Cold case unit cut could end work on Wafer killing

 


For the past 33 years, Lois Wafer has waited for a break in the case of her 14-year-old daughter, Eileen Wafer, who was found dead on a Portage Cove beach in the late afternoon of June 14, 1982.  

With the Alaska Department of Public Safety’s recent decision to close its entire Cold Case Investigation Unit, Wafer’s hope for catching Eileen’s killer has rapidly evaporated.

“I’m very, very disappointed in Alaska for doing that,” Wafer, 75, said in an interview this week from her home in Caras Valley, Ore.

Faced with budget cuts from the Alaska Legislature, the Department of Public Safety has proposed disbanding its entire four-person Cold Case Investigation Unit. The department claims the cuts will save $383,000 annually.

The cold case unit was created in 2002 to handle a backlog of more than 100 unsolved killings and missing persons cases stretching from 1961 to 2001. In its 15 years of operation, the unit has arrested 10 people for first-degree murder.

The four investigators – stationed in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Soldotna – have also cleared 27 cases by “exception,” meaning all the people involved are deceased, critical evidence has been accidentally destroyed, or some other element has made the case virtually unable to be investigated further.


Wafer’s murder is one of the 70 remaining cases likely to fall by the wayside when the unit closes its doors at the end of June.

• • •

Lois Wafer moved from Oregon to Haines in September 1981. Her husband Glen Wafer was filing for divorce, and her sister Phyllis Martin, who lived in Haines, was expecting a baby. Phyllis asked Wafer to come up and help out with a few things.  

“I didn’t want to go, but I went anyway,” Wafer said.

Eileen initially stayed with her father in Oregon, but moved up to Haines to join her mother about a month later. Lois and Eileen lived in a room at the Mountain View Motel on Mud Bay Road with Eileen’s little brothers Gene, 6, and James, 4.

In the late evening of June 9, 1982, Lois’s friend Ruthie Davis showed up at the motel room asking if Lois wanted to go shoot a game of pool across town. “Eileen said, ‘Oh Mom, don’t go downtown with Ruthie.’ She didn’t want me to leave, but I said I’d be back pretty quick. So I went ahead and went.”

Lois left around midnight, leaving her daughter in charge of her two young siblings. When she returned two hours later, the motel room door was unlocked. Eileen was gone, and the boys were asleep.

Lois said the boys don’t remember anything because they were asleep the entire time, though Gene vaguely recalled hearing voices. “He felt like he woke up and heard somebody talking, like somebody was talking to Eileen,” she said. “He didn’t know if he was just dreaming or what.”


Lois reported her daughter missing on June 10, but police treated Eileen as a runaway. Eileen’s aunt Phyllis Martin, who died in 2006, told the Lynn Canal News at the time that local police wouldn’t perform a search for Eileen until seven days had passed.

“They treated me like she was a lowly citizen and it wasn’t worth looking for her,” Lois said. “They just acted like it was nothing.”

Family and local volunteers organized a town-wide search, with Eileen’s older brother Corey flying down from Anchorage to help. An hour after Corey arrived in Haines, he and Eileen’s boyfriend Sean Hannon discovered her partially unclothed body in some bushes on the beach, near where the Chilkat Cruises dock stands today.

An autopsy showed Eileen had been sexually assaulted and strangled with heavy twine commonly used in commercial fishing. It remains unclear whether she was killed on the beach or if her body was dumped there later. Investigators found no drag marks and noted that party-goers who had been using the beach during the days she was missing hadn’t seen her body there.


The lack of an initial police response and movement of the body by Haines officials before state investigators arrived caused a flurry of accusations about incompetence, crime scene contamination, and a possible cover-up, Lois said.

By 1995, the case ran ice cold. DNA tests had eliminated all suspects, and leads were exhausted. No arrests were ever made, and no suspect was ever publicly identified.

In 2009, around the 27th anniversary of Wafer’s death, Alaska’s cold case unit reopened her case and began a media campaign to drum up new leads. Investigators hoped someone would remember something odd, or hear something on the rumor mill, or muster the courage to speak.

Unfortunately, the case’s reopening yielded few tips.

Lois and investigators theorize the killer was someone Eileen knew. She was a responsible babysitter, and wouldn’t have left her brothers in the motel room without good reason. Lois also found cigarette butts and two ashtrays in the apartment when she returned to the room the night Eileen went missing, indicating Eileen probably knew the killer enough to let the person inside.

Wafer also suspects the killer was watching the motel when she left to play pool, and knew Eileen and the two children had been left alone.

“When I left to go play pool with Ruthie Davis, I think he was watching, because I didn’t take my car. I rode with her in her pick-up and left my car there at the motel,” she said.

Wafer said investigators haven’t followed up on several people over the years, including a man her sister Gay Wheelock ran into on the Haines Highway shortly after Eileen’s body was discovered. The young man was heading north, and Gay was heading south to Haines. The man was wearing a shirt that said “Haines, Alaska” and Gay tried to strike up a conversation.

“He wouldn’t talk to her and was in a big hurry to get out of there,” Lois said. “Of course, it might not have been anything, but it’s kind of funny. Something was weird about it.”

It’s been hard keeping up with the case, especially as a rotating cast of investigators has been assigned to it, Lois said. “I called up there a couple times to Anchorage to see if anything was being done, and they had changed detectives and I have never heard anything.”

Lois said she was surprised and disappointed to hear the cold case unit was being dissolved due to budget cuts. “With the oil revenue money and everything else that the state of Alaska has, it seems to me they could keep (the cold case unit) going for people who have been waiting all these years. Waiting and waiting and waiting.”

“I’m not getting any younger,” she added. “It really bothers me that even though I know she is in God’s hands now and is going to be resurrected, she still has brothers and sisters who have been waiting and hoping for the police to get back on the case.”

• • •

Of all the unsolved cases investigator Tim Hunyor worked during his career, Wafer’s was one of two that persistently nagged at him.

“I really wanted to get to the bottom of it,” Hunyor said in an interview this week from his home in Portage, Ohio. “That one and one in Sitka were, I guess you could say, my pet peeves. They were both young girls who were sexually assaulted and murdered.”

Hunyor started with Alaska’s cold case unit in 2006. When Wafer’s case was reopened in 2009, he became the lead investigator.

“I was just reviewing the case and re-interviewing everybody. We were looking at some people that might be people of interest,” Hunyor said. “I looked into it quite extensively. I made a couple trips down to Haines to talk to people, met up with friends of (Wafer’s) in Wasilla.”

He interviewed friends, cousins, random people in town he got tips about. “Whenever a name would come up, I followed it,” Hunyor said. “If I felt strongly about it, I’d take their DNA.”  

Still, nothing substantial ever materialized. “Everybody was ruled out by DNA. Basically, it was at a standstill. All the leads were exhausted.”

Hunyor retired in 2011.

The only hope of finding Eileen’s killer likely lies with the Combined DNA Index System, Hunyor said. CODIS is a national repository of DNA profiles from casework and offender samples from all 50 states. The database compares forensic evidence collected from known offenders all over the country with unknown samples, like the DNA in Wafer’s case, and searches for a match.


The only other option for a breakthrough likely lies with the killer. “They may get drunk and start talking to somebody. That could happen,” Hunyor said.

When Hunyor retired, the case fell on the other cold case investigators, including Jim Stogsdill. Stogsdill, who lives in Soldotna, is one of the investigators who will be laid off because of the Department of Public Safety’s decision to cut the unit.

If the unit closes, which it almost certainly will, Commissioner Gary Folger said the cases will be reassigned to active investigators.

“In reality, that is going to be a difficult thing to accomplish, because those guys have new cases coming in every day,” Stogsdill said. “These cases are going to be – I don’t want to say ignored – but nobody is going to pay much attention to them.”

With a cold case unit, the investigators get to know the cases: the players, the timeline, the evidence. “We don’t have any distractions with new crimes rolling in every day. We have an opportunity to spend some time with them. It takes the time to be familiar with them,” Stogsdill said.

Since learning of the budget cuts, Stogsdill has informed some families of the unit’s impending closure. “They are disappointed, because the reality is the chances of their cases being solved any time soon is nil, frankly.”

• • •

In 2011, a woman named Karen Foster tried to breathe new life into Wafer’s case and the cold cases of three other murdered Alaskan women.

Foster’s 18-year-old daughter Bonnie Craig was found dead in Anchorage’s McHugh Creek on Sept. 28, 1994. The rape and murder went unsolved until 2006, when the DNA database CODIS linked a sample from Kenneth Dion to Craig’s death. Dion had been picked up for several armed robberies in another state. He was convicted in 2011.

Foster originally founded the Homicide Reward Fund to generate tips in her daughter’s murder, but after Dion was convicted, she offered up to $20,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in four other unsolved murders, including Wafer’s.

Foster said this week from her home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that cutting the cold case unit to save the state $383,000 a year is “outrageous.”

“They pay that for like 500 feet of road in some parts of Alaska,” Foster said.

By the time Dion was linked to Bonnie Craig’s murder via DNA, there were over 10,000 pages of investigation materials, 240 hours of audio interviews and 110 DNA tests in Craig’s case file, Foster said. Without a cold case unit, that information would just be dumped into the lap of an unfamiliar investigator juggling dozens of other active cases.

“They may miss out on things, because they are not knowledgeable about the cold case,” Foster said. “If you get a tip saying, ‘Oh, I think so and so did it.’ Well, how much do you think an investigator that doesn’t know anything about the case is going to be able to go over that case and try to figure out, ‘Oh, this is a valid tip,’ or, ‘This is a disgruntled person?’”

In addition to being an emotional blow to the families of cold case victims, closure of the unit also represents a public safety issue, Foster said.

“That is incredibly devastating for the families that they know someone is going to get away with murder, but even more important for the general public is they have to realize there is a killer walking the streets because we’re not investigating these cold cases,” she said.


Haines resident Nora Krake said that’s a fact that still haunts her. Krake, 79, lived in Haines when Wafer was killed. Her son, Richard Clayton, went to Haines High with Wafer and was in her class.

“She was an innocent little girl,” Krake said in an interview this week.

Krake said she finds there are fewer and fewer people around with whom to discuss Wafer’s case. Many of the people who were here at the time of the killing have moved away or died, she said.

“I just hope and pray that it gets solved,” Krake said of the case. “I just want it to be closed before I die.”

 
 

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2020

Rendered 08/12/2020 17:24