FAIRBANKS — One of the perks of retiring as an Alaska State Trooper, at least if you’re male, is you can finally grow a beard.
But it’s not a perk Lt. Lantz Dahlke will get to enjoy after pulling the plug on a 27-year career with troopers.
That’s because Dahlke, who officially retired on June 15, will still work for troopers on a contractual basis as a member of the Department of Public Safety’s cold case homicide unit in Fairbanks.
“I don’t have to wear a uniform, but I still have to shave, which is a bummer,” said Dahlke, who sports a bushy mustache that gives him an almost walrus-like look. “I’ve never been able to grow a beard; I’ve been in uniform pretty much since I was 18.
“I never had the opportunity to grow it out,” he said.
Of course, now that he’s 57, Dahlke isn’t so sure he would want to.
“It would be gray at this point anyway,” he said with a laugh.
Dahlke has been wearing a uniform almost since the day he turned 18.
That’s how old he was when he joined the Army fresh out of high school in 1975. He was 19 by the time he was shipped to Alaska, where he served as a game warden at Fort Greely near Delta Junction for four years and fell in love with Alaska almost instantly.
Raised in Minnesota’s farming country, Dahlke always had an interest in wildlife. He grew up hunting, trapping and fishing.
“When I got here, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere for the rest of my life,” said Dahlke, who started trapping as soon as he got here and hasn’t stopped since. “It was like I went to a bigger, wilder home.”
Walking into Dahlke’s office at trooper headquarters in Fairbanks, it’s evident he’s an avid outdoorsman. Tanned wolf and bear hides from animals he killed hang on the wall. There is a king salmon mounted over a couch with a bear skin rug draped over the back. Two big sets of caribou antlers adorn the wall, one of them behind his desk.
As a young game warden at Fort Greely, Dahlke said he got to know all the troopers, many of whom encouraged him to pursue a career as a wildlife trooper when he got out of the Army.
“That was my goal and objective, to become a wildlife trooper,” Dahlke said. “It just took me a little longer than I expected.”
Once out of the Army, Dahlke slowly began climbing Alaska’s law enforcement ladder. He spent the next 6 1/2 years as a security guard on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and worked a brief stint as a North Pole police officer before joining the Alaska State Troopers in 1986.
During his 27-year tenure with troopers, Dahlke did a little bit of everything. He served two years as a patrol officer and one year on the burglary/gangs unit before joining the investigations unit in 1990, where he was involved in several high-profile homicides.
There was Cara Zastrow, the young West Valley High student who was abducted by two male acquaintances from the Bentley Mall and murdered in 1990.
There was Elfriede Linton, poisoned by her husband, Lance, in 1982, who then buried her body off the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks. Linton remarried and moved his family to the spot where he buried the body. Her skull was found behind Linton’s cabin in 1990, and he was convicted of murder in 1992.
There was Mandy Lamaire, an 11-year-old who was abducted and murdered in Glennallen in 1991.
There was Agnes Wright, the Ruby postmistress who was murdered in 1996 by a man who faked his own death in a canoe accident on the Takotna River and then hiked to Ruby and killed Wright.
There was Patty Hyslop, the Native women’s advocate from Tanana, who was killed by her boyfriend in a domestic violence homicide in 1995.
Perhaps Dahlke’s most memorable homicide case was the murder of Alaska Independence Party founder and Alaska icon Joe Vogler in 1993. Vogler was shot by Manfried “Freddy” West on Memorial Day weekend, but troopers did not catch West until about a year later when they staked out a cabin on Farmers Loop they suspected West was holed up in.
“We had an old motorhome and we pretended it broke down in front of the cabin,” Dahlke said. “The driver got out and hitchhiked away and I laid in the motorhome and watched the cabin. That’s how we found him.”
Troopers arrested West in the cabin after he survived a spectacular fire he set himself. Vogler’s body was found later that fall after West told a jailhouse snitch what happened.
“Joe Vogler was a huge case,” Dahlke said.
Dahlke still remembers the dates of most of the murders he worked, just like he remembers the serial numbers of all the weapons he was issued over his 27 years, as well as his first pair of handcuffs.
“I can remember all those dates and numbers, but I’ll forget peoples’ names,” Dahlke said with a laugh.
For the past six years, Dahlke served as commander of the Fairbanks detachment of Alaska Wildlife Troopers. After more than 20 years as a trooper, Dahlke finally achieved his goal of being a wildlife trooper.
“For me, this has been a great way to finish up my career,” he said.
As a cold case homicide investigator, Dahlke said he will “try to scratch a scab off and get some fresh blood” in unsolved cases.
“In a lot of cold cases, we know who did it, but the evidence wasn’t significant enough to prosecute it,” he said. “With some of these old cases, a lot of it is just digging into a case and scrutinizing it.
“There may be science out there today that wasn’t around then that helps us crack a case,” Dahlke said. “We may be able to come up with one or two pieces of evidence to get a conviction.”
While Dahlke’s official last day as a trooper was June 15, he was back on the job two days later answering the phone as Investigator Dahlke.
“I retired for one whole day,” he said.