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True crime. Casually done.

The Midnight Sun Killer: Terror of Anchorage

Written by Matt Granda

The date is November 12th, 2016, and the time is 4:30 a.m. in the morning in Anchorage, Alaska. The sunrise is less than an hour away and a call goes out over the police dispatch, answered by Officer Arn Salao. Dispatch had just received a call from a cab driver mere minutes prior about one of their passengers. After arriving at their destination, the passenger simply hopped out of their vehicle and walked off, refusing to pay. Salao said he’d check it out and started making his way there.

As he drove, Officer Salao was no doubt on edge. Over the summer months, a killer had been wreaking havoc on the streets of Anchorage and had already claimed up to 5 lives since July. Not much information was known about the culprit, only that witnesses described him as a white male with long brown hair, over 6’0 tall, wearing a camouflage jacket, and the weapon had been positively identified as a Colt Python 357. Magnum Revolver.

As Officer Salao crept closer and closer to where the cabbie reported being ripped off, he caught sight of someone. A man was walking down the street in the opposite direction to where the call had come from. Believing this to be the perp, Salao followed after them for several moments. The next two minutes were captured on Officer Salao’s dashcam and was later released on the internet by the Anchorage PD for all to see. The man kept on walking, even as it became obvious that a police cruiser was tailing him. Eventually Salao put his lights on and pulled up right behind the man, briefly getting out of his car to get his attention. Still, the suspect kept walking, not even turning around. Salao, frustrated, got back in his car, and kept tailing him, turning on his megaphone.

“This is the Anchorage Police; you need to stop. This is the Anchorage Police; you need to stop.”

As soon as Officer Salao sent this message loud and clear over the megaphone, the man suddenly turned around. Without missing a beat, the man walked up to Salao’s car just as the officer had put his cruiser in park. What this man does next and the quickness with which he does it is very disturbing to say the least. As Arn Salao looked up at this imposing figure, the man removed something out of his pocket and raised his arm.

We now observe, as we enter the darkness to unearth more of this twisted tale, Officer Arn Salao’s eye widen in recognition and horror as he looks upon the man, wearing a black beanie to cover his long brown hair, and a camouflage jacket, staring down the barrel of a Colt Python 357. Magnum Revolver, as the monster squeezes the trigger.

Bang, bang, bang! Bang, bang, bang!

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anchorage_Serial_Killer_Sketch.jpg#/media/File:Anchorage_Serial_Killer_Sketch.jpg

Long Days of Light

Let’s rewind and set the stage proper. Today we travel once more to Alaska, seemingly the one place besides Mexico where criminals believe they’ll be safe from the long arm of the law. They might have a point though, with its vast landscapes covered in snow, its massive forests, and its large mountains and lakes. Plenty of places to hide, yet much to admire as well. People travel to Alaska every year to camp, hike, mountain bike, and ski. They also have a booming economy, with much of their exports coming from crude oils as well as multitudes of seafood and mineral ores.

One of the more interesting facts about America’s chilly Northern stepchild is the lengths of the days and night. It’s not uncommon during the warmer months to have days where the sun is up almost all day long, the final rays of lights only leaving the sky a little before midnight. It’s because of this fact and the timeframe in which the majority of these cases took place that our culprit has become known by the moniker “The Midnight Sun Killer.”

The First Bodies

At 7:45 a.m. on July 3rd, 2016, a bicyclist was riding along a bike path near the river Ship Creek. It was then that they got the shock of their life: two dead bodies sprawled out on the side of the path. See folks? This is why you don’t exercise; it only leads to trouble. The cyclist called the police, who swarmed the scene. The victims were identified, and two days later the deaths were ruled as homicides.

42-year-old Jason Netter Sr. was the first victim. Jason was no saint, having had issues with the police in the past for drug-related activity. He also had long standing family issues, particularly with his two daughters. It’s said that Jason had refused to pay child support to them or their mother, and the animosity had gotten so bad that one of his daughters had her last name changed so that she would no longer be associated with her father.

The second victim was 20-year-old Brianna Foisy. Like Jason, Brianna had a well-documented history of drug abuse. It got to the point where her adoptive mother, Marcella Foisy, had staged an intervention in order to help her, simply wanting her to get clean and get her life back on track. But Brianna would hear none of it and would end up homeless as a result.

What the two of them were doing there at that hour is unknown. Could it have been a drug deal? Could the two have been in the middle of some romantic get together? We’ll never know, sadly, because on that early morning, they weren’t alone. Coming upon the two, the villain of our tale walked up to them, Colt Python in hand, and coldly gunned them down. No emotion, no hesitation. Looking through hours of surveillance footage from the area, the police released images of two men that they believed could be persons of interest, though it’s unknown if either of those images captured the real killer.

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the only two lives snuffed out by this brute, as he would strike once more 29 days later.

The Boy on the Bike

On July 29th, 2016, shortly after 3 a.m., the killer struck again, this time in East Anchorage, and this time, there were witnesses. Three girls were spending time together that night when they noticed something strange outside their window. They spotted a tall figure lingering near Bolin Street underneath a streetlight, unmoving, looking in their direction, before ducking into the woods. If that doesn’t sound like something right out of a horror film, I don’t know what does.

Soon after, a young man was riding his bike to work, just a day like any other. He couldn’t have known it would be his last day. As he rode between Duben Avenue and Bolin Street, the figure stepped out from the forest and mercilessly unloaded his gun into the young man. Hearing the gunshots, the girls looked out the window again and saw the victim fall. The figure then walked over, grabbed the bike, and rode off on it.

Police soon arrived and identified the body as that of 21-year-old Treyveon-Kindell Thompson. A bright young man with a good future ahead of him. A young life cut short for absolutely no reason at all. It was soon determined that the same weapon that took the lives of Foisy and Netter was also the one who took the life of Thompson that night.

Note: Remember the name of this victim in particular, they’ll come up again later on.

Under the direction of Sergeant Slawomir Markiewicz, the three girls were questioned along with other witnesses, and they all gave the same description of what they saw. After all the interviews were complete and all the testimonies were taken into account, a description was noted and a composite sketch was created: a man over 6’0 tall with a pointed face, slightly sunken eyes and cheeks, shoulder length brown hair, and vacant, eerie eyes, wearing a camouflage jacket. Surveillance footage from the area confirmed the story, showing the killer advancing on Thompson, gun outstretched, walking out of frame before riding off back into frame on the bike. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be long for the darkness over Anchorage to claim even more lives.

Another Double Kill

Another month went by before more bodies were found. On August 28th, 2016, at around 1:42 a.m., an unnamed woman was walking through Valley of the Moon Park where she made a terrible discovery. The body of a young man was sprawled out on the trail with several bullet wounds visible on his torso. The police were called, and, searching the area, another body was found close by under a pavilion in the park, riddled with bullets. Very little evidence was left behind at the scene of the crime and it wasn’t long before medical reports confirmed that, you guessed it, the same Colt Python Revolver was involved in these murders as well. The beast’s body count had risen to five.

By RadioKAOS – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61253921

The body in the pavilion was identified as 34-year-old Kevin Turner. Turner had a history of mental illness, namely schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, and had been homeless at the time as he had not fared well in assisted living facilities. The second boy on the trail was identified as non-binary 25-year-old environmental activist Bryant De Husson, known to their loved ones as Brie.

Bryant’s father, Gordan, spoke with police after the discovery of his kid, and he proposed a theory, one the police agreed with. It’s believed that Brie had been on a late-night bike ride on their new Schwinn bicycle on their way to meet a friend. On their way there, they unknowingly stumbled upon the vicious execution of Kevin Turner. Before Brie could react, the murderer spotted them, marched right up to the terrified person, and gunned them down as to not leave any witnesses. Given that no link has been identified between Turner and De Husson, this seemed highly likely. Wrong place, wrong time, and it cost a young person their life.

Avoid the Darkness

Now with five bodies on their hands, the investigation kicked into overdrive. A serial killer was officially on the loose, and the citizens were in a panic. The police sent out a warning to the people of Anchorage to stay away from isolated locations after dark.

Following the most recent deaths, the FBI finally got involved. They offered up a $10,000 reward for any usable information on the killer,  receiving about 3 tips a day over the next two months. In the description of the incident, they focused mainly on the Thompson murder as that’s what gave witnesses the best look at the killer. They also didn’t release information about the murder weapon for fear the killer could ditch the firearm in a bid to avoid detection.

On September 6th, a press conference was held by the mayor of Anchorage, Ethan Berkowitz, to try and calm the populace, blaming the rising murder count on gang violence without mentioning the possibility of a serial killer. None of the victims besides perhaps the first two  had any link to any gangs.

Things were then quiet for the next two months…until November 12th.

By Nanosphere – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118279333

The End of Midnight

Now we’re all caught up and we’re back to where we started, when the quiet early morning of November 12th was shattered with an explosion of gunfire. The Colt Python 357. Magnum Revolver erupted six times in a barrage of lead into Officer Salao, catching him in the gut. But Officer Salao, being a certified badass, managed to draw his weapon, exit his car, and return fire on the killer even with his stomach gushing torrents of blood.

Things were still looking bleak for Salao. He was losing blood fast. He attempted to grapple the killer, and get his gun away from him, but the odds were against him, at least initially. However, Officer Salao wasn’t the only one who had answered the call over the radio. A second squad car came screeching up to the scene, with Sergeant Marc Patzke of the K-9 unit exiting his vehicle, gun in hand. Together with Salao, he opened fire on the murderer, riddling the camo wearing killer with bullets. He was dead before he hit the ground. The reign of terror that had Anchorage in the grip of fear was finally over.

Officer Salao was rushed to the hospital after the ordeal, losing consciousness soon after the killer fell. Salao, being a legend, survived. The gun was taken from the scene and sent to the lab where it was positively linked to all 5 murders. The killer was dead, and it was confirmed by the witnesses of the Thompson killing that they had their man. Finally, the cloak of mystery had been lifted and we had a name to thank for the bloody bedlam: James Dale Ritchie.

Who Was James Dale Ritchie?

James Dale Ritchie was born in Anchorage, Alaska on November 4th, 1976, making him 40-years-old at the time of his death.. He grew up in Anchorage and attended East Anchorage High School. A large man at 6 foot 3, he was a star athlete, excelling at both football as a defensive lineman and basketball, winning championships with both high school teams in 1994. During his down time, he was known to hang out with brothers Bobby and Quincy Thompson, spending time with and growing close with their whole family during his teenage years.

Now just an aside here, but remember when I said to remember that certain last name? It’s here that we come full circle as to why. Treyveon-Kindell Thompson, the third victim, was the son of none other than Bobby Thompson, Ritchie’s childhood friend. It is unknown if Ritchie had any idea of who Treyveon even was when he gunned him down in the street and took his bike. Bobby Thompson, who was in prison at the time, was devastated to learn that the nice young man who he’d grown up with had taken his son away.

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After only a single semester in college, Ritchie dropped out and returned home. The reason for this change is not known, but once he got back, his life started going downhill. In 1995, he had gotten into the drug scene and was known to partake in dog fighting. It’s also known that by 1998, Ritchie would at times go by the nickname “Tiny”. Not in an ironic way from his large size, but because, allegedly, the man had a tiny penis!

Ritchie had his first run-in with police in 1998 in relation to a drug investigation. When the officers came to question him at his door, he reportedly reached for his waistband, only for a handgun to fall out of his pants. Arresting him, they found a small electric scale in his room, a stack of folded bills, and a baggie filled with several rocks of crack. In court, Ritchie pleaded no contest on all charges, being placed on probation for three years.

In a letter to the judge, Ritchie stated: “I lay in bed every night thinking about how I’ve ruined my life. Then I sit up crying wishing I could go back to when I was in high school. I would have chosen a small Division II school to go play football at instead of a Division I college. I want to finish college, raise a family and buy a house. Instead as a felon I’ll never be able to get a good job.”

Trouble only continued from there for Ritchie. While on probation in 1999, he was pulled over for driving erratically near Columbine Street and DeBarr Road. Telling the officers he’d been drinking, his car was searched, and the officers found crack in the glove box and a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun in the passenger seat. Once more, he pled no contest, and once more he was given three years probation.

Between 2002 and 2005, he was arrested several more times, mostly for drug related offenses, each time receiving a lesser sentence. However, that all changed in 2005 when he was arrested for first-degree burglary. Apprehended while committing the act, he was found with two handguns, plastic handcuffs, eight zip ties, and $5,500 in his pocket. What he had planned for the occupants is unknown, though I think we can hazard a guess. He was finally sentenced to jail time for his crimes, serving only two years.

It was upon leaving prison that Ritchie acquired the Colt Python handgun. How the hell this guy was able to get another gun after all he had done already is beyond me. Soon after, he gave the Colt Python to a friend for safekeeping before moving down to Broadway, Virginia in order to be closer to his parents. For years after his release and relocation, Ritchie was a law-abiding citizen with only a handful of traffic violations to his name. However, after he reportedly broke up with his girlfriend, Ritchie moved back up to Alaska in March 2016, retrieving his gun once he did so. He resided in the neighborhood of Airport Heights for a time before moving to Penland Parkway trailer park in Anchorage.

Then something happened, perhaps a sign that Ritchie realized that something was wrong with his mind: he sought out mental health treatment. The police looked into it after his death, but it is unknown if he received any of the help that he sought, and soon after is when he went on a rampage that terrified the citizens of Anchorage for the entire summer of 2016. Looking at the spree of killings, it almost appears that Ritchie didn’t care about getting caught, at least at first. Hell, upon stealing Treyvon-Kindell Thompson’s bike, he brought it to his house where it was openly displayed and witnessed by many, though it was never linked to the murder until after he was identified.

Speaking of Thompson, his mother, Mandy Premo, was on the warpath after his death. She conducted an independent investigation all on her own, searching desperately for the identity of the person who stole her son away from her. She even at one point managed to identify Ritchie, armed with his Colt Python, near the Anchorage Regional Hospital in October 2016, a full month before the showdown with Officer Salao. She reported it to the police, claiming she intended to confront the man herself, but was advised against it for the sake of her own wellbeing as well as that of the investigation. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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Cold in the Street (Wrap Up)

Why? Why? Why? It’s the prevailing question we all must ask when it comes to cases such as this. Whether it be in relation to serial killers or a single killing, the question of why plagues us all. Unfortunately, this is one case where that answer will forever allude us. The one chance we had of uncovering that answer died on that sidewalk in the early morning of November 2016, lying sprawled out in an ever-growing pool of his own blood, multiple bullet holes riddling his body. James Dale Ritchie, The Midnight Sun Killer, was a demented man and a vicious murderer, with a motive that is an enigma to everyone involved, whether it be the police, his family, or the family and friends of those he gunned down in cold blood. Murders and other crimes in Alaska are ever prevalent, but this spree of death will continue to live on for its sheer ferosity and arguably complete randomness.

The ironic part is that as random as the attacks that Ritchie had perpetrated were, his demise was just as random. Had he not stiffed the cab driver, he never would have called the police. Had the driver never called the police, Ritchie never would have been confronted by Officer Salao on the streets and the firefight never would have taken place. Ritchie was a phantom; he wasn’t even near the top of the suspect list. Had he not made that one careless mistake, a seemingly thoughtless act, he could still have gone under the radar of the police, and he still could have continued his rampage of death and bloodshed. It’s chilling to think about, but it’s also a grim reality that we thankfully don’t have to live in.

As Anchorage Police Lt. John McKinnon stated to Alaska Dispatch News: “Mr. Ritchie, we just came upon by happenstance.”

As of now, no other murders have been linked to James Dale Ritchie, though that hasn’t stopped police from searching. His life is being gone through with a fine-toothed comb by police in Alaska and Virginia, seeing if his whereabouts and movements coincide with any other killings. One incident caught the eyes of investigators, that being another double homicide on January 28th, 2016. 19-year-old Selena Annette Mullenax was found by a dog walker at an overlook called Point Woronzof, and 20-year-old Foriegnne Aubert-Morissette was found close by, passing away on the way to the hospital. Both these deaths remain unsolved to this day. While they seem to fit Ritchie’s MO, he was reported to have not come back to Alaska until March of that year nor were they shot with his gun as he didn’t have it on him at the time, leaving his involvement in the deaths of these two young people rather unlikely.

For now, we look back on the victims of this horrible monster. It’s their lives that mattered in this situation, and it’s them who should be mourned, not the beast that ended everything for them all. Jason Netter Sr. Brianna Foisy. Treyveon-Kindell Thompson. Kevin Turner. Bryant De Hussan. These five unfortunate souls were lost to the world for no reason other than the deranged machinations of an evil man with a gun. It is them who deserve to be remembered, though as the world works, it’s the name of the killer that is etched into the history books, a true shame.

May James Dale Ritchie rot in whatever pit the Devil wishes to throw him in, and may the five victims of this soulless monster rest easy, knowing that the brute that took everything from them can no longer take from anyone else.

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