'Papa Pilgrim' captured

Alaska Railroad special agent spots fugitive in Eagle River

Posted: Thursday, October 06, 2005

ANCHORAGE - The hunt for a self-styled Alaska mountain man wanted on incest and other charges ended Wednesday after he was recognized by a railroad police officer just back from vacation.

Robert Hale - known as Papa Pilgrim - was taken into custody in Eagle River, an Anchorage suburb, nearly two weeks after being indicted on 30 felony counts, Alaska State Troopers said. Hale, 64, was arrested a day after troopers said they had scaled back their search for him.

Hale was compliant when he was taken into custody shortly before 1 p.m. by John Waychoff, a special agent with the Alaska Railroad. Waychoff, 48, had just returned from a 10-day vacation and recognized Hale by a wanted poster e-mailed to him by the railroad's chief special agent, Dan Frerich.

"He literally had the poster on the car seat next to him and knew who it was within five seconds," Frerich said. "We're pretty darn proud of him. He's an excellent agent and did everything right by the numbers."

Waychoff was making his rounds when he noticed a railroad gate open and noticed a man driving into the restricted area. The man was driving the blue Dodge camper van troopers say was missing when they tried to arrest Hale Sept. 23 from his campsite inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park near the town of McCarthy, 225 air miles east of Eagle River.

The officer signaled for the driver to stop, turn around and leave the area when he recognized Hale and initiated a felony stop. Hale still had his long white beard, but most of it was hidden beneath a scarf, according to Frerich.

"He was wearing what looked like prescription glasses and a baseball cap instead of the big floppy cowboy hat you usually see him wearing in the news," Frerich said.

After identifying Hale, Waychoff put him in handcuffs and called Anchorage Police.

"Mr. Hale followed instructions and was cooperative," Waychoff said. "I'm pleased that we could play a part in helping other law enforcement agencies track down Mr. Hale."

Troopers also were called in and took Hale into custody, trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said. Also called were Anchorage animal control authorities, who took possession of a miniature Doberman pinscher that was found with Hale.

Hale was being held at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility in Palmer on $50,000 cash-only bail, Wilkinson said. He is scheduled to be arraigned today.

Hale was indicted Sept. 22 by a state grand jury in Palmer on 30 felony counts, including 10 counts of sexual assault, one count of kidnapping, eight counts of incest, eight counts of coercion, and three counts of assault, Alaska State Troopers said.

The family includes 15 children but the indictment listed just one victim. Troopers said the alleged crimes covered eight years.

The family was best known for its running feud with the National Park Service over access to their property the 13.2 million-acre national park. Family members claimed to be deeply religious and wanted to live off the land.

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