Peninsula Crime: Bad men … and dumb ones — Part 1

Gleaned from local newspapers, are a few examples of the dim and the dumb.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Crimes were definitely committed on the central Kenai Peninsula between 1960 and 1980, but not all the perpetrators of those crimes were the brightest mental bulbs in the box. Here, in Part One and gleaned from local newspapers, are a few examples of the dim and the dumb.

The Bumbling Bandit

Sometimes it is painfully obvious when someone has not planned ahead. Such was the case of DeWain Roscoe Bess, Jr., when he selected a cold winter night to rob the establishment in which he had been drinking.

According to state police reports (written about in The Cheechako News), Bess entered Eadie Kummert’s Last Frontier Bar in North Kenai on the night of Friday, Feb. 10, 1967, sat down and had a drink or two. He then grabbed bar employee Roberta Hopkins, took out a revolver, and held Hopkins in front of him as he demanded all the money from the cash register.

Bartender Michael Rhoads complied with Bess’s demands, and then Bess released Hopkins and told her to go out into the parking lot and start his car. Hopkins told Bess that she didn’t even know how to drive, but Bess told her to go out there anyway.

Hopkins knew a good opportunity when she saw it. Once she was out the door, she ran off and did not return. Eventually, Bess tired of waiting and ordered another customer to go out and check on Hopkins. The other customer left the bar and also did not return.

At this point, Bess grabbed Rhoads and demanded that yet another customer go outside and start his car. Another customer complied, but this one hurried to a nearby bowling alley and used the telephone there to call in law enforcement. The time was 10:50 p.m.

When the police appeared a short time later, Kummert met them outside and informed them that the situation inside was under control. Apparently, while Bess was waiting for his car to warm up, Rhoads had grabbed the robber’s gun, wrestled it away and then held it on Bess until authorities arrived.

Bess was arrested, arraigned in Kenai, and jailed in Anchorage. His bail was set at $5,000, and his car never did get warm.

The Meat of the Issue

In the early morning hours of Monday, Dec. 11, 1967, the Alaska State Troopers were alerted to a possible shooting at the Hilltop Bar & Café (current site of Good Time Charlie’s) on the Sterling Highway. When they arrived, according to a brief account of the incident in The Cheechako News, they found two wounded men and an odd explanation.

Lying on the floor of the bar was Wilford L. “Bill” Hansen, the Hilltop’s owner and bartender, who had been shot at least twice in the stomach and was in critical condition. Lying on the floor of the dining room was Elbert M. “Marshall” Dorsey, the café cook, who had been shot in the left shoulder. Early reports indicated that Hansen and Dorsey were victims of a gunfight with two other men, who had fled the scene.

On the lam were Harvey D. Hardiway, an employee of the Chemical Construction Company of North Kenai, and T.L. Gintz, whose last known address was at the Port Inn on the North Road. According to the news story, Hardiway and Gintz, both of whom were also injured, had driven through Soldotna and Kenai and gotten as far as the Wildwood Air Force Station when they realized that their need for medical attention outweighed their desire for distance from the scene of the crime.

They drove onto the base, and from there were taken by an Air Force ambulance crew to the Central Peninsula Clinic in Soldotna. Gintz had a minor head wound, while Hardiway was suffering from unspecified injuries, according to the newspaper.

Back at the Hilltop, the Kenai Volunteer Fire Department readied Hansen and Dorsey for transport to the Soldotna clinic, where they would be treated by Dr. Elmer Gaede. Later, the paper said, Hansen, Dorsey and Hardiway were all flown to Providence Hospital in Anchorage for further treatment.

Authorities had been alerted to the scene initially by the Hilltop’s daytime bartender, C.L. “Smiley” Newton, who was living in a trailer behind the bar but had heard none of the gunplay. In fact, Newton might have slept longer, the Cheechako implied, if he had not been awakened by the “cleanup boy.” When he entered the establishment at 3 a.m., he discovered Hansen and Dorsey, and he then called for law enforcement.

Troopers reported that the gunfight, which had started at about 2:30 a.m. and involved three revolvers, was apparently an escalation of an argument concerning hamburgers. The news story contained no further details on the cause of the conflict.

There was, however, more to the story, according to Funny River Road resident, Eugene Hansen, son of Bill the bartender.

According to Eugene Hansen, the Cheechako story had been fraught with errors. He said in about 2010 that there had been only one gun involved (not three), that neither of the fleeing suspects had been injured, and that the conflict had centered not so much on food but on the payment for the food.

Eugene Hansen recalled that when Hardiway and Gintz had paid for their food, they had paid with an inordinate amount of change, an offering not deeply appreciated by Dorsey and Bill Hansen. Tempers had flared, and a gun had appeared.

At the trial several months later, Eugene said, “Marshall (Dorsey) wouldn’t I.D. the shooter. I think they must have gotten to him or something.” Kenai magistrate Jess Nichols said that, without Dorsey’s testimony, there was not enough evidence to continue the trial, so he dismissed the case, and Hardiway and Gintz went free. Bill Hansen, who was still recuperating, did not testify.

Bill Hansen, who had been involved with the Hilltop for years, was 69 at the time of the shooting. In the hospital, said Eugene, his father was “recovering great” from his wounds when he apparently developed a blood clot and suffered a stroke, which robbed him of his ability to speak and left his right side paralyzed until his death in the early 1980s.

Eugene Hansen said that Bill’s family tried to continue running the establishment after the stroke, but finally they sold the place to “Good Time” Charlie Cunningham.

Overlooking the Obvious

When vandals disabled most of the school buses in Soldotna on a cold winter night in 1972, they may have reveled in their cleverness, but they also failed to notice one obvious drawback to their actions.

On the subzero night of Tuesday, Jan. 11, two individuals parked a vehicle on the far side of the chain-link fence that surrounded the bus lot behind the bowling alley in town. As determined by Soldotna Police Chief Charlie Decker — who examined the clear tracks they had left in the snow at the scene of their crime — they cut a hole in the fence and climbed through. They then walked among the buses, cutting off heating-cable connections so that the buses would be unable to start on Wednesday morning.

Decker postulated that the vandals, whom he assumed were local students, may have believed that they would be gaining an extra day off from school through their actions. And they were correct — up to a point. Since few buses could be started the following morning, school in Soldotna was, indeed, canceled.

In fact, since someone in Kenai — Decker thought it might be the same pair — had also jerked out the heating cables on one of the buses serving that city’s schools, attendance for some students in Kenai was also disrupted.

Burton Carver, the area bus contractor, said that repairs would cost hundreds of dollars.

The police, meanwhile, announced that they had a lead and were asking for more information.

Also, the school district reminded students that schools were required by the state to make up missed days, so it was thought most likely that the makeup day would be plucked from an upcoming vacation period — say, Easter or Spring Break.

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