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.
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.