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A long time between murders

Last killing in Juneau occurred in 1991; a `rash' of others preceded

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2000

After a while they all seem to run together.

The 3-month-old twin smothered under her mother's body after her father shot the woman and then himself last July in Anchorage.

The woman who put her 4-year-old to bed in her ex-husband's apartment, then shot him in the back when he returned last February in Ketchikan.

The shooting of a principal and a student in February 1997 at Bethel High School.

Of course, all those murders took place elsewhere. In Juneau, the year began with death closer to home - the violent killing of Kenneth I. Thomas.

Thomas, 36, died Jan. 26 as a result of injuries sustained in a brutal beating the day before. Two masked robbers who netted $20 and a little marijuana in the bottom of a plastic coffee mug wound up charged with the death.

And before that?

The most recent murder before the death of Thomas was the stabbing of Greens Creek miner Jeff Diffee, 39, on March 14, 1991, by unemployed truck driver John Fautenberry during a robbery at Diffee's condo.

``It seemed Juneau was having a rash of (murders) for a while,'' said Lt. Ron Forneris of the Juneau Police Department, ``because we had the murder of Johnny Jack within a year of that.''

Although the murder of John L. Jack Sr., 73, took place more than 10 years ago, in October 1988, this unsolved crime particularly sticks in the craw of veteran officers like Forneris and Lt. Walt Boman.

``He was doing nothing to deserve what happened to him,'' Forneris said.

``To have this nice man, partially paralyzed from a stroke - not a threat to anybody - just brutally murdered is something that offends my sensibilities,'' Boman said.

A retired fisherman and former mayor of Angoon, Jack lived alone at a senior apartment complex. Regular in his habits, he visited his wife at St. Ann's Nursing Home every day. Partially paralyzed by a stroke, he walked downtown using a cane, visiting friends, having coffee at the Viking or going to the bank. It would have been easy to predict his comings and goings, Boman said.

Jack was ``a classic elderly victim,'' Forneris said. ``He lived by himself. He probably knew who his assailant was.''

The murder scene yielded considerable evidence, said Forneris, but so far police investigators have been unable to tie it definitively to suspects. Crime Line still offers a reward of $10,000 leading to the conviction of Jack's murderer.

``It would be extremely unusual if someone committed this crime and didn't say anything to anybody,'' Forneris said. ``The likelihood is that someone out has information, and it may be a burden to them. We want to hear from them. His killer deserves to be caught.''

On Dec. 30, 1988, two and a half months after the murder of Jack, another elderly Juneau man, Harold Gallant, 73, died just a few blocks away.

Because the motive was also robbery, police at first strove to make links between Gallant's murder and Jack's - to no avail.

``There was emphatically no connection,'' Forneris said.

Diffee died because he was a good Samaritan. He met John Fautenberry in a bar, Boman said, and Fautenberry claimed to be down and out.

``Diffee had once been down and out, and somebody helped him. He wanted to repay what he saw as a societal debt, so he said Fautenberry could stay at his place for a couple of days while he got on his feet,'' Boman recalled.

Fautenberry repaid Diffee's kindness by killing him. Twelve hours later, Boman had an unexpected query from Portland, Oregon, police.

``They were looking for a guy they thought was in Juneau,'' Boman said. ``When they described the crime (the murder of a Portland woman) they were investigating, it was exactly the (type) of the murder we had.'' Within eight hours of the call, JPD had Fautenberry in custody. He was convicted of first-degree murder.

Fautenberry, 27, was an imposing figure, 6 feet 3 inches tall and 285 pounds. As police pieced together evidence, they painted the portrait of a serial killer who overpowered unsuspecting victims, then took their credit cards. Fautenberry was ultimately charged with crimes in Oregon, Ohio and New Jersey. Usually he targeted strangers, but Fautenberry tipped his hand in Portland when he dated his victim for two or three weeks before killing her.

``So, when she turned up missing, and then he used her credit cards, that forged the link'' for law officers, Boman said. For his crimes, Fautenberry received several life sentences as well the death sentence in Ohio.

Seven months after the Fautenberry case, on July 17, 1989, Juneau accountant Jerry Arima, 35, became the victim of Anthony Garcia and Sandy Galvan. This was an unusual case - a random killing.

Statistically, Boman noted, 80 percent of murder victims are done in by people acquainted with them.

Garcia and Galvan ``picked a house, walked up to it, and killed the guy, for the thrill'' apparently, Boman said. The pair was involved in a homicide seven days before in Colorado. They stabbed Arima 21 times and stole a VCR as a souvenir.

Arima, a man of regular habits, was discovered in a pool of blood when he failed to arrive at work on time.

Murders in Southeast Alaska ``happen a little more frequently than once a decade, but they are not really frequent in Juneau,'' Boman said. ``And we are very happy with that.''



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