A Yakutat Borough Police Department vehicle sits in front of the site of a fatal stabbing in Yakutat on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | Yakutat Borough Police Department)

A Yakutat Borough Police Department vehicle sits in front of the site of a fatal stabbing in Yakutat on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Courtesy Photo | Yakutat Borough Police Department)

Yakutat murder suspect, victim were longtime friends

Pair came to Alaska to fish, police chief says

The first murder in more than 20 years in Yakutat began with a verbal fight between friends, according to Yakutat Borough Police Department Chief Robert Beasley.

At just after 3 a.m. Sunday, the YBPD got a call from a woman who simply said the police needed to come to Weather Service housing, Beasley said in a phone interview. The same woman called soon afterward, Beasley recalled, and she was frantically yelling that someone wasn’t breathing.

Police arrived to find Washington man John L. Stapleton giving CPR to John Fergerson, Jr. in one of the rental units, Beasley said. The officer who arrived first went over to Fergerson, removed Fergerson’s shirt and found three stab wounds in his chest near Fergerson’s heart, Beasley said.

The officer immediately put Stapleton into custody, Beasley said, and Fergerson was later pronounced dead on scene. Stapleton, 46, was arrested for second-degree murder, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch. Fergerson, 61, is from Bremerton, Washington, and Stapleton is from Kent, Washington, according to the dispatch.

The dispatch also stated that the two men got into a physical altercation. Beasley said otherwise.

“It was a verbal altercation, not a physical fight,” Beasley said.

The two men had known each other for a long time, Beasley learned, and worked together for the Washington State Ferries. The woman who called 911 was a companion of the two men, Beasley said, but she was staying in a separate unit.

Weather Service housing, Beasley explained, is a group of housing units originally built for National Weather Service employees. Some units are still reserved for that, he said, but some units are for visitors. Fergerson and Stapleton were in Yakutat on a fishing trip, Beasley said. Fergerson’s next of kin has been notified, Troopers say.

Fergerson’s body was sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for an autopsy, according to the AST dispatch. Alcohol was likely involved in the incident, Beasley said.

Beasley said murders are a rare occurrence in Yakutat. The most recent one he can remember was in 1996 when Sandra Perry was found dead at the Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat. It was originally considered an accident, but in 2014, a jury found Robert Kowalski guilty of Perry’s murder. Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez sentenced Kowalski to 40 years in prison. Kowalski appealed his conviction but the Alaska Court of Appeals upheld the conviction this summer.

Bail for Stapleton was set at $500,000 cash, Beasley said, and Stapleton is currently in custody at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A king salmon is laid out for inspection by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor during the Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Emergency order bans king salmon fishing in many Juneau waters between June 24 and Aug. 31

Alaska Department of Fish and Game says low projected spawning population necessitates restrictions

Three cruise ships are docked along Juneau’s waterfront on the evening on May 10, as a Princess cruise ship on the right is departing the capital city. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Sitka residents join those in Juneau proposing hard caps on cruise ships as tourism grows

Two ballot measures could be presented to local voters in the two Southeast Alaska towns this fall

Most Read