Seventeen years to the day after Anchorage teenager Bonnie Craig was found dead in McHugh Creek, and a little more than three months since a jury convicted her killer, Craig's family and the managers of an Alaska reward fund made a public plea: Help us solve other cold murder cases.
With Kenneth Dion, the man convicted of Craig's murder, behind bars and his sentencing set for the end of October, the Homicide Reward Fund's board is putting up $20,000 for information leading to convictions in four other long-unsolved Alaska murder cases, said members of the fund's board, including Craig's mother, Karen Foster.
Much of the money in the reward fund came from community donations following Craig's murder, said Samantha Campbell, Craig's sister.
"We now want this money to go towards solving other crimes similar to my sister's case," Campbell said.
The murder victims Craig's family hopes to draw attention to are:
• Ann Saephan, a 15-year-old Anchorage resident killed in 2003;
• Jessica Baggen, a 17-year-old Sitka resident found dead in 1996;
• Eileen Wafer, a 14-year-old Haines resident killed in 1982;
• Shelley Connolly, a 16-year-old from Anchorage killed in 1978.
The four cold cases were identified as some of the most likely to benefit from tips and interest generated by the reward, said Mark Weissler, a member of the fund's board. The board met in May and began talking about offering part of the fund's more than $40,000 balance as a reward in the four cases, Weissler said.
"Sadly enough, there are many cases to choose from, and our mission is to get the killers behind bars and get answers to the surviving families," Weissler said. He said it was a coincidence that "all these victims are young teenage girls."
There are at least 75 unsolved Alaska murders in the Department of Public Safety's records, and including cases from other local jurisdictions, the overall number of cold cases could total more than 100, said Paul Miovas, an assistant attorney general who, with fellow state prosecutor Jenna Gruenstein, successfully prosecuted Craig's killer.
Information on how to deliver tips on the four murders highlighted by the reward fund can be found at AlaskaCitizensForJustice.com, Weissler said.
Connolly's killing 33 years ago is the longest-unsolved murder among the four. The raucous days of the trans-Alaska pipeline construction boom were still lingering, and the 16-year-old with a big smile had found her way into Chilkoot Charlie's the night of Jan. 7, 1978. Witnesses said Connolly got a ride home with three men. Hikers found her body after she'd been raped, beaten and thrown over an embankment off the Seward Highway south of Potter Marsh, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Four years later, Wafer, at 14, was the youngest of the four to die. Alaska State Troopers said the Haines girl was babysitting two younger brothers June 10, 1982, when her mother returned home to find the boys asleep in their beds and Wafer missing. Four days later, Wafer's older brother and her boyfriend found her body under bushes on the beach at Portage Cove, a few hundred feet from home. Investigators said they had reason to believe Wafer was persuaded to leave the house by someone she knew.
Baggen was last seen walking to her Sitka home during the early morning hours of May 4, 1996, after celebrating her 17th birthday with close friends at her sister's house, troopers said. Her body was found two days later buried under leaves, dirt and brush alongside a bike trail, and investigators soon learned she'd been raped. A man who told police he might have killed her was later acquitted at trial, during which DNA evidence showed he was not involved.
In 2003, Saephan, a Bartlett High School sophomore, was sitting in the passenger seat of a car parked outside a Spenard arcade when someone started firing shots through the rear of the car, Anchorage police said. Saephan died, and while others in the car were hit, they were unable to give accurate information about details of the shooting, including where it occurred, police said. Saephan's family told the Daily News she was a great writer and shared one of her poems, in which she wrote about wanting to be a wife and mother some day.
Foster, Craig's mother, said in a written statement read by Campbell that she knows about the devastation to families who have lost a child and go months, years or decades without answers, "It's like a cancer growing inside you," Foster said.
"It was almost 17 years for our family to get answers and hear those incredible words, 'Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty,' " Campbell said, reading her mother's statement. "It was an amazing, bittersweet victory, one that I never expected."
Even with her sister's case solved, Campbell said the anniversary of Craig's death is difficult for her family.
"This is the hardest day of the year, every single year," Campbell said.
Reach Casey Grove at email@example.com or 257-4589.