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Louis D. HASTINGS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Shooting spree
Number of victims: 6
Date of murders: March 1, 1983
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1944
Victims profile: Men and women
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Glenallen, Alaska, USA
Status: Sentenced to 634 years in prison on July 27, 1984
 
 
 
 
 
 

An unemployed computer programmer went on a shooting spree in a Alaskan village, killing six of its 22 residents.

Was sentenced to 634 years in jail.

  


 

6 slain in shootings in a remote alaskan village

The Boston Globe

March 3, 1983

GLENNALLEN, Alaska - Six of a remote village's 22 residents were slain Tuesday in a shooting rampage, authorities said yesterday. An unemployed computer programmer has been charged in the slayings.

In custody in Anchorage, charged with six counts of first-degree murder, was 39-year-old Louis D. Hastings. He was being held yesterday in lieu of $300,000 bond. Authorities said they had no clue as to what prompted the shootings.

 
 

He told me I was a dead man, shooting survivor tells officers

The Miami Herald

March 4, 1983

One of two wounded survivors of a shooting rampage in which six people died says the killer suddenly opened fire on him as the two were having coffee and told him, "Look, you're already dead ... just quit fighting."

Three bodies were found near an airstrip and the others in a private residence in the remote Wrangell Mountain town, which has about 20 summer residents and about half that many in the winter.

 
 

Slayings of six stagger a proud alaskan outpost

The Philadelphia Enquirer

March 9, 1983

Each Tuesday about two dozen people spending the winter in and around this remote eastern Alaska community, a virtual ghost town since the Depression, come together at the airstrip near the Kennicott Glacier to meet the mail plane.

"Around here, there are so few of us that we know each other by our boot tracks," Nancy Gibert, a McCarthy resident, said. "You walk out for water, and you say, 'Hey, so and so's been by on the path.' "

 
 

Alaskan indicted in six slayings

The Miami Herald

March 16, 1983

A grand jury has indicted a freelance computer programmer for murder in the deaths of six people in a shooting spree in the remote mining town of McCarthy in the Wrangell Mountains of eastern Alaska.

Louis D. Hastings, found blood-smeared and wounded outside the 20- person town after the March 1 shootings, was indicted on six counts of attempted murder.

 
 

No-contest plea in six slayings

The Philadelphia Enquirer

December 7, 1993

A computer programmer has entered a plea of no contest to charges that he killed six people and wounded two others last spring in the nearly abandoned mining town of McCarthy.

Louis Hastings, 39, who entered the plea Monday, could receive up to 99 years in prison on each murder count and 20 years on each of two counts of attempted murder.

 
 

Alaskan gets 634 years; wiped out half of village

Philadelphia Daily News

July 28, 1984

A computer programmer who methodically hunted down six people and killed them in a remote village last year was sentenced yesterday to 634 years in jail, one of the longest prison terms in Alaska history.

Louis Hastings, now 40, earlier pleaded no contest to the March 1, 1983, ambush-style slayings that claimed the lives of roughly half the year-round population of McCarthy.

 
 

6 killed in Alaska in shooting spree

Unemployed Man Is Charged in Slayings at a Snowbound Town With 22 Residents

March 2, 1983

McCARTHY, Alaska - An unemployed computer programmer has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths Tuesday of six of the 22 residents of this snowbound back-country village.

Louis D. Hastings, 39 years old, was also charged with one count of assault in the first degree at his arraignment today in Anchorage. Mr. Hastings, who was being held in $300,000 bond, did not enter a plea. The authorities said they had no clue as to what prompted the shootings.

Christopher Richards, one of the injured survivors, told the police he vividly remembered the words of the man who shot him: "'look you're already dead. If you'll just quit fighting, I'll make it easy for you.'"

Instead, the 29-year-old Mr. Richards said, he grabbed a knife, slashed his assailant and fled in his stocking feet into the snow.

Safety 100 Miles Away

He was picked up by a neighbor on a snowmobile and taken to an airstrip in this old mining community in the Wrangell Mountains 225 miles east of Anchorage. McCarthy is inaccessible by road in the winter and has no telephone service.

A private pilot flew Mr. Richards 100 miles north-west to Glennallen, where the state troopers were told of the shootings. Officers flew to here and arrested Mr. Hastings, who was on a snowmobile 20 miles from McCarthy. They said he had offered no resistance but declined to say whether he was armed.

Mr. Hastings was treated at Faith Hospital in Glennallen for cuts, which Trooper Ken Lewis said appeared to be knife wounds.

Mr. Hastings told a magistrate he had been living in a house he owns near McCarthy for eight months. State troopers said he apparently was last employed three years ago in California.

State troopers, who declined to identify the dead, today began preparing to remove the victims. Three bodies were alongside a snow-covered airstrip on a bluff overlooking McCarthy.

Three of the dead lay under a bright orange tarpaulin about 50 yards outside a house where they were found.

"There was a lot of shooting that went on inside that house," said Capt. Jim Landsberry. "There were a lot of bullets sprayed around."

Woman Was Also Injured

Donna Byram, 32 years old, was injured along with Mr. Richards, but the authorities would not allow her to be interviewed.

From his hospital bed, Mr. Richards said that the gunman had shot him "completely out of the blue." He described how the attack occurred after he invited the gunman into his cabin for a cup of coffee.

As he reached for a cup, Mr. Richards said, he felt something hit him near the right eye and realized he had been shot. Another bullet hit him in the neck, he said, and then he heard the man tell him not to fight.

At one time, McCarthy was home to 1,00 people. Gold was the discovered in the area at the turn of the century, and until 1938 the Kennecott Copper Company operated a mine about six miles from the village.

 
 

The End of the Road

By Kevin Coughlin

Influx.uoregon.edu

The dogs of McCarthy, Alaska, roam the dirt and gravel streets untethered. There are no leash laws here and no police within a hundred miles to enforce them even if there was. A loose affiliation of about a dozen mutts, they respect each others’ territories and dispositions, often frolic when they gather, and rarely scrap.

When the dogs stray, they stray north, toward Kennicott, or up the hill east, toward the dozen or so cabins scattered through the woods between McCarthy and its gravel airstrip. Only McCarthy’s natural boundaries limit their movement. McCarthy Creek borders town to the south and flows into the Kennicott River, the town’s western margin. To the east and north lie thousands of square miles of mountains, glaciers, and river valleys. Before the summer of 1997, the Kennicott was traversable only by hand trams and afterward only by footbridges.

Tourists sometimes bring city dogs not used to this freedom. And, occasionally, one of these well-groomed pets will loudly tangle with one or more of McCarthy’s pack, which usually rallies to repel the Outsider. The tourist dogs don’t stay long anyway.

On March 1, 1983, Louis Hastings attempted to murder McCarthy, Alaska. By 2 P.M. that day, six of McCarthy’s dozen or so year-round residents lied dead while two more were wounded--one cowered outside a greenhouse, tightly clutching her upper right arm to stem the flow of blood, while stifling the sound of her panicked breathing; the other had been flown by a neighbor to Glennallen, a town one hundred miles northwest and home of the nearest hospital, to receive treatment for gunshot wounds to his face and head.

The thirty-nine-year-old Hastings was headed west on the lone road connecting McCarthy to the outside world. He rode a snowmobile taken from one of his victims. Each of the dead had received multiple gunshot wounds, including at least one single wound to the head.

After killing McCarthy’s residents, Hastings planned to sabotage the Alaska pipeline. The plot began to unravel, however, after Hastings’s nearest neighbor survived two shots to his head and escaped to warn others.

The previous night, Hastings had played a board game with Chris Richards in Kennicott, a town of four about five miles north of McCarthy. Hastings won. During the course of conversation, Richards mentioned that a couple of McCarthy’s residents were away on a skiing trip. Hastings seemed disappointed. Richards also warned Hastings about cutting firewood from dead trees on land that had been subdivided recently and thus might be off-limits to such activity.

"He seemed to appreciate the fact that I was concerned about him," Richards said in a 1983 newspaper interview.

The next morning, at about 8:30, he saw Hastings approach the front of his home from the south side. Richards thought Hastings--large, soft-spoken, balding, and bespectacled with an unkempt red beard--was stopping by on his way to pick up the mail. Richards pushed the outside door ajar and invited Hastings in for coffee. Hastings set down a heavy backpack and, before entering, took a deep breath. Richards turned his back to the door and faced the stove to continue preparing breakfast. Then he began to turn his head to greet Hastings.

The land surrounding McCarthy and Kennicott is severe and unforgiving. Temperatures can fluctuate from 50 degrees below zero in winter to 90 degrees in the summer. Annual snowfall averages 52 inches. Almost 230 miles east of Anchorage, McCarthy and Kennicott are located in the middle of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Established in December of 1980, Wrangell-St. Elias encompasses an area roughly the size of West Virginia and six times the size of Yellowstone. Four major mountain ranges converge in the park and nine of the sixteen tallest peaks in the U.S. rising from within the park’s boundaries. Unlike most national parks, the land along the McCarthy Road and along the road from McCarthy to Kennicott is a checkerboard of private and public lands. More than a million acres within the park’s boundaries are still privately owned.

Near the turn of the twentieth century, in the ridges above Kennicott, prospectors discovered the richest concentration of copper ore ever unearthed. This prompted the creation of Kennicott, a blue-collar, company town, and then McCarthy, its red-light sister. But by the 1930s, most of the ore had been depleted and copper prices had plummeted. The mines closed, as did their company town. The abandonment of McCarthy soon followed that of Kennicott and the two wilderness centers of industry became ghost towns. The railroad that transported the ore to a port nearly two hundred miles away fell into disrepair, and the rail bed eventually became McCarthy Road.

McCarthy Road begins where the pavement ends, just outside of Chitina, sixty-one miles to the west. In 1983, the road was covered with gravel and often scarred by washouts and washboard ruts. Railroad ties and spikes occasionally resurfaced and shredded the tires of unsuspecting motorists.

Ten years earlier, floodwaters had washed out the bridge at the east end of the road where it crossed the Kennicott River into McCarthy. The local inhabitants resisted state department of transportation efforts to build even a footbridge to span the Kennicott. As a result, the only land route into McCarthy in 1983 was to cross by means of a hand-powered tram.

Hastings had worked as a computer programmer at Stanford University in the late 1970s. He and his wife left California for Alaska in 1980, initially moving into a duplex in east Anchorage, where he operated a computer services company out of their home. In the summer of 1982, about eight months before the murders, Hastings and his wife bought a vacation home in Kennicott. By the winter of 1982, both Hastings’s business and his marriage were failing. He began to spend more and more time alone at the Kennicott cabin, while his wife remained in Anchorage. In Kennicott, Hastings began refining an attack he had been planning for nearly a year.

Hastings had fled the overdevelopment of California for the wilderness of Alaska. Instead he found the state in the throes of development, largely due to the opening of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, which winds from Prudhoe Bay south to the port of Valdez on Prince William Sound. The eight hundred mile pipeline cost $8 billion to build, renewed the natural resource economy in Alaska, and now is responsible for transporting 25 percent of the total U.S. oil production.

When he lived in California, Hastings had once volunteered to clean oil-soaked birds following an offshore oil spill. Shortly after he arrived in Alaska, he began to target the pipeline. According to one psychiatric report, Hastings "was disturbed by the population growth and influx of money into the state and determined that the best way to interrupt this was to destroy the pipeline and thus cut off Alaska’s wealth and consequent growth." Destruction of the pipeline would be the end to his McCarthy rampage.

It would begin when the weekly mail plane arrived. Hastings would kill anyone who showed up at the Heglands’ place--and most of McCarthy’s residents usually did. With most of the residents eliminated, Hastings would hijack the mail plane and kill the pilot. He then planned to land the plane near the pipeline at a pump station about eighty miles west of McCarthy and rig the plane to take off again with no one at the controls. At that point, Hastings would commandeer a fuel truck and ram the pipeline while shooting at it. He theorized that the cold winter weather would congeal the oil in the broken pipeline, thus minimizing environmentally damaging spillage while disrupting the oil flow. The fuel truck would burst into flames, charring his body beyond recognition.

Hastings thought that because the entire town would be dead and his body would be unrecognizable, he could destroy the pipeline and commit suicide without revealing to his family that he had been a murderer and a suicide. Officials would believe he had died, along with the rest of Kennicott and McCarthy, at the hands of an unknown killer.

In a 1997 interview, the prosecutor in the Hastings case described Hastings as "a very bright guy, a nerdy academic whose wig is on probably a little too tight...There are a lot of parallels to this guy [admitted Unabomber Theodore] Kaczynski."

"If you really distill it down...Mr. Hastings thought he was going to be the savior of the Alaska wilderness," Hastings’s public defender said at Hastings’s psychiatric hearings.

Although Kennicott’s 1983 population was in single figures, about two dozen people lived year-round within a 50-mile radius of neighboring McCarthy. Maxine Edwards, fifty-two, and her husband Jim, also fifty-two, homesteaded in a house they built on the west side of the Kennicott River in 1953. Called "Maxine the Diligent" by a friend, Edwards was described in 1983 as "a hard-working woman who could operate a bulldozer by afternoon and serve dinner on linen and crystal at night."

On March 1, 1983, Maxine Edwards crossed the frozen Kennicott River to visit the Heglands, pulling a small plastic sled behind her. They lived less than one hundred yards from the west end of the McCarthy airstrip amid a spruce forest on a bluff overlooking McCarthy. The Edwards were going to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary in two weeks.

Les, sixty-four, and Flo Hegland, fifty-eight, had lived in Alaska for twenty-seven years. In 1967, they moved to McCarthy, where they built an addition on their front porch and always left it unlocked so that groceries delivered by the weekly mail plane would not freeze and their neighbors could come by any time to pick them up. Locals considered the Heglands to be McCarthy’s unofficial postmasters.

The Heglands also made daily weather observations using a small meteorological site at their home. They radioed this information to the Federal Aviation Administration’s flight service station in Cordova, Alaska. The Heglands’ two-way radio was the only one in McCarthy powerful enough to contact the world outside of Wrangell-St. Elias. Without it, McCarthy was totally cut off from the outside world.

Tim, thirty-eight, and Amy Nash, twenty-five, had been married Outside, the Alaskan term for anywhere outside of Alaska, during Christmas of 1982 and returned to Tim’s nearly completed log cabin in McCarthy on Valentine’s Day of 1983--only two weeks before March 1. A friend in McCarthy gave them a quarter of a moose and a mincemeat pie with a heart carved in it to celebrate the occasion. Tim, who had lived in McCarthy for seven years, worked construction in Glennallen and, following a divorce, had been living alone in the cabin he had been building with hand tools. He met Amy in the summer of 1982 when Amy ventured to McCarthy as a tourist.

Since 1966, Harley King, sixty-one, and his wife Jo had lived on a homestead fifteen miles west of McCarthy off McCarthy Road. Prior to his retirement, Harley King served as a commercial fisherman out of Cordova, and as a hunting guide. In the 1950s he hunted wolves in a predator-control program alongside another guide, Jay Hammond, who later became governor of Alaska.

On the morning of March 1, 1983, Harley King gave Donna Byram, thirty-two, a ride on his snowmobile, known as a "snowmachine" in Alaska, to the McCarthy airstrip. Byram, who lived off McCarthy Road between the Kings and McCarthy, was planning to fly out on the mail plane. Chris Richards, twenty-nine, who worked summer construction and collected unemployment insurance and food stamps during the winter, was preparing his breakfast using no modern appliances. In 1983, McCarthy had no running water, no telephones, and no electricity except for that produced by individual generators.

McCarthy is not a place where someone stumbles into residency. These pioneers made conscious decisions to live in isolation and under spartan conditions. Yet, despite their fierce independence and self-reliance, the citizens of McCarthy formed close bonds.

And on Tuesdays, these far-flung neighbors would gather at the Heglands’ home to socialize and wait for the weekly plane that delivered their mail. Tuesdays were weekly events, and often the only chance neighbors got to see each other. March 1, 1983, fell on a Tuesday.

As Chris Richards turned away from preparing his breakfast to greet Louis Hastings on the morning of March 1, 1983, he felt something strike his right cheek, something that shattered his glasses. He ducked his head instinctively and then felt something hit the top of his head. He spun around to see Hastings approaching with a rifle. Richards and Hastings began to struggle.

Richards screamed for Hastings to stop. Hastings replied, "Look, you’re already dead. If you’ll just quit fighting I’ll make it easy for you." Richards grabbed a knife from the drain board of his sink and stabbed Hastings once in the upper left chest, slightly wounding him, and once in the right leg. Richards then escaped into waist-deep snow wearing only socks and one slipper, a T-shirt, and light corduroy pants.

He scrambled three-quarters of a mile up a steep hill to a neighbor’s unoccupied cabin. Hastings fired several shots at the fleeing Richards, nicking his right arm. At the cabin, Richards got boots, a parka, and snowshoes. From there he stumbled about one-tenth of a mile southwest to the newlywed Nashes’ cabin, which was situated on the trail connecting Kennicott to McCarthy. At the cabin, as the Nashes attended to his wounds, Richards told them what had happened. The Nashes said that they had seen Hastings heading towards McCarthy twenty minutes earlier. Richards then insisted that they arm themselves and go to the runway to warn the others who were sure to be congregating there for the mail plane.

The Nashes rode a snowmachine, pulling Richards behind in a sled, to the airstrip. At the north end of the airstrip, they met Gary Green, a local pilot and guide who was cleaning snow off one of his planes. Green said that he too had seen Hastings about twenty minutes earlier, heading toward the Heglands’. The Nashes and Green decided that Tim Nash would go check on the Heglands while Green warmed up his plane to fly Richards to Glennallen, about a forty-minute flight away.

After warming up his engine, Green taxied to the end of the runway to load Richards into his plane. Amy Nash then noticed her husband running down the strip approaching them. Green got out of the plane and met Tim Nash on the runway. Tim told Green he had just been to the Heglands’.

There, Tim had smelled a heavy concentration of gunsmoke and saw blood all over the inside of the house. Tim thought that the Heglands were dead and noticed that someone had attempted to clean up the blood in the Heglands’ kitchen. While Tim was standing in the kitchen, he saw Hastings on the back porch. Nash fired a shotgun blast at Hastings that struck a doorjamb and Hastings returned fire, striking Tim in the right leg.

Green and the Nashes decided that the Nashes would remain to warn others away from the airstrip while Green took off with Richards to get help. As Green lifted off, he saw Tim and Amy Nash walking toward each other on the east side of the runway. On his way to Glennallen, with Richards bleeding in his back seat, Green contacted the incoming mail plane that was scheduled to land at 11 a.m. and told the pilot not to land in McCarthy. He then radioed the state police in Glennallen.

In the meantime, Hastings had backtracked toward the airstrip along a dog-sled trail. The trail snaked through dense brush behind a large mound of plowed snow across the runway from the Nashes. Hastings crawled atop the mound and, after Green took off, fired at least ten rounds at the Nashes two hundred fifty yards away. The Nashes fell. Hastings walked to within fifty feet of their prone bodies and fired another two shots. He continued to approach the Nashes and fired two more shots from close range into their heads.

Hastings then dragged the Nashes to the top of the snow bank opposite his sniping location to hide them in deeper snow. At about that time, Harley King and Donna Byram arrived at the north end of the airstrip on King’s snowmachine. Byram saw Hastings walking over the snow bank on the west side of the airstrip and then saw blood in the snow on the east side. She wondered who would be butchering animals on the runway. As they drew abreast of the Nashes’ bodies, Hastings started firing at them. Byram, who was standing on a sled that trailed the snowmachine, saw bullets hit King and the snowmachine. One bullet hit Byram in her upper right arm. King accelerated the snowmachine as more bullets hit it. Traveling south, away from Hastings, King lost control of the snowmachine. His leg had been broken by one of Hastings’s shots. The snowmachine threw King and Byram to the runway near the path that led from the airstrip to the Heglands.

As Byram attempted to load King back on the snowmachine, Hastings approached from one hundred yards away. Byram froze. King told Byram that he couldn’t move and that she should save herself. Byram hurried toward the Heglands. As she entered the spruce woods, she heard Hastings shoot King twice.When Byram got to the Heglands, she noticed that the door had been kicked in. She was afraid to enter, so she hid outside the Heglands’ greenhouse. After killing King, Hastings began to look for Byram. He approached the Heglands’ house, calling out, "One not dead. One not dead." Byram cowered outside the nearby greenhouse, tightly gripping her injured arm. All she heard was Hastings’s bootsteps on the Heglands’ porch and the wind whipping the Visqueen sides of the greenhouse.

Hastings abruptly ended his search for Byram and sped off on the Nashes’ snowmachine. His plan was starting to unravel. Hastings thought the police would respond in a fixed-wing aircraft and that, if he got away from the airstrip, he would be safe. However, the first state troopers to respond left Glennallen in an unmarked helicopter. They saw Hastings heading west on snow-covered McCarthy Road. When the troopers landed, Hastings waved and offered no resistance. He said that he was Chris Richards and that Lou Hastings had "gone berserk" and was "shooting up McCarthy." The troopers knew Richards was already in Glenallen receiving treatment for his wounds. They also had a description of Hastings. Based on the fact that Richards was already in Glennallen receiving treatment for his wounds and based on the description of Hastings that Richards and Green had given them, the troopers arrested Hastings.

They then flew on to McCarthy to search for survivors. At that point Hastings told the troopers: "I’m your man." Outside the greenhouse, the police found Byram. She shared the forty-minute helicopter ride to Glennallen with the police and Hastings. Inside the Heglands’ house the police found Les and Flo Hegland and Maxine Edwards stacked in the bedroom "like cord wood," according to one trooper. They also found several spent cartridges in the kitchen and in the back porch areas. A bloody, fur-covered silencer sat on the nightstand next to the bodies.

"There was a lot of shooting that went on inside that house," said one state trooper in 1983. "There were a lot of bullets sprayed around."

What seemed to surprise locals most wasn’t so much that the murders were committed, but who committed them. Perhaps his lack of conversation distanced Hastings most from his neighbors. Long-time residents are practiced raconteurs, their narrative skills honed from years gathering at the Heglands’ to get their mail and visiting isolated neighbors in the winter, when time is marked simply by firewood cut, books read, and stories told. Other than Hastings’ lack of narrative skills, however, little else about him stood out.

On March 15, a resident who was out of town when the murders occurred filled out a police report. In part it read: "...in the winter my exposure to Hastings was limited to mail days, when most everyone got together, and at the home of Chris Richards, where the three of us would play cards and talk. My general impression from these meetings was that he was quiet and reserved, not going out of his way to socialize and seemed to want to be left alone for the most part. Talking about science and technology, the world situation, the future of Kennicott, I felt he was certainly intelligent and fairly knowledgeable on these topics but disillusioned and down on society in general. He seemed not well prepared in skills or supplies to live out in the Kennicott area and it seemed a bit odd to come and go as he did to and from Anchorage. In general, people are accepted in spite of any differences, by the others in the McCarthy-Kennicott area, and a live and let live attitude seems to prevail, so much of what I mentioned here did not seem unlike things that could be noticed in others living out here."

Loy Green, a McCarthy-area resident since the 1960s, considered Hastings’s clothing "strange." But in a 1997 interview, he recalls a conversation with Gary Green, the local bush pilot unrelated to Loy. The Greens were standing on a McCarthy path when Hastings approached. Loy said, "You know that Lou? He’s kind of strange."

"Well, so are you," Gary answered. "We all are. So what?"

Loy echoes that two-word refrain and amplifies it. "Everyone here is a little strange in their way," Loy says. "So, OK, here’s just another strange guy and he’s not doing anything. He’s anti-social, but we’re not tremendously social anyway. And so we really don’t pay too much attention. So Lou’s strange, so what?"

But then Hastings killed six of Loy Green’s friends and neighbors. At that time, Loy had been up McCarthy Creek at his remote winter cabin. He heard about the murders over his portable radio.

"It wasn’t necessarily a surprise," Green says. "However, [Hastings] wasn’t the one that I thought it probably was." Green doesn’t elaborate.

Jim Miller had left McCarthy a few weeks before the murders. He too first heard about the murders on the radio, while he was driving to work.

"It was a ... I kinda figured it might’ve happened," Miller says. "I dunno. If anybody was going to do it, I figured it might’ve been [Hastings], bein’ a loner anyway. But, at first, it was kind of a shock. ... I suspected three or four different people, but, ..." Miller doesn’t elaborate either.

Given the fact that Hastings wanted to stem Alaskan development, his McCarthy target also seemed to surprise both investigators and townspeople. But, clouded by his depression and urged on by his suicidal tendencies, Hastings lacked clarity and patience. He failed to truly see McCarthy and Alaska and acted on these misconceptions.

If Hastings had been paying attention, he would have seen the irony in killing a town where the residents knew each other by their boot tracks, a town that existed with no electricity, running water, or telephones, to protest what he perceived to be an overindustrialization of Alaska.

"In the name of Alaska, he destroyed part of Alaska and the Alaskan life," Hastings’s prosecutor said in a 1983 newspaper article, calling McCarthy "a place where the spirit of Alaska lives on. The irony is that he comes up from overpopulated California, moves into the midst of such beauty, and then in order to protect the beauty, he singlehandedly wipes out a whole town."

"A nobody came in here and wiped out the pillars of one of the few self-sufficient communities in Alaska," Bonnie Morris said in 1983 as she stood near the body bags of her neighbors. "These people lying around here were not your average people...These are the people who inspired the rest of us when we came here to build a sane, healthy life."

Now, fifteen years later, as McCarthy struggles to control a burgeoning tourist industry, old-time residents still grapple with the effects of the murders. "This ain’t Chicago," Chris Richards says on an August morning in 1997. Richards sits at a picnic table on the porch of McCarthy’s pizza place. "It’s not New York. We’re not anonymous. Even the [neighbors] I don’t necessarily get along with all the time, they’re precious to me. Here, it was a major, devastating impact. If somebody killed fifty percent of New York or Chicago, Christ, they’d declare nuclear war over that. I mean it would mean the end of the world. And the equivalent happened here. It wiped out our elders, or most of ’em. It wiped out half the community"--a community that now finds itself changing despite, or perhaps because of, its remoteness. And old friendships are being tested by new developments.

Al Gagnon joins Jim Miller, owner of the pizza place, and Richards. At sixty-one, Gagnon has spent thirty-three years in the McCarthy area and is one of the few remaining town elders from 1983. "I’m out here at the end of the trail because I’m an outlaw," Gagnon says.

"Al talks about everything--water, sewer, putting in electricity," Miller says with a knowing grin. "Al’s always got forty scams goin’ at once." Gagnon’s latest idea is to drill for "commercial water" on his property in Kennicott. He plans to offer running water and a septic system to Kennicott’s growing number of residents and businesses--including Richards’s home and a site where Miller hopes to move his pizza place.

Miller and Gagnon haggle over what Gagnon will charge for this service. Miller half-jokingly threatens to throw an "outhouse party." Miller’s and Gagnon’s Kennicott properties abut. One corner of Miller’s land falls within a two-hundred-foot radius of Gagnon’s proposed well. Legally, you can’t drill a well within two hundred feet of an "established outhouse." If Gagnon’s price remains unreasonable, Miller will dig an outhouse and invite people over to "establish it." Miller and Gagnon will amicably work out their differences--they always have.

Gagnon points to McCarthy’s natural boundaries and its weather as natural means of security. "The river, in the summertime, keeps you honest," he says. "The snow, in the wintertime, keeps you honest because you can be tracked."

"This is a country where there’s no ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes,’" Gagnon adds. "It’s ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ And there’s no 911 and mom isn’t here and tears don’t do any good. You’re on your own."

"No, we don’t call 911," Richards says. "We call our neighbors...Anybody starts shooting around here, we’re gonna take out the people we don’t know first. We’ll figure out what your problem is later."

Richards has told his story of the murders dozens of times. He considers it therapeutic. He says that, as the years of telling it have slipped by, it becomes easier to tell. He no longer grits his teeth or feels the adrenaline rush. He has regaled dozens of voyeuristic tourists, strangers who look for the scars and ask what it’s like getting shot in the face by your nearest neighbor in a ghost town.

But who Hastings killed, not how many, still pains Richards, who now flies a skull and crossbones outside his cabin. As he recounts his near-death struggle, he maintains his composure and sense of humor. But he breaks down when he thinks of those who were murdered, particularly the Heglands.

"I’ve got nothing but total respect for them," says Richards, his eyes watery. "They’re old-timers. They were all here before I even thought of coming here. They had been there, done that, had a successful homestead, and raised healthy kids. All I could say is good stuff about them. I mean they were the original item as far as people living back here. They were the original pirates, even if they didn’t consider themselves that. None of those people ever had a harsh word to say to me. They were good people. They lived a good life. Shit, we can’t afford to waste ‘em--too precious. [Hastings] got rid of a whole bunch of ‘em all at once right there. And I would think a lot of people remember them and respect them. They were the good people...

That took a major chunk out of this place. It changed the way it will be, no doubt, forever."

Not only did Hastings kill a large portion of the town elders, but he nearly killed the most important day in McCarthy--mail day.

Every Tuesday, the Heglands’ place was where distant neighbors congregated, shared news from Outside, and exchanged gossip over tea and coffee. "See, Tuesday is mail plane day," a trooper who helped arrest Hastings said in a 1997 interview. "You can have Easter, and you can have Thanksgiving, you can have Christmas, but it’s not as important as Tuesday. Everybody meets at the Heglands’ house to visit and get the mail. Mail plane day, I mean you live for that. It’s correspondence. I check my mail box every day. They got [mail] once a week...and made contact."

People in McCarthy still conversationally refer to mail day simply as "mail," like it’s a place or an event. They still say, "I’m going to mail. Do you have anything going out that you want me to take?" But mail is no longer the event that it was when the Heglands hosted it. The townspeople now gather on the gravel airstrip outside a small mail shack. Since the shack is a simple wooden structure about ten feet by ten feet, neighbors now quickly sort the mail, then mill about on the airstrip. In the summer, some work their way down to McCarthy, a mile away, to congregate at Miller’s pizza place.

From Miller’s porch, Richards recalls how it used to be. "We’d sit around, have tea and cookies. It was, you know, the big social event of the week. And everybody from miles around that could get there would usually get there and swap bullshit and get their mail and leave. It was a good time. I miss it. It’s not the same anymore, not the same at all ..."

The survivors of Hastings’s rampage continue to be nagged by hindsight.

Almost all of them can remember something that they now feel should have clued them in to Hastings’s murderous intentions.

Loy Green, who no longer greets the mail plane, thinks back on the times that he made what he thought were benign comments, only to have Hastings glower at him, his lip twitching. "So after he did his number," Green says, "I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my God. I saw something in that man. I definitely saw something.’ But I wrote it off as just ‘So what?’

"And right then I said to myself, ‘OK, if I ever see that in another person’s eyes, I’m not going to stand idle. Period.’ I am not going to say, ‘Oh, well, blah, blah, blah.’ No, I am going to do something. I don’t know what, but something."

A few years later, a couple of young fundamentalist Christians had temporarily moved to McCarthy and were hoping to make their stay permanent. Green engaged one in religious debate. "I saw the same look," Green says, "the same lip curl, and he walked away."

Green reported this to the proprietor of the McCarthy Lodge who had been helping the two men get started. When he heard Green’s story, he said, "OK, those guys are out of here. No support, no land."

Chris Richards carried a handgun around in his back pocket for eight years after the murders. The only time he didn’t have it on him was when he slept. "It wasn’t like I was afraid for myself," Richards says. "It was, more or less, I owe this to my neighbors. I can’t lose any more of my friends and neighbors, even the ones that I don’t like. They’re my neighbors. Excuse me, I don’t need any other assholes comin’ around and shootin’ ‘em. They’re precious to me. I think of ‘em more as a big tribe of people. Most of us live here because we love this place and we have that much in common."

For weeks, McCarthy’s survivors devoted nearly every conversation to the murders and, at least indirectly, how to redefine their community. And for weeks, they nearly sleepwalked among daily reminders of the murders--blood stains soaked deep into the snow. Impromptu meetings were held. Options were considered. One person said, "We can’t trust anybody that comes in here anymore." Another countered, "Wait a minute. If we do that, in a larger sense, Lou’s the winner."

Loy Green said, "If we don’t trust anybody, if everybody who comes in is a suspect, then we are putting out negative energy and we’re creating a suspicious atmosphere and then we can’t expect to have people here. Better if we open our arms now to everybody—aaah, but have a little caution."

The old trams became the natural focus. Their cables sagged dangerously close to the Kennicott River and they were difficult to use. Locals had begun to plan for new trams prior to the murders, because they feared the state would build an automotive bridge that would threaten McCarthy’s isolation.

At that time Loy Green said, "If you could drive to McCarthy, it wouldn’t be here."

After Hastings’s murders, however, the trams took on a new meaning, and a heightened sense of urgency. The community got together and secured $90,000 from the state. Residents cut logs for support towers and salvaged unused cable from the mines. Because of their lives on the Alaskan frontier, all were handy with tools. Jim Edwards, Maxine’s widower, designed the tram cars. A state-hired foreman quit, because no one would follow his orders. Within two summer months, the new trams were completed.

"We felt like a community that had accomplished something and was together," Green says. "That was a healing catharsis. You bet it was."

But the new trams helped slowly increase tourist traffic. Then, in 1997, the state built a pair of multi-million-dollar footbridges in preparation for a surge in tourism. In the last decade, several businesses have opened — Miller’s pizza place, two air services, two guide services, a coffee shop, and an upscale lodge to name a few. With this increased development, political and business bickering has increased among long-time neighbors. Louis Hastings, who is currently serving a 594-year sentence at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, wouldn’t recognize the town he tried to kill en route to stalling Alaskan development. While local differences seem to occur more often than in 1983, none resonate like the murders. Old-timers simply remind themselves of March 1, 1983, for a dose of perspective.

And while the dogs of McCarthy don’t have to contend with tourist vehicles yet, they still consider the increasingly numerous visitors with wary eyes.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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