. Claus had no idea who owned the van or who the victim was and the two-man trooper post in Klawock lacked the investigative resources to find out. He asked for a crime scene technician and a fire investigator; headquarters in Anchorage would add one more person, a homicide detective. They were expected to arrive the following morning. Taylor guarded the crime scene until morning. Wildlife troopers are the game wardens of the state but are trained in police work. He then went to his home in Craig, the largest village on the island, and waited for the phone to ring.
The call came that night at 9:45 p.m. The Craig Police Department had received a report of a missing person and a missing purple minivan. Fifteen minutes later Claus called a familiar number. The phone was answered by Carl "Doc" Waterman, a real estate broker in downtown Craig and one of the most respected citizens on the island. Since moving from Anchorage seventeen years earlier, Waterman, who owned Island Realty, had handled the sale or purchase of many of the homes, vacant and wooded lots, and businesses on all of Prince of Wales Island. Doc was also a mover and shaker in town, serving on the school board and a member of the Girl Scout council.
Doc told Claus that his wife, Lauri, was missing and so was her minivan.
This was a jolt to Claus. The Waterman and Claus familieshad known each other for years, going back to when the Watermans' fifteen-year-old daughter, Rachelle, and her older brother, Geoffrey, went to elementary school with Claus's two daughters. Claus's wife taught school in Craig, Doc was president of the school board, and Lauri worked as a teacher's aide. The two families saw each other at school functions and at church. Lauri and Doc occasionally visited Claus's home for social gatherings, the last one just a couple of weeks earlier. Claus's older daughter had once dated Geoffrey, who was now away at college, and the two young people had remained friends. Claus's younger daughter, Stephanie, had long been a friend of Rachelle's: the two girls most recently traveled together with Lauri to the mainland town of Haines, four hundred miles to north, for a school honor choir event. Claus's wife had tutored Rachelle in geometry.
Doc Waterman explained that he had spent that weekend in Juneau for a Girl Scout council meeting, flying home Sunday morning. Several times he called home from his cell phone to check in with his wife, but the calls went to the answering machine. Doc left messages to say he was on his way home, then boarded his flight. The plane stopped in the island town of Sitka, three hundred miles to the north, where at the small airport Doc coincidentally ran into Rachelle. A high school junior active in music and sports, Rachelle was returning from Anchorage, where she had spent the weekend competing in a state high school volleyball tournament.
From Sitka, they took the same flight to Ketchikan, where they boarded separate floatplanes for forty-five-minute flights to the hamlet of Hollis, a water-landing and ferry port on the eastern side of Prince of Wales Island. Together they drove a friend's truck west across the island to Craig, with 1,400 residents. They arrived about three thirty p.m. at their home at 604 Ocean View. The Watermans owned one of the nicest houses on the island: three bedrooms, den and living room over three levels on a packed gravel street with a spectacular view of Bucareli Bay and the spruce-choked islands of the Alaskan archipelago.
Entering the house through the garage, Doc and Rachelle noticed that Lauri's minivan was not there. Lauri would usually greet Doc or Rachelle when they came home from trips. They went upstairs to the main level, where the living room, kitchen, and Rachelle's room were located. Doc continued up to the third-floor master bedroom, unpacked, and checked the answering machine. All three messages had been left by him during this trip; none had been played before. He deleted them.
Her purse, normally kept in a small pantry between the kitchen and living room, was also gone.
Doc reasoned that Lauri must be out on an errand. She kept a busy schedule--she had told him she would be volunteering for a chamber of commerce dinner the night before--and Doc thought she may be out helping clean up. His hopes dimmed as he went into the kitchen, where he found an empty wine bottle (Doc recalled it was on the counter; Rachelle later said it was in the trash). Lauri rarely drank--at most a wine cooler while they were socializing--and Doc never knew her to imbibe at home alone.
Doc went back upstairs and inspected the master bedroom more closely. The bed was unmade, the sheets thrown back, which also was strange. Lauri and Doc "shared the habit," he later said, of making their bed first thing in the morning. On the bathroom counter, he saw that his wife's wedding ring set had been left behind. He had never known her to leave the house under any circumstances without them.
His wife and her car were gone; there was no note, no message on his cell phone.
Taciturn by nature, Doc later described himself as feeling only "a little bit concerned," and held out hope she was somewhere nearby. He drove to the building that had housed the chamber of commerce banquet the night before looking for his wife's 1998 purple Plymouth Voyager minivan with a rear-window sticker that read "Craig Panthers," the high school mascot, but it wasn't there. He tried the other logical places his wife could be: the high school on the main roadjust outside of town, then the Catholic church in Klawock. Still no sign of the van or his wife.
Doc returned home. He doubted his wife would have driven any farther than Klawock. When she was younger, she'd brave any of the island's treacherous winding streets, hauling Rachelle and Geoffrey and their friends to T-ball games over unpaved roads. Now, at age forty-eight, Lauri had become cautious, rarely venturing even outside of Craig. She kept to flat, paved roads, and wouldn't even drive on the newly paved highway to the ferry terminal in Hollis since the road was so winding.
Doc called his neighbors, Don and Lorraine Pierce. Lorraine was Lauri's best friend. The Pierces had two children, a daughter the same age as Geoffrey and a son a year older than Rachelle. Don, a special education teacher, told Doc that he had last spoken with Lauri the night before--Saturday--when he called to tell her that Lorraine was ill and couldn't accompany her to the chamber banquet. Don said neither he nor Lorraine had spoken to Lauri since and had no idea where she was. They had not heard anything next door, though the night had been windy and loud and could have masked any unusual noises.
With no place else to look and nobody left to talk to, Doc called Craig police, who in turned contacted the state troopers.
Claus's ties to the Waterman family put him in an awkward position. As soon as Doc spoke of his missing wife and van, the trooper knew the remains in the burned van clearly were those of a longtime friend. No other reports of a missing person or a missing van had come in. The island probably only had a few dozen minivans; pickups were the dominate means of transportation.
But since neither the identity of the remains nor the ownership of the van had been officially determined, Claus held off telling Doc anything about the burned wreckage and body on the logging road. The investigators from Anchorage still hadn't arrived, and Claus wanted to work this case by the book. The last thing Claus and his small team of lawmenneeded was a bereaved husband rushing to the crime scene, tailed by half the curious population of the island.
Claus hung up, got a few hours of sleep, and returned the next morning, Monday, to the logging road and relieved Taylor. A light rain continued to fall, and in the quiet of his Expedition, Claus reflected on the case and what he knew about the Waterman family. He toyed with the possibility that a stranger murdered Lauri--somebody who had drifted onto the island looking for work or was trying to get away from another life and somehow decided to commit murder, perhaps as part of a burglary or sexual assault. But this was a quiet time on the island. The seasonal workers on the fishing boats had long since left with the last days of summer, and few outsiders had arrived. One ferry came to Hollis from Ketchikan each day, and one ferry left. A handful of tiny floatplanes shuttled a few passengers.
The more likely and unsettling possibility was that the killer was somebody known to both Lauri and people on the island.
Police work on Prince of Wales Island offered its own unusual circumstances and challenges, but Claus knew that murder was murder anywhere. First rule of thumb: ties between victim and assailant usually were close. When looking for a killer, start close and move outward. The husband, in this case Doc Waterman, would normally be the first suspect, but he had an alibi: he had been 220 miles away in Juneau when his wife was killed. The next closest people to Lauri were her children, both also gone, Geoffrey in college in Washington State, Rachelle in Anchorage playing volleyball.
That left Claus wondering who on the island would want Lauri Waterman dead. The concept defied reason. While people respected Doc, they adored Lauri. Warm, selfless, giving, she volunteered for every cause and had devoted her life to her children, coaching their sports teams, serving on school committees, leading Rachelle's Girl Scout troop.
But Claus, as a friend and trooper, knew things that others didn't, and in the quiet of his Expedition, he began plottingwhat would be the road map for the investigation of Lauri Waterman's death. Before it was over, the case would send shock waves through the close-knit island community, shattering illusions, confirming private suspicions, and leaving Claus disillusioned. He would retire early from the Alaska State Troopers, a job he had always enjoyed and found fulfilling. "This," he recalled later, "is the case that took all the fun out of law enforcement."
While Bob Claus stood watch at the crime scene, James Donald See began his week by working Monday morning traffic patrol at Craig High School. Stationed at the car drop-off area in the driveway, See made sure harried and distracted parents didn't collide with one another while fumbling with backpacks and heavy jackets. That Jim See was the chief of police spoke to the nature of the town and the size of its police department--three officers and a sergeant under See--and the personal touch residents could expect from their sworn officers. See's second in command, Sergeant Mark Habib, had the same duties at the nearby middle school Tuesdays through Fridays. Chief See was known around town as Jim, and Sergeant Habib as Mark. It wasn't unusual for them to give somebody a ride or chew the fat at the town hub, the post office. It also spoke to the safety and security of living in Craig. Residents kept their doors unlocked and felt safe walking after dark. After morning drop-off, See would stroll the halls, saying hello to students and staff and listening to people's concerns.
After school duty, See went to a coffee shop in Craig for a morning pick-me-up and the latest gossip. It was here, over a cup of coffee, that See first heard that a burned-out van with a body inside had been found off the road to Thorne Bay. Somebody had apparently picked up the report over a police scanner Sunday and by Monday morning word had spread across the island. Chief See had had the weekend off and nobody had told him about it.
He went to the police station, up the hill from the coffeeshop, and checked the weekend logbook, which confirmed that his friend Bob Claus at the trooper post in Klawock had called in that he was investigating an apparent homicide. The logbook also reflected that Doc Waterman had reported the disappearance of his wife and her minivan. Chief See had known the Watermans casually for years. He'd speak to Doc at the bank or post office and would see Lauri around the ball field at the high school. He knew they had a highschool-age daughter and a son in college, by all accounts good kids who had never had a brush with the Craig Police Department.
See called Habib at home--the sergeant normally had Mondays off--to tell him to be prepared to come in for work. Habib had not heard about Lauri's disappearance either. He, too, knew the Watermans; Doc had been the seller's agent on the house Habib and his wife purchased. Chief See wanted to coordinate efforts with the state police as soon as possible. It was only a matter of time before the town connected the burning van rumors with Lauri Waterman's disappearance, then the heat would be on the police department. See wanted to know more than the customers at the coffee shop.
At about the same time that Chief See went to the coffee shop, a small float plane was buzzing through cloudy skies over Prince of Wales Island, headed toward a flare sent up by Trooper Bob Claus. Three men from Anchorage were aboard, among them Deputy Fire Marshal John Bond, who snapped photos of the blackened wreckage clinging to the logging road etched into the side of the mountain. Next to him sat crime scene technician Dale Bivens and trooper homicide investigator Sergeant Randy McPherron.
After Bob Claus had called his supervisor for help on Sunday, a trooper commander contacted McPherron with orders to get to Prince of Wales Island to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding the discovery of remains in a burned vehicle. McPherron paged the on-call crime scene tech, Bivens, who was at a birthday party, and then called Bond's supervisor. The men were told to packtheir bags for what could be a week or more in southeastern Alaska. Within hours they flew to Juneau, where they spent the night, then caught a morning flight to Ketchikan with a floatplane connection to Prince of Wales Island.
They landed forty-five minutes later in the bay of Hollis. With the weather worsening, Bond recommended they fly over the area to get photographs. From the ground Claus saw the plane pass by a couple of times and to help them locate the wreckage he sent up the flare. After Bond got his aerial photos of the scene, the plane landed off a logging and fishing town of six hundred people called Thorne Bay, sixty miles from Hollis, and they met a village public safety officer, peace officers who handle minor crimes and assist state troopers. The VPSO drove them west from Thorne Bay to Forest Service Road 3012, where Bob Claus waited. It was now ten a.m. and growing colder and wetter. The temperature had dipped to just above freezing with a light drizzle.
After the men exchanged greetings, Claus briefed them: The van with the remains inside was discovered by a hunter, and several hours later Craig resident Doc Waterman reported his wife and her van missing. The body was too badly charred to make identification, and the license plate and VIN tags also were gone.
Claus passed the leadership of the investigation to Sergeant McPherron, the ranking investigator.
Claus had never worked with McPherron but knew his reputation, which was already legendary in Alaska. Tall and built like a linebacker, McPherron was a former army infantry officer with the 82nd Airborne Division, based in North Carolina's Fort Bragg. In 1984 he moved to Alaska where he took odd jobs until entering the Trooper Academy. Like all fresh graduates, he rotated among posts: Anchorage, Kodiak, Ketchikan, Palmer, and finally Anchorage again. But rather than remain in an outpost and become a generalist like Claus, McPherron became a specialist--and a rising star--in the department. He worked his way up to a major case detective, investigating sexual assaults, sexual abuse of children, and homicides. For the last three years he supervised a unitat the Alaska Bureau of Investigation and had investigated about thirty homicides, eight of them as lead detective.
McPherron built a national reputation with his work on the case of Robert Meyer, a businessman from Juneau who told authorities in 1996 that his wife and teenage daughter had been washed overboard when their fishing boat caught on fire. McPherron found that Meyer had in fact murdered them for the insurance money and so he could be with his mistress. The case made headlines outside of Alaska and became the subject of Court TV documentary called Fire and Ice. People started calling McPherron the Columbo of Alaska, though any similarities ended with their shared knack for solving whodunnits. Unlike the sloppy, absentminded TV detective, McPherron operated with military precision and a calm relentlessness.
Claus drove the three men in the Expedition up the steep, bumpy gravel road to within a dozen yards of the wreckage. As they walked toward the van, Bond snapped 35mm and digital photos and crime scene tech Dale Bivens scoured the area, collecting a cigarette butt, sandwich bag, gum wrapper and paper, paint chips, Coke bottle, and car parts that had apparently been knocked off the van on the way up the mountain. Claus stood by, driving back and forth to the highway to make phone calls and would serve as liaison between the out-of-town investigators and both the local police and the villagers.
The task of processing the scene fell to Bond. With more than twenty years experience working for volunteer fire departments, he had joined the fire marshal's office five years earlier, inspecting buildings, reviewing architectural plans and investigating fires--fifty-five to this point. Bond walked around the van checking out the burn patterns. The fire had melted the tires down to their steel belts and vaporized the twenty-gallon plastic gas tank. It burned so hot that the nitrogen-filled pistons that operated the back hatch exploded.
From the tangled and blackened mass Bond could reconstruct what had happened. The blaze had started inside inthe backseat area, the damage more extensive in the rear than in the front. For the most part the flames remained inside the confines of the van, with minimal charring to the log under the vehicle and the smaller shrubs on the surrounding hillside. The back hatch had been open at the time of the fire, evidenced by the back-window glass shards left on the roof of the van instead of on the ground.
After taking more photos and making additional notes, Bond looked through the blown-out window into the backseat. All that was left of the body was the thorax, the pelvic girdle, and the large leg bones--the femurs--above the knees. The smaller leg bones and the tiny bones of the feet had burned and broken apart, some scattered amid the ash. Only the large bones of the arm remained, with nothing visible below the elbows. The skull was there but appeared brittle due to the high temperature of the fire, followed by the rapid cooling from the near-freezing temperatures. Several teeth lay in the ashes.
When Bond completed his survey of the wreckage, the remains were removed and placed inside a white body bag liner. Alaska Fish and Game trooper Glenn Taylor carted the bag away on a litter and arranged for them to be shipped overnight to the coroner's office in Anchorage for autopsy. As Taylor did this, Bond caught the odor of gasoline. His nose took led him to spots on the ground, where he collected rock and soil samples to be sent to the crime lab.
As Bond inspected the truck, McPherron poked around the wreckage looking for a VIN tag. He finally found it: the tag had fallen into the engine compartment after the dashboard melted. Claus called the Craig dispatcher to run a DMV check on the number and got confirmation on the ownership of the van. It was now about one p.m., the rain getting heavier. A tow truck hauled the van to a Department of Transportation garage in Klawock while Claus called his supervisor to relay a message to Craig police chief Jim See. The van was registered to Carl and Lauri Waterman of Ocean View Road.
Chief See said he would inform Doc Waterman. "I feltthat he needed to hear it from me," See recalled later at trial. "It was all over town. I felt it was my duty to make a notification."
Sergeant Mark Habib had two tasks. The first was calming the nerves of island residents who feared a homicidal maniac was on the loose.
Habib hailed from hot and dry Texas but fell in love with Alaska and its outdoor sports when he was stationed in the state for the military. An avid fly fisherman, Habib keeps a rod in his office. He began his law enforcement career as a reserve officer in Anchorage before working full-time in Whittier, Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, then moving to Craig in 1993 as a patrol officer. Promoted to sergeant, he supervised patrol cops, handled investigations, and oversaw the dispatch center and the jail. Gregarious like his boss Jim See, Sergeant Habib goes by his first name around town and knows virtually everybody in Craig--and knew that this morning they were on the brink of panic.
He started the day at the middle school where Lauri worked and tried to sort fact from rumor. "There was a lot of concern by teachers. They wanted some answers," he later said. "I told them at this point in time we could not confirm if the body was Lauri Waterman's. We were investigating."
Next, Habib interviewed Lauri's friends and coworkers, including those who had been with her the night before the van was found. On Saturday night Lauri arrived solo at the Craig Community Association building for the chamber of commerce dinner, telling people her husband and daughter were both out of town. She appeared as she always did, upbeat, energetic, happy to lend a hand even though she wasn't a member of the chamber. This was a big night for the chamber--there would be guest speakers, awards and speeches for distinguished citizens and volunteers, a raffle with prizes donated by local merchants--and Lauri came dressed in business casual: a colorful tropical print skirt, black sweater top, black nylons, and black shoes.
Janice Bush, who ran a contracting company operatedout of her home in Klawock, organized the event and welcomed Lauri's assistance. Janice and Lauri had long been friends; they attended the same church and both had school-age children. Lauri had called Janice earlier in the week asking if she needed help. Janice eagerly took her up on the offer.
"It wasn't something I asked her to do," said Bush. "She was home and didn't have anything else to do and helped us clean up afterwards." They spent five hours together on Friday, talking about their children as they ran around Craig picking up plates, dishes, and decorations. Janice's children also were involved in sports, and Lauri said that her daughter Rachelle was in Anchorage for a big high school volleyball tournament. Rachelle's team had lost its first game.
"We talked about how difficult it is to be away from your kids and not be able to keep in contact with them," Bush recalled. "We discussed cell phones. She said Doc was in Juneau that weekend. He was hoping to look at getting cell phones for the family so that when Rachelle was traveling she would have a cell phone so they could find out more quickly what the status of the activity was."
On Saturday, Lauri set up tables and laid out the decorations: 750 little toy bears a woman had loaned for the dinner, the theme of which was "Welcome to Bear Country." The no-host cocktail hour started at six p.m. and dinner began at seven p.m. "Lauri was able to relax at her table and just be able to visit with people at table throughout evening," said Janice.
Janice didn't see much of Lauri during the dinner, since she was scrambling to keep things running smoothly. The emcee couldn't make it because of bad weather, so they used a stand-in, "which meant I had to be at her side leading her through an unfamiliar program," Janice later said. The raffle went without a hitch, and Lauri won a fleece jacket from First Bank. A friend of Janice's took photos of the event, and several captured Lauri in her element, mingling with friends and picking up her First Bank jacket from Janice Bush.
After the banquet finished at about nine p.m., a halfdozen people stayed to take down tables put away the chairs. Among them was Lauri, who as always was one of the last to leave. By ten p.m. Janice turned off the lights and headed out with Lauri. The last thing Lauri said to Janice was to ask if she needed help the next morning. Janice said chamber volunteers already planned to return at eight a.m. Sunday to return the little bears.
"I asked her if she was going to church," recalled Janice. "She said yeah. I said I'll see you there." Church meant more volunteer work and more committees. Janice and Lauri were raising money for World Youth Day, a Catholic celebration of faith started by Pope John Paul II. Lauri's daughter had planned to travel to Germany for the event the next summer.
Janice watched Lauri drive into the night in her purple minivan. It was the last time she would ever see her.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael Fleeman.
Posted January 14, 2012
Posted January 1, 2013
This book got off to a great start but wandered a bit towards the end. I liked that it started right in with the investigation, and that the author avoided the chapters of boring family backstory that fill up space in so many true crime books. The courtroom twist at the end was unexpected. I wish we had heard from the brother. He is mentioned but then largely ignored, although he must have been involved. Overall this was one of the better true crime books.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.