Michael Carey: The night the boys' favorite target fired back

CommentDecember 3, 2012 

Julius Frank Terbeba frightened me, and my fear was well founded. He shot two of my boyhood friends. He didn't set out to shoot them, but shoot them he did.

Tereba lived behind my parents in Graehl, across the Chena River from downtown Fairbanks. Our lot was long, running the length of the block from Front Street to Second Street. Tereba's place faced Second Street, which put him maybe 75 yards from my folks' house.

Sometime in the '50s, Tereba arrived in Graehl and built a home for himself and several small rental cabins. He was a craftsman. His cabins have attracted renters for more than half a century.

City water was unavailable in Graehl so Tereba drilled a well, a task that took all summer as he only drilled in the evening after he returned from civil service work at Ladd Field, the nearby air base. I went to bed with the repetitive pounding of Tereba's drill rig in my head.

 

ROUGH NEIGHBOR

Tereba was a tall, broad, hulking man of up to 250 pounds who favored bib overalls and wool shirts year around. I never talked to him, and my Dad only talked to him once as far as I know. A summer evening before the shooting Tereba entered our back yard and, after emitting a few hostile words, attacked my Dad. Hand to hand combat ended when Fabian pinned Tereba to the grass and in a loud voice ordered him to give up and go home. Somebody had done something to the old guy's dog, Fabian said. That's all my Dad got out of Tereba before he started swinging.

Years passed before Fabian told me about Tereba's assault. He added "That old guy was really tough. I didn't want any more of him."

Tereba had two companions, his small yappy dog, and his common-law wife, Minnie, who after the shooting became known as Minnie the Moll. Minnie, a shy soul from Nenana, didn't deserve the moniker.

Recently, I have rounded out some of Tereba's biography. Franz, as he was known to his family, was born in Peru, Ind., in 1896. His father, Emanuel, a German immigrant, was a cabinet maker. Emanuel sang for years in the Peru Male Chorus. His mother, Augusta, was a homemaker. Their boy had an eighth-grade education.

The couple divorced but lived near each other. Franz had two sisters, Anna older, Bertha younger. Anna became a homemaker, Bertha taught in the Peru public schools for 47 years after receiving a master's degree from Columbia University Teachers College. Franz is buried between the two in a Peru's Mount Hope Cemetery.

Franz must have left home young. By 1917, he was a sheep herder in northern Montana along the Canadian border. He remained in Montana until at least 1935 and first appeared in Alaska newspapers in 1939 -- a News-Miner brief noting he was on his way to Nenana from Fairbanks. The 1940 census taker found him in Nenana, a section hand for the Alaska Railroad. He also mined in the Nenana region.

 

SEARCH FOR FUN AND TROUBLE

The shooting occurred Sept. 26, 1958, a Friday. The day of the week is important -- on Friday night kids could go out to play instead of doing homework. I almost said immature kids, but boys between 10 and 13 by definition are immature. Our immaturity set the stage for gun play.

There were six to eight of us who made Graehl our playground on Friday night. Searching for fun -- and trouble. Tereba provided both after we discovered he would respond with ineffectual rage if we teased him or his dog. So we threw stones on his roof, set off firecrackers and ran laughing when the old man appeared at his door wearing the face of fury.

The Friday of the shooting I was sick -- home watching television. My knowledge of the evening is second hand -- from my friends, court documents, and the Daily News-Miner, which printed an account of the shooting under the headline "Wild Gun Spree Hospitalizes Boys" on Saturday.

The night started like any other with the boys approaching Tereba's house, devilment in their hearts. But Tereba was waiting for them behind a utility pole. When he saw the boys "sneaking" in his direction, he testified in court, he fired his six-shooter at their feet in an attempt to scare them away. The boys ran in terror. Two of them, Mickey Killion and Randy McGovern, suffered superficial gun wounds to their legs from .22 rounds that ricocheted off rocks.

My friends, two of whom were sons of the Fairbanks police chief, had plenty of explaining to do. So did Tereba. He was arrested, pleaded guilty to careless use of a firearm and received a suspended 6-month sentence in return for a pledge of good behavior. At sentencing, his attorney, Fred Crane, revealed Tereba had a heart condition and was hard of hearing. Well, he had no trouble hearing gravel on his roof.

A character witness who spoke on Tereba's behalf told the court his dog had disappeared shortly after the shooting. Connie Hammond tried to create the impression the boys had done something terrible to the mutt, but the judge offered no sympathy.

The News-Miner account of the shooting contained typos the boys never forgot. The reporter rendered Tereba "Terb," and one of the uninjured survivors became "Tommy Toberts." After reading the paper Saturday afternoon this survivor's oldest sister asked him, "Tommy Roberts, who is this Tommy Toberts?"

 

GAMES OVER

Fabian never talked to me about the shooting, but I knew he was sending me a message when he asked "What are you kids trying to do, turn Tereba's place into the OK Corral?" My father preferred wit over lecture as a parental instruction. He also was aware that kids enjoy risky mischief. As a youngster in Minneapolis, he and his pals perfected what they called "the box trick."

The boys placed a box full of empty cans and cartons in the middle of the street. When a motorist stopped to examine the box, the boys pelted him with rotten tomatoes. I only learned about this after Fabian died -- from a former tomato thrower.

Following the shooting, I went out of my way to avoid Tereba and would not walk down the street in front of his house. The shooting transformed him from an excitable clown into a life-threatening menace. I had no faith he would follow the judge's instruction to put away his gun.

I was away in college when Tereba died at 67 in September 1964. In those days, it was rare to ship a body to the states for burial; the cost and logistics were almost prohibitive. Apparently his surviving family -- his sisters -- felt an enduring loyalty to him although he had been gone from Indiana decades.

Julius Frank Tereba was a difficult man. My friends and I made life more difficult for him -- and for Minnie and his dog. The dog comes up repeatedly in newspaper accounts and court records. My memories of Tereba are sketchy. But I am certain of this: The old man loved his little dog and would defend him passionately.


 

Michael Carey is the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He may be reached at mcarey@adn.com. Carey would like to thank Joan Skilbred of Fairbanks and Charles Wagner of the Peru Public Library (Ind.) for their research assistance.

 

 

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