Eight months after linking five Anchorage shootings to a single handgun, Anchorage Police have finally confirmed there was a serial killer on the prowl in Alaska’s largest city last summer.
The killer – 40-year-old James Dale Ritchie – died in an unexpected shoot out with police in November that began when officer Arn Salao tried to ask the former Anchorage football star about an unpaid cab fare. Instead of pausing to talk to Salao, Ritchie opened fire.
Salao, who was wounded, called for backup and returned fire. Bullets from the service weapon of Sgt. Marc Patzke were credited with knocking Ritchie down, “causing the suspect to fall to the ground over top of Officer Salao,” according to a police statement at the time. “The suspect continued fighting Officer Salao until he was subdued by other officers.”
Ritchie subsequently died.
As part of the investigation that followed, police discovered Ritchie was carrying a .357 Magnum Colt Python to which they had already linked five Anchorage murders. The fact there had been five murders tied to the gun had not been publicly revealed before Ritchie’s death.
The Python is a relatively rare weapon on the streets these days. Colt ended production 18 years ago, although a few more Pythons were produced in the Colt custom shop up until 2005.
The fact Ritchie was carrying an older weapon linked to five homicides led to the quick conclusion the odds were high he was linked to the same five deaths tied to the gun, but police said they did not want to make that connection without further evidence.
A statement emailed to media on Wednesday said they now have that evidence:
“The Anchorage Police Department has concluded their investigation into James Dale Richie who was fatally wounded in an attack on APD Officer Arn Salao last November. Homicide Detectives have established sufficient probable cause to conclude that Richie was responsible for five homicides during the summer of 2016.
” As reported earlier, the revolver Ritchie had in his possession in November was linked to five homicides cases as the murder weapon (Post Road, Valley of the Moon and Bolin Street Homicides). Homicide detectives were able to establish Ritchie possessed the .357 Colt Python before any of the killings and that he acted alone. All of the investigations related to James Dale Ritchie are now closed.”
The statement thanked other law enforcement agencies for their help and referred all questions to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Ritchie grew up in Anchorage, but had spent time in West Virginia, where he briefly attended university, in the 1990s.
Earlier in this decade, he was reported to be living in Virginia, a state to which his parents moved. He was reported to have returned to Alaska in 2016 after breaking up with a girlfriend.
There had been concerns raised that his killing spree might have started before his return. A phone call to the Anchorage office of the FBI last week resulted only in a promise to call back on the status of a national investigation to see if the gun Ritchie used in the Anchorage killings was linked to unsolved homicides elsewhere.
As of this writing, the call has not been returned.