Crime & Courts

Lumber, airplane fuel – even a load of logs: Butte man arrested in string of bold thefts

PALMER — Even among reports of a rash of property crimes in Mat-Su, these stood out.

A load of logs — about 10 cords of wood — stolen from a Wasilla lot along the Parks Highway in October. A flatbed trailer full of lumber missing from a Palmer construction site.

Fuel stolen from airplanes around Mat-Su through February. A white pickup spotted at numerous sites where thefts of property and fuel were reported in the Valley and Chugiak.

Alaska State Troopers said this week they arrested the person they believe to be responsible for at least six cases of bold theft: a 33-year-old Butte man named John Caverly Jr.

The investigation into thefts in Mat-Su and Chugiak began in February, according to troopers, and involved the Palmer-based Criminal Suppression Unit, with the assistance of patrol troopers, the Palmer Police Department and the troopers' Special Crimes Investigation Unit.

Troopers said they arrested Caverly on Wednesday afternoon at his home. The items he's accused of stealing are worth roughly $20,000 from eight victims.

Among other items, troopers say, he stole aviation fuel from Birchwood, Wolf Lake, and airports at Palmer and Willow and used the gas in his vehicles.


"He allegedly hit places from Anchorage to Willow, so he was burning a lot of gas," Trooper Charles Withers said in an email. The gas can be used in cars and trucks but doesn't burn clean.

Caverly admitted to stealing gas, lumber, logs and other items to buy drugs, Withers wrote in a sworn affidavit filed with charging documents in Palmer Superior Court.

Caverly told troopers he has a back injury that recently required surgery and was prescribed suboxone, often used in opioid treatment. But the drug doesn't treat all of his pain, Withers wrote, so he also uses heroin and methamphetamine.

A child's car seat was found in a motor home troopers said was used in some of the crimes. Caverly became emotional when confronted about bringing his 2-year-old son along when he "would go out stealing things during the night," the trooper wrote. "When asked what he would like me to tell the victims of his crimes, he stated 'I'm sorry.' "

Caverly described his occupation as a heavy-equipment operator on court documents and social media.

Some of the victims told troopers they saw photos on social media of a white pickup and motor home later linked to Caverly associated with a string of thefts around Mat-Su and Chugiak, charging documents say. One victim, a Wasilla pilot who with his son tracked Facebook posts about crimes, got photos of the truck and a motor home at Caverly's property.

Troopers began making contact with Caverly in December and came to Caverly's house in mid-February after he was linked to several thefts, including fuel from the Wasilla pilot. By then, he was already on their radar: They had seized his pickup and interviewed him several times. But they didn't arrest him until this week.


"Essentially, because the more we investigated, the more cases (brand new and older) appeared to be connected that pointed to the defendant," troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters wrote in an email Thursday. "The investigators put in a lot of work documenting and also communicating with other law enforcement agencies in the area to string together the crimes to the one defendant."

Caverly was arrested last year on DUI and drug charges. But he was released without jail time because of new sentencing guidelines not connected to Senate Bill 91, Alaska's controversial criminal justice reform.

A Wasilla police officer responding to a report of a white pickup left running in a parking lot for five hours with its lights on found him unconscious behind the wheel of his pickup the morning of Nov. 20, according to court documents in that case.

The pickup was positioned as if Caverly was leaving, Officer Nate Lecours wrote in a sworn affidavit. The truck was in drive. Caverly's foot was on the brake.

Police later found small amounts of heroin and meth in the pickup, the affidavit says.

Caverly was arrested and released on his own recognizance under the new guidelines proposed by a four-judge panel to standardize the state's bail schedule.

The new charges against Caverly include criminal mischief, theft, misconduct involving a controlled substance, and criminal trespass.

Caverly was jailed at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility on $30,000 bail. Troopers said more charges are expected as the investigation continues.

He was scheduled for arraignment Thursday afternoon.


Troopers charged Caverly in six theft cases, according to a lengthy summary report filed with charges:

Dec. 13: Cut logs worth $2,000 reported stolen from a Wasilla lot along the Parks Highway in October after the owner reviewed surveillance footage showing a white semi truck leaving at 4 a.m. with a load. The DOT number on the semi was registered to Caverly.

Dec. 16: A trooper approached Caverly in a silver pickup towing a flatbed trailer with a load of lumber, stopped in the middle of a Palmer intersection with only parking lights on and no front license plate. The lumber proved to be stolen from a nearby construction site. Caverly was released but the truck and load were seized. Troopers also seized small amount of heroin and meth they found in the truck.

Dec. 18: A tip about the location of a snowplow stolen from Big Lake contractor Clayton "Mokie" Tew led troopers to Caverly and another man sleeping in his pickup on Lazy Mountain. A subsequent search revealed the plow, a stolen fuel pump, numerous drugs and parts.

Feb. 5: A report that someone stole almost 350 gallons of aviation fuel from a secured tank in Wasilla. A pickup that matched Caverly's — a white Ford F150 with mechanic boxes on the back and fuel tank in the bed — was seen on security camera footage. A 2011 white Winnebago motor home that matched one owned by Caverly was also seen.

Feb. 10: Bushes Bunches farm stand on Lazy Mountain reported the theft of pallets by someone in a white truck that looked like one the owner saw on social media in reference to recent thefts. A trooper found the truck at Caverly's home and seized it.

Feb. 12: A Wasilla pilot said his cellular-enabled game camera alerted him to a motor home backing up to his Cessna 180. A trooper found tracks leading to the fuselage. The pilot's son found a motor home matching the one on the camera at Caverly's home. The pilot later said five to 15 gallons of fuel were stolen and the fuel cap left loose.

The pilot noted that "had he not had a camera in place and had not noticed the tampering, it was possible he could have operated the aircraft without knowing what had occurred," the report states. "Water and other contaminants in the fuel can and do cause engine failure in flight."

Troopers say they recovered heavy equipment parts and construction materials.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at