There was nothing unusual about John L. Jack Sr. being at the Viking Restaurant on Oct. 14, 1988.
Jack, 73, was a regular at the downtown restaurant, often stopping by for a cup of coffee as he headed to the bank and greeted friends downtown. Jack was seen at the restaurant on that Friday afternoon, 30 years ago this month.
It was the last time anybody saw Jack alive — except for his murderers.
Three days later, when employees at the Mountainview Apartments where Jack lived noticed they hadn’t seen him over the weekend, they checked his room. They found a hideous scene. Jack had been brutally beaten and stabbed to death, and apparently by someone he knew. Jack’s door was locked, and there were no signs of forced entry.
What exactly happened from that Friday afternoon to the grisly Monday morning discovery has remained a mystery for three decades.
An autopsy from Seattle forensic pathologist Dr. William Brady concluded that Jack likely was killed that Friday night (the same day he was seen at the Viking), according to Empire reports at the time. Brady also ruled that Jack died of the knife wounds, and the beating was so severe, according to the Empire, that Brady couldn’t rule how many times Jack had been struck.
With 30 years having gone by, there are very few people available to speak with first-hand experience. There are no current Juneau Police Department employees who were with the department then, no current Empire employees who were with the paper then and no current employees at the Mountainview Apartments (the site of the murder) who were employed at the time of the murder.
JPD Records Supervisor Cindy Ruby and Lt. Scott Erickson said that because this case is still open, the department isn’t releasing anything more than a photo of Jack and archived Empire articles from the time. Records are not made public until the case is solved. On the Juneau Crime Line website, there is a short writeup on the Jack case.
Family members either declined an interview request or didn’t respond to interview requests, and the City of Angoon did not comment. Almost all of the details in this story are from Empire reports at the time that were found in the Empire’s archives or supplied by JPD.
His friends called him Johnnie.
Jack, a retired commercial fisherman, was Alaska Native and the former mayor of Angoon. He had moved to Juneau six years earlier when his wife moved into St. Ann’s Nursing Home on Sixth Street. According to a quote in the Empire from JPD Lt. Steve Kalwara, the lead investigator in the case, Jack visited his wife almost every morning at St. Ann’s. Kalwara, who is retired and lives in Florida, declined an interview request.
He lived in a second-floor apartment at the Mountainview Apartments, located on 12th Street just off Egan Drive. It was primarily housing for seniors, and it still is today. The Mountainview Apartments share a building with the Juneau Senior Center.
An Empire article on Feb. 6, 2000 quoted JPD Lt. Walt Boman and JPD Lt. Ron Forneris saying that Jack’s murder stuck with them. They were quoted as saying Jack didn’t deserve what happened to him, and was a particularly easy target.
“To have this nice man, partially paralyzed by a stroke — not a threat to anybody — just brutally murdered is something that offends my sensibilities,” Boman’s quote read.
Ed Schoenfeld, a reporter for the Empire at the time who wrote the first story on the murder, recalled in a recent interview that the circumstances of the murder shook many residents at Mountainview.
“Obviously this person was not a stranger to Mr. Jack,” Schoenfeld said. “I think it freaked out an awful lot of people there. I didn’t hear of anybody moving out, and I think police assured people that Jack was targeted and it wasn’t random. That still isn’t enough. It wouldn’t be enough for me.”
Jack was apparently a regular downtown, walking with his cane to the bank or getting a cup of coffee at the Viking Restaurant.
On Friday, Oct. 14, 1988, Jack was planning on taking a ferry to Angoon, according to Empire reports. Jack cashed several checks prior to leaving, police said at the time, leading them to believe that Jack probably had a decent amount of cash with him that day.
There was very little released at the time of the murder, but Empire reporter Annabel Lund wrote articles on the first and second anniversaries of the crime that brought more details to light.
Police came to the conclusion, based on evidence at the scene, that the murderers were a man and either a woman or a smaller man. There was (and still is) a buzzer system at the apartment complex, indicating that Jack knew the visitors well enough to allow them into the building.
In the apartment, police found that any money Jack had was gone, as was his wife’s jewelry collection. Neighbors in the apartment complex — who were understandably rattled — told police that they didn’t hear any kind of struggle. Police conducted sound tests and determined that the building’s soundproofing system was robust enough that it muffled most sounds between units.
No weapon was found on scene. In the building’s trash bin, police found a pair of small black Stadia athletic shoes that were covered in blood and hair similar to Jack’s. The fact that the shoes were thrown in the building’s trash bin suggested to police that the owner of the shoes apparently knew the building well.
Police believed the person left the building barefoot. Had they apprehended a subject, according to the article on the two-year anniversary of the murder, police would have compared the person’s foot with the impression left in the shoes.
Alaska State Troopers investigators analyzed fingerprints left at the scene. JPD sent evidence to the Federal Bureau of Investigation laboratory in Virginia. Kalwara organized a meeting in March 1989 that brought in homicide investigators from around the state for a day-long session to share ideas and examine evidence.
That meeting was in reference both to Jack’s case and to another strangely similar murder that happened just two months later. On Dec. 30, 73-year-old Harold Gallant was shot to death in his home on West Ninth Street. Robbery was the motive there, as well, and police came to the conclusion that multiple people had done that crime as well.
Police determined there was no connection between the Jack murder and the Gallant murder, Erickson said. Articles at the time also stated there was no connection between the two. Erickson said two people — Kelly Day and John F. Smart — were convicted in the Gallant case. The crime was motivated by drugs, Erickson said.
Lund, who lives in Oregon but spoke over the phone about the case, said the Jack case should have probably caused more of a stir in the community than it did.
“(I have) this sense that if it had been a white middle-class state worker, it would be more frightening to people, and there would be more pressure put on,” Lund said. “That doesn’t mean the police didn’t do everything they could to find the murderers, but just that the pressure in the overall community of Juneau wasn’t there as it would have been in another situation.”
The answers could be out there
Meanwhile, leads have run dry in Jack’s case. Empire articles say the police received hundreds of phone calls from people trying to offer theories and ideas, but investigators believed some people were still holding details back.
Lund also believes there are people who know something. She said it’s not likely that any Mountainview residents or many contemporaries of Jack are still living, but she’s hopeful that answers might come from younger folks who now see how vulnerable Jack was at the time of his death.
“With 30 years going by, someone who was 25 at the time, now they have parents or aunties or uncles who are sort of in the same position as John Jack,” Lund said, “so they are more willing to speak up because suddenly, even if they didn’t know John Jack, they recognize, ‘This could be my father. This could be my uncle,’ and be more willing to, even if it’s just passing on rumors, that someone would be more willing to do that.”
If people have information, they can share it anonymously through Juneau Crime Line, which is a nonprofit that assists police departments in their investigations. People can call 523-7700 to submit a tip, or can go to www.juneaucrimeline.com.
Crime Line offers rewards for some of its crimes, and the Jack murder is one of them. There is still a reward for information that leads to the conviction of Jack’s killers, Erickson said.
Ryan Backmann, the founder and executive director of Project Cold Case — which brings attention to cases that have gone cold — said there are a number of reasons for bringing an unsolved murder back into the public light. Chiefly, he said, it’s about public safety because the killer or killers can strike again. Secondly, solving the case can bring peace to families.
He said that after a while, many police departments transition a case from unsolved to “historical.” JPD hasn’t done this yet with the Jack case, and Backmann said there’s still hope for some decades-old cases.
“Unfortunately, there has to be a point where you move on and you don’t investigate it anymore,” Backmann said, “but I can tell you from experience that we have been involved in a 43-year-old case that was solved about a year and a half ago.”
Kalwara is quoted in Lund’s two-year anniversary article about the murder with an impassioned plea to people to speak up. His words then still apply, 30 years after the murder.
“Sooner or later their conscience has got to get the best of them and they’ll have to realize they’ve got to come forward with what they know to lay their mind at rest,” Kalwara said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.