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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