Uncovering Alaska's first serial killer

Aunt Phil's Trunk

Between 1912 and 1915, a number of single, unattached men mysteriously disappeared in Southeast Alaska. The few law enforcement officials in the territory were baffled, but a suspect finally emerged in the fall of 1915.

A Petersburg man named Edward Krause, who'd run for the Territorial Legislature as a Socialist Party candidate in 1912, represented himself as a U.S. Marshall to officials at the Treadwell Mine in Douglas in mid-September. Krause told the bosses that he had a court summons for mine worker James Christie.

Christie departed with the bogus lawman and was never seen again.

Managers of the mine investigated Christie's disappearance, thinking it was related to problems and rivalries between the company and laborers. They thought Krause, a radical socialist, may have been a hired killer engaged by the violent wing of the labor union.

Then, when it was learned that Krause was identified as the last person to see a missing charter boat operator out of Juneau, a warrant for his arrest was issued on charges of impersonating a federal officer in the Christie case.

Krause escaped the clutches of the law in Ketchikan and jumped onboard a steamer heading for Seattle. But a savvy passenger, who had seen wanted posters plastered by the Treadwell Mining Company, recognized him as the man with a bounty on his head.

When the steamer docked in Puget Sound, police detectives were waiting. A search of Krause's possessions turned up incriminating evidence, including forged documents, bank accounts and real estate transactions, which tied him to not only the recent disappearances in Juneau, but to the disappearances of at least eight other men, too.

After Krause was returned to Alaska, his true identity surfaced. Krause was really Edward Slompke, who'd served with the U. S. Army at Wrangell in 1897 and deserted in 1902.

Authorities found that over the years Krause recovered the assets of the murdered men. They also learned that a "murder gang," run by Krause at Petersburg, was involved in additional mysterious disappearances.

Krause's trials started in the spring of 1917. Since none of his victims ever were found, jurors found him guilty of kidnapping, robbery and forgery among other charges. He was sentenced to die by hanging in Juneau.

However Krause had other plans. He sawed through the bars of his cell and escaped from the Juneau Federal Jail two days before his slated execution. That launched the most widespread manhunt in the territory's history.

Fishing fleets in every Southeast community mobilized to block his escape out of Alaska. A few days later, a homesteader collected the $1,000 reward by killing Krause after the fugitive stepped out of a stolen skiff onto the beach at Admiralty Island.

To this day, law enforcement believes the extent of Krause's criminal activities, if ever known, would be one of the most startling in the annals of American crime history.

This column features stories from late Alaska historian Phyllis Downing Carlson and her niece, Laurel Downing Bill. Many of these stories fill the pages of "Aunt Phil's Trunk," a five-book Alaska history series that won the 2016 Literary Classics International award for Best Nonfiction Series worldwide. Books are available at bookstores and gift shops throughout Alaska, as well as online at http://www.auntphilstrunk.com and Amazon.com in both print and eBooks. The series also now is available on Audible.com.

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