It's been 35 years since the Coulthurst family and a group of young deckhands were killed on their fishing boat in the tiny Alaskan fishing village of Craig. Although it's clear the victims were killed by gunfire, questions still surround the homicide — like who did it and why.
On Monday night's episode of People Magazine Investigates on Investigation Discovery, Dave Freeman, who grew up with Jerome Keown and Dave Moon, — two of the massacre’s eight victims — said, "The shock of losing everyone really tore up our town. They all had their whole lives in front of them, and they were just blown away. It’s just such a shame and tragic for no reason."
The slaying of skipper Mark Coulthurst and his pregnant wife, Irene, both 28, along with their children Kimberly, 5, and John, 4, and four deckhands — Chris Heyman, 18; and Keown, Moon and Mike Stewart, all 19 — is considered Alaska’s most tragic unsolved mass homicide. "Every one of his crew wanted to be like Mark," recalled Keown’s older brother, Brian. "He was one of the best skippers around."
Just hours before the family was killed, Mark and his family attended a birthday party at a restaurant near the docks, returning around 9:30 p.m. It was then that the killer crept onto the 58-foot, $850,000 Investor, police said, and executed his victims. He would later burn the boat and all evidence.
It took two years before police arrested John Peel — who once worked for Mark — based on his similarity to sketches of the suspect. His first trial in 1986 lasted over six months and ended in a hung jury. After being found not guilty in a retrial two years later, John filed a wrongful prosecution suit against the state and was awarded a reported financial settlement of $900,000.
"They got the right guy," police detective David McNeill said. "Just because someone is acquitted doesn’t mean they’re innocent, just means there’s not enough evidence to show guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
John, however, had something to say for himself. In a recent interview with People, he said, "Somebody was responsible for this. Somebody out there knows what happened, but I’m not going to waste any more of my life on it." Tim DeSpain, spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers, added, "The case is closed."