This September, it will have been 34 years since Whatcom County residents were shaken by the news that a local fishing boat in Craig, Alaska was on fire and that eight people were either dead or missing. Most of the victims were from either Blaine or Bellingham. It soon became apparent that the crew of the F/V Investor weren’t the victims of an unfortunate accident; they were murdered.
Their names were Mark, Irene, John and Kimberly Coulthurst, Dean Moon, Jerome Keown, Michael Stewart and Christopher Heyman. At the time, it was the deadliest multiple murder case in Alaska history. One man, Bellingham resident John Peel, was eventually arrested and tried for the crime, but was acquitted in 1988. No one else has ever been charged. Today the case remains one of Alaska’s most horrifying unsolved mysteries.
At 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 1, following the annual Blessing of the Fleet Ceremony in the Blaine Harbor Boathouse, the community is invited to a public event to remember the victims of that terrible tragedy at the Blaine High School cafeteria.
The event will feature a traveling photography exhibit, “Lost At Sea: Remembering the Victims of the F/V Investor Murders,” which launched in December 2015 in Craig, Alaska.
Independent journalist Brittany Retherford organized the event, and is working with several local agencies to bring it to Blaine. Since its debut, the exhibit has traveled to Ketchikan and Sitka, Alaska, and Astoria, Oregon.
The goal of the exhibition is to recall the tragedy, get to know the victims and provide an opportunity for reflection this violence had on Blaine, Bellingham and the fishing community.
Retherford will give a short presentation that will focus on the memories of the victims, including a memoriam the Alaska State Legislature passed March 21 honoring the lives lost. Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman, two fisher-poet musicians from Astoria, will perform a song they wrote remembering the story. Attendees are encouraged to participate in the event by sharing memories and photos of the lost. A community potluck will also be part of the event and people are welcome to bring a dish to share.
Retherford has been researching the case for several years. The exhibition is the final result of hundreds of interviews Retherford conducted in Alaska, Washington and California. Despite the vast differences in perspectives, connections to the case and knowledge of the story, a common theme began to emerge: a sincere desire for resolution and healing.
While the eight victims weren’t technically “lost at sea,” the phrase is meant as a nod to the state’s rich fishing culture and as a metaphor for the kind of unexplainable loss unfortunately known by so many fishing families. Many fishermen have perished in Alaska’s waters, leaving loved ones behind, often without answers for what transpired in those final moments.
“I have found that 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 victims’ families and friends has never really been acknowledged. One goal of this exhibition is to re-introduce the fishing community and others to the eight individuals killed on the Investor so that we can know them as more than simply victims of a violent crime. They were each one someone’s sister, grandchild, brother, father, friend. And they should not be forgotten.”
The Blaine Chamber of Commerce and the Blaine Blessing of the Fleet Committee are sponsoring the event. Key collaborators include Laurie Hart, Mark Coulthurst’s sister, and Gary Dunster, chair of the Blaine Blessing of the Fleet Committee.
To learn more about the project, please visit the Facebook group page at facebook.com/groups/lostatsea1982.