Part of a continuing weekly series on Alaska history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage or Alaska history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.
On April 24, 1975, repeat offender Alan Wayne Hurley was convicted of felony theft, a $16,000 marine diesel engine. While awaiting sentencing, he was a guest at the State Correctional Center minimum security halfway house on Third Avenue in Anchorage. Only 28 years old, he already had experience with prison and no desire to return for a possible 10-year stint. Three days later, the only guard on duty was handing out dinner when Hurley hit him with a metal tray and walked out the door. For the next nine years, he led law enforcement on a wild chase that involved shootouts and a literal snakepit. A famous Alaska story in its time, many Alaskans have asked me, “What happened to Alan Wayne Hurley?”
Alan Wayne Hurley was born in Petersburg on Sept. 19, 1946. When he was only 11 months old, his family relocated to Anchorage, where he grew up. From a distance, he appeared to have been the very model of a diligent, intelligent, self-reliant, and even well-mannered child. Most Likely to Succeed awards were created because of kids like him.
Of course he was an honor student, for no true crime antagonist is complete without an honor student background. He was also a champion newspaper carrier. When 12 years old, he won a jewelry set as an “outstanding junior salesman” for the Anchorage Daily News. By age 13, he had switched allegiances to the Anchorage Daily Times with a route that included 111 homes. With every paycheck, he bought a toy for each of his four siblings. He was also responsible for his own clothes and invested in U.S. Savings Bonds. Many Anchorage parents likely told their offspring that they “should be more like that Alan Hurley.”
He graduated from West Anchorage High in 1964, then attended the University of Alaska in Fairbanks on scholarship. That fall, he was the “outstanding freshman competitor in ROTC drill competition.” That spring, he was gone well before the school year had finished.
The honor student had never actually been perfect. Scrapes with the law during high school included joyriding and driving on a suspended license, but the real transition from fresh-faced kid with a future to bearded felon on the run happened in Fairbanks. Still just 18 years old, he was busted for check forging and sentenced to three years in prison. He served around half that, including six long months at the Lompoc Penitentiary in California. His sister, Patty, said, “They trained him real good down there. At that age, down there in prison, they taught him a lot of things.”
Shortly after returning to Alaska, Hurley joined the Brothers motorcycle club, which was involved in everything from protection rackets to ivory smuggling. Given some of his public comments, he may have been present when a group of Brothers barged into a 1972 Canned Heat concert at West High, an incident that ended in a brawl with police. KFQD radio news director Jack O’Quinn received two death threats after the station covered the confrontation.
By then, law enforcement had targeted Hurley as a person of interest in multiple crimes, finally catching him on the marine engine theft thanks to taped conversations with a federal witness. “We were really pleased to convict him,” said U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutor Sam Pestinger. “He graduated from The Brothers motorcycle gang here about four years ago and took the hard-core element with him. Since then, he has been suspected of leading the group, which makes its living by ripoffs and other illegal activities.”
The U.S. Marshals had requested Hurley not be placed in any jail as they considered him a threat to other inmates. Seemingly unbeknownst to the marshals, there was only one guard on duty at the minimum security halfway house, which had an open-door policy. The facility was otherwise used to house prisoners convicted of misdemeanor offenses as they transitioned back into the community. In the immediate wake of the escape, everyone involved acknowledged the obvious mistake.
The escape was on a Sunday. By Monday morning, every law enforcement office in the state was on high alert. U.S. Marshal Bob Olson noted, “Everyone from the airport security officers on up through the city and state police, our office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation” was looking for the fugitive. However, he did not expect a quick recovery. “Hurley has so many friends in Southcentral Alaska that it’s obvious someone is hiding him ... So, it’ll be probably some time before we can locate him.”
Hurley’s sister Patty stated, “I don’t think he’s dangerous, but he might be dangerous to (law enforcement) if they push him too far. If they shoot at him, he’s going to shoot back, no doubt about it. He’d probably just as soon take some of them with him if he goes.” She concluded, “Alan won’t give up. He’ll die in the woods before walking back into those police guns.” U.S. Marshal Olson agreed, “When we find him, nobody expects him to come out quietly with his hands up.”
Weeks passed without clues or leads. Finally, on May 21, 1975, two men identified Hurley as part of an armed group stopping cars on the McCarthy Road. State troopers identified a cabin about 10 miles east of Chitina as their primary target, and the next day, 10 troopers raided the location. Hurley, though, was absent. By chance, troopers in a helicopter borrowed from the Alyeska Pipeline Co. spotted the fugitive, who fired at them before disappearing into the woods.
From there, he vanished. Perhaps he stayed in the Chitina region, surviving off his strong woodsman skills. Perhaps he headed to the border and crossed into Canada. Perhaps he couch-surfed, traveling from friend to friend, just a shadow in society. He most likely spent time doing all of the above, never staying too long in any one place. A few years passed without any verified sightings.
FBI special agent Charles Dulinski inherited the cold case when he moved to Anchorage after the jail escape. He stated, “If they are judicious about their appearance, stay out of trouble, are careful not to get picked up for speeding, it’s not all that difficult to escape detection.” Between escape and Chitina, Hurley had notably shaved off his most notable feature, an unruly beard.
Hurley’s success against law enforcement appealed to the anti-authority streak prevalent within settlers. So, he became a minor Alaska folk hero. Sympathy for a devilish underdog was hardly a new concept. “Hurley is alive and well near Chitina” bumper stickers popped up around Anchorage. Longtime friend Leslie Langla declared, “Alan’s big problem is his brain. He’s brilliant.” An anonymous Anchorage police officer told the Daily News in 1975, “Folk hero? He’s a thug.”
Meanwhile, the witness who testified against Hurley, Harold Wakefield, was forced to move out of state and even lived in Costa Rica for a while. Members of the Brothers harassed him and his family. Law enforcement officials informed him that Hurley had hired a professional hitman. In 1985, Sen. Frank Murkowski argued in Congress that Wakefield deserved compensation for his losses due to “compelling bravery and patriotism in the face of difficult circumstances.”
In 1981, Hurley was named one of Alaska’s 10 most wanted criminals. The U.S. Marshals also named him one of their top 15 most wanted fugitives nationwide. Still, he did not escape all notice. There were alleged sightings all along the West Coast, from California to Alaska. There were also shootouts with police in Oregon and California. Each time, he managed to escape back into the wilderness.
FBI special agent Tony Lodge was a member of the Hurley manhunt. In 1984, he told the Daily News, “He’s an extremely tough character. He pumps a lot of iron and smokes a lot of grass. He lived in the woods for so long it was like chasing an animal. But Hurley’s a mean guy. With most of these guys, it’s a Mr. Macho Man thing. They hurt people.”
In this way, Lodge was part of a team of FBI agents that once tracked Hurley down to a remote cabin near Eugene, Oregon. Said Lodge, “He was holed up in a canyon across the river. We had to wade that river at quarter to five in the morning. It was cold. Just before we got to where his camp was, there was this snake pit in the trail.” Around 15-20 venomous snakes writhed at the bottom. “Hell, they wouldn’t have had to bite you,” added Lodge. “If you stepped in there, you’d have had a coronary.”
Hurley was on the run for nine long years before it all ended with a whimper. On Aug. 17, 1984, marshals and local sheriff deputies, acting on a tip, visited Lake Whatcom near Bellingham, Washington, north of Seattle and about 20 miles from the Canadian border. Hurley was prepping a floatplane for takeoff when the marshals arrived and surrendered without incident.
At Hurley’s Bellingham home, the marshals discovered a sophisticated marijuana farm that featured automated watering and lighting in a crawlspace built underneath the single-story structure. They seized about 200 marijuana plants, $3,000 in cash, about $9,000 in 2023 money, and multiple guns. These illegal grow operations, established wherever he moved, provided the cash he needed to live off the grid.
In court, Hurley broke down and wept. He told the judge, “I’ve had enough. I renounce my past. I can make it. And I promise you you’ll have no more problems from me. You have my word on that.” For the original felony theft conviction and the escape, he was sentenced to two concurrently served five-year terms in prison.
And what happened to Alan Wayne Hurley? Per Social Security records, he changed his last name to Lyons in 1990. The timing suggests he initiated the process soon after finishing his stint in prison. By 1994, he was living in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, the “Gateway to the North Cascades” and a fitting home for the outdoorsman. On July 18, 1994, he took off in a float-equipped Cessna Skyhawk near Patos Island, one of the San Juan Islands northwest of Seattle. Right after liftoff, he tried for a narrow gap between some trees but clipped a wing. The plane cartwheeled along the shore and fell into the water, submerging the cabin. Hurley/Lyons, who coincidentally did not have a seaplane rating, died in the crash.
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