Dam site found suspicious early in murder case

Posted: Friday, April 15, 2005

An earth dam above the center of Tenakee Springs seemed suspicious days before Maggie Wigen was discovered buried in it two years ago, people from the town testified Thursday in the trial for the man accused of killing her.

Rosalie Floresca, owner of the Blue Moon Cafe, said she paid James Harmon $35 to do annual maintenance work March 22, 2003, at the dam in the stream that provides her water. Wigen, a 19-year-old woman who rented a cabin from Floresca near the stream, was found beneath the dirt 10 days later.

Harmon is charged with murder, both in the first- and second-degree, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree attempted sexual assault and second-degree theft in Wigen's death.

During the defense opening Monday, Assistant District Attorney David Seid said the evidence would question whether Wigen was buried at the dam before his client left the island during the search.

Even before the community began searching for Wigen the dirt seemed to be piled in the wrong place, Floresca said.

"I thought there was something wrong with the dam," Floresca said.

Tenakee Springs Fire Chief Peter Bogart testified that he had done work on the dam in years past. During the winter, silt accumulates upstream. "Every year it has to be dug out." He was familiar with the dam, but because he was coordinating the community search, he didn't have a chance to look at it until Tuesday, April 1, 2003.

That was two days after state troopers had suspended the search for Wigen. The search began the previous Friday. State troopers arrived that night and directed a search Saturday and Sunday.

Bogart said 30 community residents still came out that Tuesday morning wanting to continue the search. Arnie Strong, the community's teacher, "came to me and said he thought he found something," Bogart said.

Strong testified that he was at the dam two days earlier with a search dog team from Sitka, and "the dog initially pawed at it a bit." When he returned Tuesday morning he dug. He found a blanket in the mound and contacted Bogart, who returned to continue digging.

"We saw what looked like a leg," Bogart said. He said he couldn't remember whether he or someone else called troopers, but that they finished the dig. "I told (Wigen's) mother."

Donald Kluting, captain of the Sitka search and rescue team, said Strong was the guide for his search party, which went out Sunday with the search dog Keeker.

He said he dug in the dam with a broken shovel there after the dog pawed at the dirt. The group found what appeared to be a muddy towel, and he felt something "spongy, like muskeg" underneath the dirt.

By the time Strong returned to the area with shovels, Keeker had left the dam.

The dog had limited experience and "has not to date had any successful finds." That day it didn't "alert" on anything that he was aware of, and he wouldn't have expected Keeker to find Wigen buried, he added.

Keeker was trained and certified to detect air scents of living people. It was looking for the missing woman based on the scent of a sock found in her cabin.

"Death scent is different," he said, explaining that dogs have to be specially trained to react to it. "Living people give off a different odor."

In his report, he described dam site as a "fresh pile of dirt, body length," but he said Strong had told them there had been recent work done in the area.

"You did not find Maggie Wigen at the dam site," Assistant District Attorney Julie Willoughby asked on cross-examination.

Kluting said his group did not that Sunday.

"Do you know if that could have been Maggie Wigen that you hit with a shovel and felt spongy?" Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen next asked Kluting, sparking an objection from Willoughby. He tried to ask the question twice more, each time bringing an objection from Willoughby that was eventually sustained by Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens.

After a sidebar with the judge, Gullufsen rephrased the question, and Kluting answered that it could have been Wigen he hit.

"I guess we would know if we dug a couple of days later?" Gullufsen asked, bringing another objection that Stephens sustained.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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