Alaska News

Addicts stole 36 guns in a single Anchorage break-in. One was used in a murder. Where are the rest?

On the morning of Sept. 7, two young heroin addicts used a handgun to smash the glass door of a gun store in a strip mall on Northern Lights Boulevard, one of Anchorage's busiest streets.

It was just before 7 a.m. on a Thursday morning.

The city would have been rumbling to life for the workday: Traffic hurtling down the road feet away. Lines building at drive-through coffee stands.

Inside, the men emptied a glass display case of guns, filling a duffel bag and their arms.

In all, Christopher Kratsas-Derr and Seth Kaufman stole 36 firearms.

Set loose into the streets of Anchorage, the guns were sold or traded for heroin, money, or a place to crash. They soon found their way into dangerous hands.

By the end of the weekend, one of the guns would be used in a startling daylight killing that for many became a turning point in a season of mounting disquiet. Others would end up with felons, shoplifters and one of Anchorage's most notorious car thieves.


This is how a single break-in has rippled across the black market world of drugs, property crime and guns on Anchorage streets. The full impact of the burglary is not yet known.

Today, 13 of the 36 stolen guns have been recovered. Twenty-three are still missing.

A high-value target

Tracing the path of the stolen firearms — through state and federal court documents and interviews — lifts the curtain on a world of Anchorage crime in which drug addictions fuel property crime, which in turn stokes addiction.

Nationally, the number of guns stolen from stores or other federally licensed firearms dealers has increased sharply over the past five years, according to Jason Chudy, a spokesman with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The number of burglaries of firearm dealers has increased by 48 percent since 2012. And the number of total firearms reported stolen nationally leaped 72 percent in the same time period.

Chudy said he couldn't speculate as to what's driving the increase. But guns are a valuable commodity on the street that can be traded for cash or drugs.

Stolen guns put weapons in the hands of people who are no longer legally allowed to have them, he said.

"Firearms in the black market stay in the black market until they are used in crime and recovered by law enforcement officials."

Of the 41 firearms stolen from federally licensed stores or dealers in Alaska last year, all but five came from the EDC Alaska robbery.

Two paths joined by heroin

Christopher Kratsas-Derr and Seth Kaufman came from very different circumstances, but their paths crossed through the bleak equalizer of addiction.

Kaufman, 31, was born and raised in Anchorage, in what his father Douglas Kaufman described as a loving, supportive family home. His mother owned a hairstyling business and his father was a retired social worker. He struggled with school but graduated from South Anchorage High School, taking some special education classes along the way, his father said. After high school, he trained as a union welder. He also helped out with his father's in-home health care business, caring for the elderly. He fought low-self esteem, depression and anxiety, his father said.

He had no criminal record until he was 28. A few years ago he started using heroin and everything spun out of control, Douglas Kaufman said.

"He lost his ability to reason and think."

He hadn't known Christopher Kratsas-Derr, 27, for long.

Kratsas-Derr's childhood was bleak, as described in a letter his paternal grandmother Annitta Roberts wrote to the court. His mother used drugs while pregnant, she wrote.

Once, police found him wandering Spenard Road at 2 a.m. after his mother had locked him out of the trailer, Roberts said. He was only four or five years old. Roberts says Kratsas-Derr's mother also overmedicated him on Ritalin "so she wouldn't have to deal with him."


"She did not want him," Roberts said in an interview from her home in Nikolaevsk, a rural hamlet north of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula.

Eventually, Kratsas-Derr was dropped on her doorstep in Nikolaevsk, according to Roberts. She was trying to raise him along with seven other children.

"Chris would call his mother up, begging to go back to her," the letter said.

Despite severe behavioral problems, Kratsas-Derr had some moments of happiness and success, his grandmother said. He worked on a horse ranch in Oregon and did construction in Kenai for a friend, Roberts said.

When he moved to Anchorage last year, despite his grandmother's pleas for him to stick around, Roberts was hopeful. Maybe he would free himself from the heroin and methamphetamine use she says is rampant in her part of the the lower Kenai Peninsula. She hoped he might find a legitimate job in Anchorage. Roberts said she'd take her grandson back in a minute.

"He really is a fine young man," Roberts said. "Every time he gets in trouble it's involving drugs, and he follows whoever he has befriended. He wants friends so bad — a family. People who don't put him down."

'Hell on earth'

In the months leading up to the burglary, both men turned to burglary and break-ins to fund deepening addictions.


First, in May, Kaufman was accused of stealing a gun safe from an acquaintance's apartment and charged with theft. Then, in June, both Kaufman and Kratsas-Derr were caught loading an ATM with a broken front into the back of a pickup truck, according to charging documents in a criminal case against them. Both were charged with theft. There were more charges in August for Kaufman stemming from a smash-and-grab burglary from a car parked at the University Lake dog park.

By the time of the September gun store burglary, Kaufman already faced three open felony theft cases.

His family noticed an accelerating downward trajectory, according to a sentencing document written by his attorney John Cashion: "Friends and family recognized Mr. Kaufman's drug addiction, his rapid descent, and feared that he was on the cusp of seriously hurting himself or ruining his life."

During that time, Kaufman made some attempts to get off drugs. Twice he used Vivitrol, a medication that blocks the high of opioids. He tried to get a bed in a detoxification and rehabilitation program, his dad said.

There was no space available, Douglas Kaufman said.

Watching his son's addiction and the destructive consequences mount was "absolutely hell on earth," his dad said.

The break-in 

Just before midnight on the day before the burglary, surveillance footage captured Kaufman and 34-year-old Crystal Abbott, the girlfriend of Kratsas-Derr, trying to get into the store. They had tools and black spray paint, which they planned to use to cover surveillance cameras, according to federal court filings.

But a neighbor confronted them, and they fled. Abbott faces pending federal conspiracy and firearms theft charges for her alleged role in the burglary.

Hours later, Kaufman returned with Kratsas-Derr, prosecutors said. Kaufman was wearing gloves and carried a duffel bag. They sat for a time in the truck, which was parked in front of security cameras. The crime seemed desperate, prosecutors said.

"As thefts go, this one was crudely planned and poorly executed by distinctively dressed burglars who contemplated their crime for over five minutes while stationed in front of multiple security cameras in a stolen truck," federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum for Kaufman. "In short it was dumb — and devastating."

EDC Alaska owner Juan Cruzaley-Phillips got a phone call from his alarm company soon after the break in. His heart sank. His store sold and transferred the titles of guns strictly by the law, he said.


He knew the missing guns could end up in the hands of anyone.

"I hope the guys who got them don't do anything stupid with them," he remembers thinking.

Guns on the street

After the burglary, the two men fled in a truck.

They phoned Kratsas-Derr's girlfriend Crystal Abbott, and made a plan to take the stolen guns to the trailer of a guy they knew as "Brian," but who was actually named Juan Carlos Hernandez-Torres, according to federal court filings.

There, they split up the firearms.


Each man took half. One gun was given to Hernandez-Torres for his trouble. They parted ways, and Kratsas-Derr, Hernandez and Abbott drove around Anchorage, stopping to sell the guns to people they had called or texted, according to the version of events in the federal case filings and described by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Sayers-Fay in court.

Hernandez-Torres sold some of the guns himself while Kratsas-Derr and his girlfriend stayed in the car getting high on heroin, federal prosecutors say. Hernandez-Torres hasn't been charged for his alleged role in the distribution of the guns, but faces federal drug trafficking charges for allegedly selling pure methamphetamine to an undercover agent in the parking lot of the Jewel Lake Carr's grocery store.

Later, the trio checked in to the Microtel on West International Airport Road where they kept doing drugs and unloading guns.

The guns weren't just stolen, they were wildly hot: Cruzaley-Phillips, the owner of the gun store, had posted a list on Facebook of the make, model and serial number of all of the weapons on the morning of the theft. He wanted pawn shops and other gun dealers to know not to buy the firearms.

Kaufman, meanwhile, spent the next few days trading some of his cache of stolen firearms for heroin, small amounts of cash or a place to sleep, according to court filings from the U.S. Attorney.

Four days later, on Sept. 11, police caught up to him at a Motel 6 in midtown Anchorage. Police had been tipped that someone was talking about selling a SCAR 17S semi-automatic rifle. When officers knocked on the motel room door Kaufman, according to court filings, jumped from a second-story window.

A bag tumbled out of the window too: It contained four of the stolen guns.

A week later, police showed up to a report of a suspicious person with a gun near the Brown Jug liquor store on the Old Seward Highway and found Christopher Kratsas-Derr. He didn't have a gun on him when he was arrested, but he did have needles.

By that time, one of the guns had been used to kill someone.

Without warning, a killing 

On Sunday morning, Sept. 10, Gregory Gill, a 65-year-old with deep roots in West Anchorage, was sitting behind the counter at the Arctic Boulevard paint store he co-owned engrossed in paperwork when someone walked through an unlocked side door and shot him in the head.

Surveillance footage captured the gunman walking out less than a minute later with a cash box.

The next morning Gill's nephew walked into the business and found his uncle face down in a pool of blood, according to a letter he wrote to the court.

"I think I went into shock as I cannot remember most of the ensuing phone calls that I made," Timothy Gill wrote.

Police arrested a 27-year-old part-time painter from the Kenai Peninsula named Randall Igou the next day. When he was arrested, he told police he was high on meth. At Cheney Lake, police pulled up a bag containing a Ruger .22 pistol. Ballistics test showed that casings from the murder scene matched a gun stolen in the burglary at the EDC Alaska store.

How exactly did the gun travel from Kaufman and Kratsas-Derr to Igou's hands?

The federal case against Kratsas-Derr and Kaufman is silent on the issue. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Sayers-Fay told the judge that the prosecution "didn't particularize" that fact because the government believes both men should be held culpable for stealing the guns that ended up being used in a homicide.

Kratsas-Derr and Igou did have a connection: Both had lived in Nikolaevsk, with a population of less than 350 people. They knew each other, said Annitta Roberts, Kratsas-Derr's grandmother.

The common thread

The rest of the stolen guns percolated throughout Anchorage criminal society.

Soon they began to surface with people who were not supposed to have a gun at all.

On Sept. 13, police found a 9mm pistol from the burglary on a man suspected of shoplifting, near the Aurora Village Carr's grocery store.

Four days later police pulled over the driver of a stolen car in Mountain View and found a Sig Sauer pistol taken in the burglary inside.

Then, on Sept. 27, Navy Tauinaola was found with a Heckler & Koch pistol, the serial number partly obliterated. The Anchorage district attorney's office says Tauinaola is one of the most prolific vehicle theft defendants in the city. He faces federal charges of being a felon in possession of a handgun.

A few months later, on Dec. 7, a felon was arrested at a Tesoro gas station on Lake Otis Parkway with a shotgun and pistol from the burglary. Another gun surfaced on Dec. 20, when a .38 pistol was found on a shoplifter at Kohl's.

Two more of the stolen guns turned up recently. In one case, a person had bartered a cellphone for it and then tried to resell it to a local gun store owner, who called police. On March 16, one of the stolen guns was found in a car with thousands of dollars in cash and 20 grams of heroin.

Federal prosecutors are reluctant to say much about how the guns passed from Kratsas-Derr and Kaufman to the people they were found with.

Investigations are still open in all of the cases.

"A lot of these guns were purchased out of the trunk of a car in Mountain View," said Kelly Cavanaugh, the Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting several of the federal cases against people found with the stolen guns.

He declined to say whether the guns were believed to have been purchased directly from Kaufman and Kratsas-Derr directly, or from someone else.

All the defendants have one thing in common, Cavanaugh said: A history of drug addiction.

Who's next? 

On March 6, in a nearly empty federal courtroom in downtown Anchorage, a federal judge sent Kratsas-Derr to prison for 10 years. Some of Gregory Gill's family members phoned in.

The sentence was the maximum under federal sentencing guidelines.

The burglary started a chain of events that led to a death one Sunday morning in an Anchorage paint store, said U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess.

Kratsas-Derr wore a yellow prison jumpsuit. His head was shaved. He said he'd had a speech to the court prepared but changed what he wanted to say when he learned of the connection between the gun he stole and the Aurora Paint homicide.

"I'm kinda speechless about that. I feel really guilt-ridden about what I did and my actions leading to the death of a hard-working family man," he said. "I feel for that family."

In prison, he said he hopes to get drug treatment.

Seth Kaufman's sentencing didn't happen for another two weeks. On Friday, he  was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

He too is getting treatment for the drug addiction that wrecked his life: Kaufman's turnaround in jail has been "a miracle," said his dad. He's living in the Anchorage Jail's "faith mod," and has been accepted to post-prison rehabilitation and transitional programs.

At Kaufman's sentencing, Burgess called the case a "clarion call for the seriousness of this type of conduct."

"Everybody associated with this case has had or is going to have their lives devastated," he said.

Gregory Gill's nephew Tim Gill is still running Aurora Paint Co. At work, he sits in the same spot where he found his uncle shot to death.

For the first few months it was hard to even be in the store, he said. It was the slow season for painting. Regular customers stopped by anyway to talk and share a cup of coffee so he wouldn't be alone.

Now, he keeps a gun and a bat and bear spray in the store with him. His family has lived in West Anchorage for generations. The city doesn't feel safe to him anymore.

The murder was "a meteorite that hit our family," Gill said.

The chain of events that started with the shattering of glass at an Anchorage gun store that September morning did not end with the death of his uncle, he said.

Twenty-three of the stolen guns are still out there.

"Where are they?" Gill said. "What are they going to do with them? Who's going to get hit next?"

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.