Monthly Archives: May 2017

Four Orphaned Black Bear Cubs by Tony Ross

A year ago, I posted about my friend, Tony Ross, who is the Northcentral Regional Wildlife Management Supervisor with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Tony and his colleagues had rescued an orphaned black bear cub, and he and his wife, Karin cared, for the cub until Tony could reintroduce the cub into the wild under the care of a foster mother. I loved that story and thought it was amazing, but this year, Tony and other Game Commission biologists did something even more incredible; they rescued four orphaned cubs. I will let Tony tell the story in his own words, and I hope if any of my readers have friends or relatives in Pennsylvania, you will encourage them to read Tony’s story.


Four Orphaned Black Bear Cubs


Tony Ross

(all photos by Tony Ross)

It’s that time of year again. Young animals are beginning to show up all over the place and sooner or later, something will happen to the mother and the chase begins. And as I’m writing this, two baby squirrels are sitting in a pen in our kitchen. On April 12, our office (Pennsylvania Game Commission) received a call about four black bear cubs on the loose. The mother got hit by a vehicle and was found dead in a stream. Often, the cubs will be hanging on or around mom but the stream was much deeper and faster than normal so that didn’t happen.

Wildlife Conservation Officer Steve Brussese and I arrived on scene at the same moment. The caller pointed out the dead sow in the creek and mentioned he saw four small cubs on the other side of the creek going upstream. Steve and I split up as I walked up stream and he drove along the road and checked for any access to the other side of the stream. Neither of us saw anything. As I made it back to the scene, Steve had the sow out of the stream and loaded on his vehicle. We talked with the caller and asked him to call our office if he observes the cubs again.

Steve and I drove downstream to find an area to cross the fast-flowing creek. We found an area about 1/2 mile downstream. However, before we got together to start the trek, the office called us on the radio telling us the caller just observed the cubs going up a tree. We quickly got back in our vehicles and rushed back to the same spot. This time we saw three cubs up a tree on the other side of the creek. The caller was over there also. We had no choice but to wade across the creek.

Once we made it across the slippery rocks, the caller informed us the four cubs must have been hiding in a crawl space under the overhanging stream bank. We asked about the fourth cub and he stated it was still in that crawl space. As we all looked in the dark area, I noticed hair and immediately reached in and grabbed the cub with my gloved right hand. The cub was too large to fit through any openings in front of me so Steve came over and pulled out a rock that made the opening large enough to pull it through. I didn’t want the cub to pull away so I used my ungloved left hand. Small black bear cubs often are very naïve and don’t show any aggression towards humans until they reach about 10 lbs. Then, look out! This cub was about 8-10 lbs and was aggressive enough that he bit my hand. It didn’t break the skin but it sure produced a nice blood blister.

One down, three to go. We tried several things to get the three cubs down out of the tree but the cubs didn’t move on their own. Our attempts to get them down actually made them go up as high as they could. Our last option was to cut the tree. It worked but Steve and I and the three cubs got very wet in the process.

When we rescue orphaned cubs, we often have to keep them overnight at our homes before releasing them to one of our radio collared sows that are known to have cubs of their own. They become foster mothers. Fortunately, my wife is also an animal enthusiast so bringing home four black bear cubs was a delight for her. We kept each cub in its own pet carrier to make feeding easier. Together, we had to care for those cubs for 1 day and 2 nights. Feeding was a treat. Each bear had its own personality. From very naïve to very aggressive. The naïve one was the smallest of the group so it may have had to submit to its siblings causing it to be very submissive. The aggressive one was the one I pulled from out under the bank. He would bite, scratch and woof at you if you got near to him but once he tasted food, he calmed down for a short time. We finally just put his food in a container in his carrier and he lapped it up. Easier for him and both of us.

On Friday, I met Wildlife Conservation Officers Jason Wagner and Wayne Hunt who had collared sows in their districts, Wildlife Conservation Deputy Steve, and Information and Education Supervisor Doty McDowell. It was our intent to give two cubs to each of those collared sows. I split the four into two groups. The firs consisted of the two most timid cubs and the other were the two most aggressive.

The first group were let go with a sow that was still using her den as a retreat. Jason carried the two cubs in a backpack and dumped them at the opening of the den and both ran inside. Trail camera photos indicated she, her natural cubs and her foster cubs left the den area the next day.

The second group’s introduction was a bit different. This radio collared sow was on the move with her cubs so we had to get close enough to her to get her to put her cubs up a tree. Once Wayne located the sow in his district, it was time for all of us to get moving. It was only a couple hundred yards before we got close enough to get her to tree her cubs. Next step was to release the two more aggressive cubs up the same tree. As I held the bag open, Jason pulled out the most aggressive cub (I gave him my gloves before he put his hand in the backpack) and put him on the tree and he started to go up. We watched as he began to climb up but at about 10 feet he lost grip and fell back to the ground at my feet. I immediately grabbed him and as I was putting him on the tree he looked at me and in his usual attitude started woofing at me. In the meantime, Jason had gotten the other cub out of the bag and we left both of them go at the same time and up the tree they went. We got our stuff together quickly as their mother was watching us from not too far away and we wanted to get out of there quickly so she could be reunited with “all” of her cubs.

Terror in the Wilderness

I write wilderness mystery novels set in the remote, untamed wilderness of Alaska, and I also write a newsletter about true crime in Alaska. Recently, as I thought about a plot for my next novel, I decided I would draw pieces of my plot from the bizarre true crimes I write about in my newsletter. I then recalled a character from my past who was far more frightening than any fictional madman I could conjure in my imagination.

My husband and his family operated a remote hunting camp on the Alaska Peninsula, and when my husband was just a boy, he and his family were terrorized by a crazy man who stalked the wilderness of the Alaska Peninsula and claimed he owned the area around Becharof Lake. Killer Bill, as he was called, once hiked into the hunting camp, threatened my father-in-law and then punched him, knocking him unconscious. Killer Bill served time in prison for this crime, and he also spent time in jail when he was convicted of manslaughter for killing a man in a bar. When released on probation, the judge warned Bill that as a condition of his parole, he could not carry a firearm. Killer Bill ignored the warning and carried a rifle everywhere he went.

Bill burned down the hunting camp my husband’s family owned, and when they rebuilt, they constructed tent frames, instead of cabins, hoping Killer Bill would find the tent frames less offensive. Bill responded by burning the tent frames.

One winter, the Alaska State Troopers found Killer Bill’s snow machine submerged in a river, and they assumed he’d fallen through the ice during the winter and had drowned, but they never found Bill’s body. Everyone wondered was he dead or still alive, terrorizing anyone who dared camp on the vast area of the Alaska Peninsula he considered his. On my first trip to Becharof in the late 1980s, my husband warned me to keep watch for an old man who might suddenly walk out of the woods.

“What,” I asked, “was I to do if I saw him hiking up to our camp?”

“I’m sure he won’t bother you,” my husband said, “but grab a rifle as soon as you see him, just to be safe.”

I never saw Killer Bill, and he was surely long dead by then, but every time we camped at Becharof, I worried less about the bears and wolves prowling the Peninsula outside my tent than I did about a strange, old man who might appear at any moment out of the mist.

Numerous rumors circulated about Killer Bill. A fish and game biologist told us that on several different occasions, Killer Bill had gone trapping during the winter with a partner, but when Bill returned in the spring, his trapping partners were never with him. Once, according to this biologist, troopers entered Bill’s cabin when he wasn’t there and found human remains in the cabin. They suspected Bill had eaten his trapping companions, but they were never able to find Bill and charge him with the crimes.

I can’t imagine anything more terrifying in the wilderness than a crazy man determined to do anything and kill anyone to protect what he believes is his. I plan to base a character in my next novel on Killer Bill, and I hope my readers will find my character as frightening as I found the specter of the real man.

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FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan

FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan first appeared in my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, when he traveled to Kodiak, Alaska to investigate an explosion on a floatplane that killed, among others, a U.S. Senator. Nick, and my protagonist, Jane Marcus, spent time together solving the mystery, and just when it looked as if sparks might ignite, Nick made the decision to try to reunite with his estranged wife. Now, a year and a half later, Agent Morgan returns to Kodiak to aid the local police in their investigation of a string of murders. This next excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, describes Nick’s arrival in Kodiak on a typical, stormy, winter day.

Morgan barely could see the runway as the Dash 8 descended through the thick clouds and heavy snow toward Kodiak. Wind buffeted the plane from side to side, and he wondered how the pilot would manage to control the plane and hit the runway with this poor visibility and turbulence. It seemed like only seconds between the time they popped out under the clouds and the plane touched down on the runway, bounced once, and then screeched to a stop in front of the small terminal.
Morgan grabbed his bag and briefcase and headed down the stairs of the plane. With all the traveling he did, he had learned to pack light. Snow and wind pummeled him as soon as he stepped out of the plane; he pulled the hood of his parka over his head and rushed toward the door of the airport. When he stepped inside the terminal, an Alaska State Trooper walked toward him and held out his hand.
“Agent Morgan, I’m Dan Patterson. It’s nice to meet you.”
Morgan shook Patterson’s hand. “Please, call me Nick.”
Patterson nodded. Do you have luggage?”
“No, this is it,” Morgan said. “I probably should get a rental car, though.”
“Why don’t you wait on that. You won’t want to drive a rental car on these roads. We can chauffeur you around until the weather improves.”
The men left the airport and hurried to the trooper SUV. As they pulled out onto the highway, Morgan said, “I’m sure this weather isn’t making your investigation any easier.”
“Forget forensic evidence,” Patterson said. If you want to murder someone, winter in Kodiak is the time and place to do it. “We’ve got zip for footprints or tire tracks.”
“What about for the Ayers girl. It wasn’t snowing then, was it?”
“For that one, we had heavy rain to wash away any evidence.”
“The M.E. thinks the last victim was sexually assaulted, but he has no semen?” Morgan asked.
“Right. He found residue from a condom in the last victim, but no residue in the Ayers girl. He suspects the first victim was also sexually assaulted, but he couldn’t be certain, and of course, there is no way to know what happened to Deanna Kerr.”
“Her family still doesn’t know she was murdered?” Morgan asked.
“No, we thought you would want to be there when we break the news.”
“Do you think anyone in her family is capable of committing these crimes?” Morgan asked.
“Not really, but you said we should concentrate on individuals who spent the summer in Uyak Bay, or at least were on a boat in Uyak Bay around the Fourth of July and spent the remainder of the year in or around town. No one fits that picture any better than the Kerr family.”
Morgan liked the way Patterson thought. He was already forming an opinion of the trooper as a sharp investigator. He was impressed Patterson had called the FBI so early in the investigation. Too many cops hated to ask for help, especially from the FBI; they wanted the glory of solving the case by themselves. Patterson, though, seemed more interested in catching the perpetrator before more women were killed. He wasn’t thinking about his career or his pride; he wanted only to utilize the best resources he could find to catch the killer.
“I already have you registered at the Baranof Inn. Do you want to drop off anything there or go straight to our headquarters? I have a task force meeting planned to begin in half an hour. I wasn’t sure your plane would be able to land in this weather, so I should call the other task force members and let them know you’re here and the meeting is a go.”
“I don’t need to stop at the hotel,” Morgan said. “Let’s go to your headquarters, and I’ll get organized.”
Agent Morgan joins Patterson and the Alaska State Troopers and the Kodiak Police Department in investigating the murders of four women. Will more women die before they find the killer, or will the murderer leave the island before they apprehend him? I’ll release more excerpts from my novel when my publication date nears; I promise!

For stories about true crime, sign up for my free, monthly newsletter below. On May 15th, I’ll release my newsletter about an unthinkable murder that happened in Craig, Alaska.

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Park Ranger Liz Kelley

Park Ranger Liz Kelley discovers the body of a young woman while making her rounds in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park on a snowy, November night. This excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, is told from Liz’s viewpoint.


Park Ranger Liz Kelley was alone on patrol at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, but since she was the only ranger who worked at the 182-acre park, this was business as usual for her. Fort Abercrombie is a beautiful park, rich in history and nestled in a Sitka spruce forest. The park is bordered on its front edge by steep cliffs that plunge into the heavy surf of the ocean. The park has a small lake containing trout, and in the summer, meadows teem with wildflowers of every hue. There are numerous campsites designed primarily for tent campers, and in the summer, the park is full of tourists.

It was not summer, though. It was a snowy, blustery November evening. Liz sometimes patrolled the main area of the park on foot when the weather was nice, but when it wasn’t, she made her rounds in the beat-up pickup with the state park insignia on the door. In the summer, she spent most of the day out on the park grounds, answering visitor’s questions and making sure they obeyed the park’s rules. This time of the year, she spent most of her time huddled in the ranger’s station with her computer, a small t. v., and most importantly, a coffee maker. Liz had last driven the main roads of the park at 5:00 pm, and she hadn’t seen a living soul.   She had seen several deer huddled under the protection of the spruce trees, but she saw no trucks, cars, nor tents. When she got back to the ranger’s station, however, she noticed headlights pulling into the park. It was too dark to determine the make or model of the vehicle, let alone see who the driver was, but it had to be teenagers. Who else would be out in the park on a snowy, November night? She hadn’t seen the vehicle leave the park, but she assumed it had driven past while she was deep in concentration, working on her computer.

At 7:00 pm, Liz locked the ranger’s station and climbed into the truck to make her final rounds for the evening. She was anxious to get home to her husband and dog, so this would be a quick trip down the main road. She wanted to make sure that the vehicle she’d seen entering the park earlier hadn’t slid off the slick roads. She hoped the driver had enough sense not to drive down one of the side roads in this weather, and she wasn’t willing to drive down every small road looking for a phantom vehicle.

Liz drove slowly in the blizzard conditions. Four inches of snow covered the ground, and the large, heavy, wet flakes were quickly adding to the amount. She estimated the wind was blowing 35 knots or more, causing the snow to whiz horizontally past her windshield. For a moment, she considered abandoning her last rounds and heading home, but she continued at a snail’s pace, stopping every few feet to look left and right into the forest. Only an idiot or an overzealous park ranger would be out here on a night like this, she thought.

She reached the end and the concrete barrier where people could stand and look out over Spruce Cape and was happy to see there were no vehicles parked there. She did a U-turn and was starting back toward the park entrance when her headlights illuminated something bright pink a few feet off the road. At first, she thought it was a plastic bag, but it was too big. Should she stop and check it or pretend she didn’t see it and keep driving? She exhaled a deep sigh, shifted into park, grabbed a flashlight from the glove compartment, and crawled out of the truck. She cinched her hood tight and slogged through the snow toward the pink object. After only a few steps, she realized she was looking at a pink, down coat. After several more steps, she saw there was someone in the coat. She hurried toward the fallen form, all thoughts of her husband and dog and their cozy family room vanished from her mind, and she began running through first aid protocols in her head. Would she have to perform CPR? Did she have her rescue-breathing mask in her pocket? Should she put on her rubber gloves before she even touched the victim?

“Ma’am,” she called, “can you hear me?”

Liz slowed her pace as she neared the victim. “Ma’am?” The woman was on her side facing away from Liz. Liz touched her arm and called to her again, and when the woman didn’t reply, Liz rolled her onto her back. She took one look at her and stepped away from the body. She switched the flashlight to her left hand, and her right hand instinctually unsnapped her holster. She put her right hand on the butt of her gun while she swung the flashlight in a wide arc. She had seen a vehicle enter the park around 5:00, but she had not seen it leave. Was the murderer still in the park? Was he watching her? She felt the sweat run down her back, and she fought to control her emotions. It was no time to panic. She had to think clearly and act professionally.


Next week, I will re-introduce you to FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan when he is asked to fly to Kodiak to help investigate the string of murders.

My May Mystery Newsletter is a shocking, true story of murder from Craig, Alaska. If you would like to read it, you can sign up below.

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