Southwest Alaska asks for help with unsolved homicides

Posted: Tuesday, March 06, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Southwest Alaska leaders have appealed to Gov. Sarah Palin for help in investigating unsolved homicides.

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The appeal comes after an unusual amount of winter crime that rattled Bethel, a community of 6,000, with news of stabbings, robberies at gunpoint and three slayings in five weeks.

Bethel police, slowed by vacancies, have not made arrests in two killings in early December, residents said.

Murders, robberies and violence against women are soaring in Bethel and people cannot believe some crimes are unsolved, Matthew Nicolai wrote in a letter last month to Gov. Sarah Palin. Nicolai is head of Calista Corp., the Alaska Native corporation for the Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

"There is fear ... the community is not (a) safe place to live because of the unresolved crimes," Nicolai wrote.

Nicolai said he also talked with Walt Monegan, state public safety commissioner, seeking help.

Jitters have rippled to surrounding villages, speakers said at a recent meeting in Bethel where some 100 people discussed the crimes. Villagers traveling to Bethel are on edge, with some residents wondering if streets and back trails are safe, one village leader said.

Alaska State Troopers have stepped in when the local police department, which has jurisdiction in the two homicides, has asked for it, said Ben Dudley, Bethel police chief.

Two troopers helped investigate the Dec. 10 shooting death of cab driver Ju Young Joung, 41, Dudley said. That investigator also offered advice in the Dec. 5 slaying of Agnes Evan, found dead in brush of blunt-force trauma to her stomach.

The Bethel force is depleted because of challenges in recruiting officers, Dudley said. Six of 14 patrol positions are open.

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