33 years later, a tribute for slain family members

Scanned-from-a-Xerox-Multifunction-Device-2By Steve Guntli

In 1982, Blaine resident Laurie Hart’s brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew were victims of one of the worst unsolved murder cases in Alaskan history. Now, more than 30 years later, a traveling art project will help the family be remembered as more than victims.

Hart, who works at Good Samaritan Society-Stafholt, has been working with Brittany Retherford, an independent journalist in Alaska who has been researching the notorious murders that took place aboard the fishing vessel Investor. After spending years investigating and interviewing surviving family members, Retherford put together a memorial art project to honor the victims, and asked Hart to contribute to the project.

“Lost At Sea: Remembering the Victims of the F/V Investor Murders” is a photo exhibition of collected images of the crew, as well as personal anecdotes about them from those who knew them best.

Retherford became interested in the project after speaking with friends and family members of the victims.

“I found the story of the Investor murders resonates with almost everyone I meet, even those who weren’t alive in 1982,” Retherford said. “We have all lost someone we love; we all carry unbearable pains. I came to learn that while real resolution may be impossible with the Investor case, the pain felt by the victims’ families and friends has never really been acknowledged. One goal of this exhibition is to re-introduce Alaskans to the eight individuals killed on the Investor so that we can know them as more than simply victims of a violent crime.”

Hart was excited about the project for similar reasons.

“I am really pleased that they will be remembered as more than just victims,” Hart said. “Because to all of us they are brothers, sisters, sons, fathers and children, not just murder victims.”

In 1982, Hart’s brother Mark Coulthurst was 28 years old and captain of his own fishing vessel, the seine fishing boat Investor. Coulthurst managed a crew of four people, three of whom were from Blaine. The manifest also included Coulthurst’s pregnant wife Irene and their two children, Kimberly, 5, and John, 4.

“He was the success story in my life,” Hart said. “He was the one who had the big house and the big boat and the wonderful family. He was a real go-getter. He loved his children and wife very deeply and wanted to retire by the time he was 50.”

All eight aboard were found murdered on September 6, 1982, shot to death with a small-bore firearm. Police believe the killer attempted to scuttle the vessel to cover his tracks, but when the Investor failed to sink, the killer returned to the ship with gasoline and set it ablaze. Scanned-from-a-Xerox-Multifunction-Device

At the time, it was the largest mass murder case in Alaskan history. A suspect, Bellingham resident John Kenneth Peel, was arrested and tried twice for the crime. After the first trial ended with a hung jury, Peel was retried and acquitted in 1988. The Investor murders remain unsolved to this day.

While the case remains unresolved, Hart said the project gave her family an opportunity to speak with other family members and find some semblance of closure.

“[Retherford] was instrumental in getting the family members together to talk,” she said. “We had never really talked to the other family members about how we felt. It was amazing how therapeutic it was.”

The “Lost At Sea” tour began in Craig, Alaska on December 5, where it will stay for two weeks. The exhibit will then move on to stints in Ketchikan, Alaska and Astoria, Oregon before finally coming to Blaine on May 1 to coincide with the annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.

For more information on the project, or to offer donations to keep the exhibit running, visit salmondiaries.com or the exhibit Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/lostatsea1982.

  1. Bless you!

    • irene was my cousin. it is baffling that with all our technology they can’t figure out who did this terrible thing. irene was a sweet soul. it’s beyond unfair.

      • I saw this on tv without ever hearing of it before. To me, this was and should have been an easy case. This was done out of jealousy. Other fishermen, didn’t like that Mark caught a thirty thousand dollar haul and had a nearly million dollar boat. He was the most successful fisherman out there. Eliminate him, the boat and all involved and you eliminate the competition. I’d have yanked in every other competing fishing captain in that area. Someone jealous and pissed off about Mark’s success, hired a lackey to kill everyone and torch the boat. Offer a pimply-faced twenty something a few grand and they’ll jump at it. But, it goes beyond just the twenty something who killed them. Someone ordered it. Cannot believe they consider the case closed. Lazy idiot who said “I’ve given enough of my time.” Who says that?. No unsolved case should ever be closed. Ridiculous. Some jealous competing fishermen got away with killing eight people. Three of them children (one unborn). All for freaking fish.

  2. We were fishing next to them, the day before. It was around Noyes. We went back to Petersburg for the closure. Next closure we were in Craig, feeling disbelief as we talked to people about it. As the whole picture sank in. Friends were crewing on the boat the Investor was tired up to. In the morning they found the tie up lines all thrown off on their deck. Strange to be looking at the lines, knowing that the last one to handle them, was the one who did such a horrible deed.

    The feeling, of shock, was not unlike how I have felt when learning that a boat I know has gone down. But so much worse. Such a different, out of place, unthinkable ending, for all the people on that boat, that like us, and many others, were family and friends that were the crew. Just so wrong.

  3. BTW, I was on the Jackie Bell.

  4. I had many question back then, and even more now. Thoughts?


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