Troopers arrest suspect in Maggie Wigen case

Alleged killer also faces sexual assault and theft charges

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

Nearly 14 months after Margaret "Maggie" Wigen was found dead near her Tenakee Springs home, Alaska State Troopers on Thursday arrested the man they say raped and killed her.

James Harmon, 25, is scheduled to be arraigned in Juneau District Court today on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault, two counts of attempted first-degree sexual assault and one count of second-degree theft, trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.

Maggie Wigen's mother, Karin Wigen, said from Bisbee, Ariz., that she had mixed feelings after Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen called her with the long-awaited news.

"I'm relieved they arrested someone," she said. "But it brings everything back up."

Maggie Wigen was 19 when she was found dead on April 1, 2003, in a shallow grave in the Chichagof Island community about 45 miles southwest of Juneau. The community's spring population is less than 100.

Harmon had been working on a dam at a stream near the house where Wigen had been staying, according to community residents.

Troopers from the Alaska Bureau of Investigation and the Juneau post arrested Harmon at about 3:30 p.m. in Juneau without incident, Wilkinson said. They booked him at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

Wilkinson said he could not say what information led to the arrest.

When Wigen disappeared at the end of March 2003, her neighbors mobilized a search. Troopers searched throughout the weekend, March 29 and 30. Wigen's body was found about 50 feet from a cabin, up the hill from the center of town, by one of the community members who hadn't given up looking for her.

Notes kept by Dave Zeiger, who has since left the community, show that during the search, many considered Harmon a possible suspect. He lived on a boat in the harbor, which has since been pulled onto the beach.

The notes also indicate that Harmon left the island on an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry during the weekend of the search. Zeiger could not be reached by the Empire on Thursday.

Wigen is remembered by friends and neighbors as a thoughtful, independent woman, who often kept to herself. She split her time between Juneau and Tenakee Springs. While in Juneau, she worked at Rainbow Foods. She picked up odd jobs in Tenakee Springs.

Her mother, who previously lived in Juneau, told the Empire this spring that her daughter talked about becoming a wildlife biologist and planned to make her life mean something.

As the anniversary of Wigen's death approached, many in Tenakee Springs became vocal about demanding that the case not be forgotten.

Tenakee Springs Mayor Shelly Wilson said Thursday the arrest shows troopers weren't neglecting the case as some had feared. "I appreciate the efforts of the state troopers and their diligence with the case.

"Hopefully it will re-establish some of the trust in the troopers some of us might have lost," she said.

Karin Wigen said arrangements were being made so that she could attend today's arraignment by telephone. She said she will be back in Juneau soon and plans to make following the case her priority.

Wilson said she was happy that an arrest had been made in the case, but she was disappointed that the investigation led to Harmon. "I didn't think he was capable of doing it," she said.

Harmon, listed as a Juneau resident at the time of his arrest, had lived in Tenakee Springs "all his life off and on," Wilson said. In a community with no motorized traffic on the trail that separates the waterfront buildings from those on the hillside, everybody knows everyone else.

"He's lived in different communities, but he's always been part of our community," said Wilson.



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