Up and down the Yukon River in the wild heartland of Alaska, the warning to be on the lookout for ex-con Jerald Harrison – a man now believed to have torched four cabins and looted more – has moved at light speed.
A land of big distances and few people, the central Yukon country is today intimately connected via friends, families and Facebook. The latter has carried a warning written by a well-known Alaska snowmachine racer for nearly 400 miles along the river from Tanana, population 260, to Russian Mission, population 330.
After outlining Harrison’s alleged crime spree and the man’s description, Iron Dog racer Tyler Huntington warned that “he is extremely dangerous and mentally unstable as evident in the crimes of arson and similar notes at each crime scene.”
The notes are near identical. They threaten a Fairbanks city council woman and the native Athabascan Indian residents. As to why, no one really has a clue.
Harrison, nicknamed Slop Pail Jerry for once throwing a bucket of human waste into the truck of the mayor of the tiny Yukon River village of Ruby, has a checkered history.
Thirteen years ago, he barricaded himself inside a store in the Yukon River village of Nunam Iqua, formerly Sheldon Point, not far inland from the Bering Sea.
Troopers at the time described him as “an armed homeless man, who said he was tired of being taunted.” By whom he was taunted was not reported, but Harrison, who is white, has a problem with Athabascans.
His notes have accused councilwoman Joy Huntington of being an “evil (Athabascan) shaman who tortures to death anyone who gets in her way.” A shaman is an Athabascan witch doctor. Huntington is a Dartmouth College-educated consultant who has never been known to torture anyone, let alone kill.
Now 59, Harrison was 46 when he “broke into the Swan Lake store in Nunam Iqua, 500 miles northwest of Anchorage,” the Juneau Empire reported in 2004. “Armed with a sawed-off rifle, Harrison barricaded the door with cases of sugar and canned food and refused to leave.”
Troopers had to helicopter into the village from a post 60 miles away to talk Harrison out of the store and send away some villagers who arrived with shotguns. Harrison was arrested and went to jail in Bethel.
In and out of jail
According to the records of the Alaska Division of Corrections, the Nunam incident led to Harrison’s second stay in the Yukon-Kuskowkim Correctional Center in the regional hub. His first visit lasted but five days in 2002.
The standoff in Nunam kept him behind bars for three months. He was released from jail near the end of summer 2004 only to be arrested again in October. He was soon out on probation, but back behind bars in May.
After that, he was moved from Bethel to the Cook Inlet Pretrial facility in Anchorage where he was held until mid-June 2005 before he was again released on probation. That time he managed to stay out of jail for almost two years.
The summer of 2007 saw him charged with burglary and the theft of firearms in Ruby, the Yukon River village of 160. Ruby residents say they remember that incident well.
A trooper SWAT team flew in to get Harrison, who was living in a cave he’d dug into the side of a cliff about 10 miles upriver from Ruby. He appeared to have been living there for some time.
The Ruby charges resulted in Harrison doing a couple of years in jail. He was released on probation in the summer of 2009 and successfully completed it in the summer of 2010.
He managed to stay out of trouble until earlier this year when he was arrested for assault at a motel in Fairbanks, taken to the Fairbanks Correctional Center, and released the same day only to fall off the grid.
Where he has been since then is unclear.
Huntington said it seems Harrison “does not want any contact with people since he has not been sighted for nine months, only his wrath of crimes and notes.” But there is a report that he had a chance meeting with a German canoeist on a Yukon adventure.
Sense of unease
Village residents along the river are watching, wondering, worrying and chattering back and forth on Facebook about all of this.
The general belief seems to be that Harrison has been working his way downriver by canoe, possibly traveling mainly at night. A Holy Cross resident posting on Facebook identified the German paddler who met Harrison as Robert Neu, said Neu had talked to troopers and then posted a photo of Neu, saying, ” I just wanted to share his photo so that downriver villages are aware he is a good guy. ”
Rachel Freireich, the tribal administrator for Grayling, posted that some of the locals talked to Neu “who came into contact with (Harrison) somewhere on the river (and) said he is traveling in a green canoe and very crazy. (Neu) said he got away from him as quickly as possible. So far the green canoe has not reached Grayling. Last seen 18 miles from the village.”
That was two days ago, and there have been no reports since.
Most people on the Yukon these days, and especially local people, travel in outboard-powered riverboats that make enough noise that a man wanting to avoid being seen would likely have enough warning of their approach to get to shore and hide. That could be what Harrison is doing.
How long he can succesfully do this is unknown. Some concerns have been raised that river residents might take the matter into their own hands if troopers don’t find Harrison soon.
“Need to round up the warriors and take him down before he kills some innocent person,” one Central Alaska resident posted on Facebook.
“No one seem to know how to deal with the guy,” answered the resident of a Yukon River village. “Maybe Mother Nature will.”
Those familiar with the 59-year-old Harrison say they think the latter unlikely. They say Harrison is a skilled survivalist. That, the arsons, and the reports he has stolen numerous guns from cabins along the river is what has many on edge.
A Facebook post started by a Galena woman has been shared 150 times and attracted dozens of comments from nervous river residents. In the world of Facebook outside of Alaska, 150 shares might seem like nothing, but there only about 2,400 people living in 10 villages strong out for about 400 miles along the middle Yukon.
If a corresponding 6 percent of the citizens of New York City shared a post about a madman on the loose there, it would amount to more than 500,000 shares. If 6 percent of the residents of the Northeast Megapolis, the corridor that stretches from Boston to Washington, D.C. and is about the same length as the Yukon from Tanana to Russian Mission, shared a story about a madman on the loose, they would generate about 3 million shares.
Strange as it might seem, 150 shares on Facebook in a community of people this small is heavy traffic, and the comments reflect that a lot of those people are nervous.
“OMG this is scary,” posted a woman from Holy Cross, population 230.
“So scary. Prayers for everyone’s safety. Hope n pray this sick man gets caught very soon,” added another from Nulato, population 260.
Village fears sounded like they might also have made things a little uncomfortable for that German paddler when he passed the village of Grayling, population 215.
“Grayling guys stopped him,” a woman from the village posted. “They told him to keep going. Not to stop in Grayling. He was shook up cause our guys were fully armed.”
Correction: Robert Neu’s last name was misspelled in the original version of this story.
I hired him while “caretaker” at Old Clay Street Cemetery. He was a good working…and worked around my cabin…When I didn’t need him anymore he went off the edge and made threats. I did take him serious …He would come to city council and say off the garbage even about ‘me’ He’s no doubt has a real genuine mental problem…I knew if i ran into him again id have to take serious measures to protect myself….At that time he was living out by the Airport in the woods area. Frank Turney, Fairbanks, Alaska. I pray they catch him and not come back to Fairbanks
Pete: you need to go back and reread. the post said the German paddler is a “good guy,” and that the good guy said Harrison is “crazy.” i am trying to get the German paddler. easier said than done. there’s a long way between villages on the Yukon.
Re-read? More like re-written. The article has been heavily edited since my comment. You might want to point that out, Craig.
Pete: my WordPress history shows that story going live shortly after midnight Sunday. the only revisions came at 10:57 today when a very wonderful woman who regularly proofreads stories for me sent this list of fixes:
After outlining Harrison’s alleged crime spree and the man’s description, Iron Dog race (RACER) Tyler Huntington warned that “he is extremely dangerous and mentally unstable as evident in the crimes of arson and similar notes at each crime scene.”
According to the records of the Alaska Division of Corrections, the Nunam incident led to Harrison’s second stay in the Yukon-Kuskowkim Correctional Center in the regional hub. His first visit lasted but but (REPEATED) five days in 2002.
The standoff in Nunam kept him behind bars for three months. He was released from jail near the end of summer 2014 (2004) only to be arrested again in October.
In the world of Facebook outside of Alaska, 150 shares might seem like nothing, but there only about 2,400 people living in 10 villages stroug (STRUNG) out for about 400 miles along the middle Yukon.
(TOO MUCH BLANK SPACE BETWEEN PARAGRAPHS – and the rest of the typos here I think were quoted…)
This guy is extremely capable of living off the grid for years, in caves in mountain sides to snow caves in the winter, smokes cigarettes if possible, has an obsession with multiply (MULTIPLE) people but fixated on one at the moment.
One can only assume he is the one responsible but the Troopers stated they have no evidence he is (THE) person, due to all the evidence being sent to the State crime lab which we were told can take up to one year for results.
Once again, he is extremely dangerous and mentally unstable is (AS) evident in the crimes of arson and similar notes at each crime scene.
that’s it. i do fix typos without making not of my sloppy copy editing. anything more than that either gets noted as an UPDATE or a CORRECTION. there is a lot of stealth editing that goes on the tubes, and i pretty much detest it. that said, your first comment was spot on as to “Craig, you should find the German guy and get the story directly from him. That would be a story worth reading.”
and the observation on Facebook gossip is worth a story in and of itself because a lot of it is gossip and some of it isn’t. when people put there name to something, and say “i talked to this guy and he said this,” there isn’t much difference from interviewing them and getting that statement.
the big question is an ethical one in my view. when people do this on Facebook, should a reporter identify them? if you decide not to ID them but the information appears valid, should you use it or not? i know i regularly wrestle with this as do other journalists. i think some people in rural Alaska know how public Facebook; i think others don’t. it all present an interesting problem.
At this point who cares about rewriting or typos? At least Craig is informing others of this mad man and how often “urban” folks do not realize how often “rural” folks must deal with such on their own! Very few journalists take the time to do such “stories” in our eyes this is reality! we should be more concerned about coming up with solutions to comprehend this person and be grateful the “story” & rural issues are being shared and less worried about bullshit such as proper grammar as writing styles! Thank you Craig for caring!
It’s pretty amusing that Native folks along the Yukon get worked up about this guy. And it’s ironic. They are all in a tizzy about a mentally-deranged, violent, thieving, pyromaniac, ex-con, homeless, river-bank-living psycho that left Alaska’s big cities and headed into the Bush. Newsflash to folks in the Bush: this happens every time to folks in Anchorage and Fairbanks when you banish or run-out a miscreant from a Bush village. The end result is Alaska’s biggest cities have another mentally-deranged, violent, thieving, pyromaniac, ex-con, homeless, river-bank-living (or creek-bank-living) psycho that we have to deal with.
The Bush Yukoners have one Slop Pail Jerry to deal with. Thanks partially to the Bush, Alaska’s big cities have hundreds of Slop Pail Jerrys to deal with.
Yukon River folks are freaked out because they have one Slop Pail Jerry … and they don’t even know where the fuck he is. But from the kitchen window of many homes in Anchorage, you can look out at vacant lots where there are tents filled with Slop Pail Jerrys. Good thing the Bush folks with Slop Pail Jerry paranoia don’t live in Anchorage. They couldn’t handle it.
JimBob: i’m going to leave this comment up, but it’s a close call. you overstate the problem in Anchorage by several orders of magnitude, and you ignore the resources Anchorage has to deal with it. if there were an emotionally disturbed guy like this roaming Anchorage or Fairbanks now, local police would without a doubt be in the midst of a manhunt.
we can have a legitimate discussion about why that doesn’t happen in rural Alaska, but there is no doubt rural Alaska gets treated differently. and there’s no denying a part of it is just a lack of resources. one reality here is that there is no truly cost-effective way, sad to say, to provide modern day law enforcement in a place the size of Delaware yet home to only a few thousand people. the high-cost of rural policing is a problem all over the country, but it’s especially a problem here where these communities are so small and so far apart they couldn’t afford to pay for their own local police even if they wanted to.
Dude…are you nuts too? Anchorage has its problems, but they pale in comparison to the hardships of living off the road system. And if some vagabond from tent city was burning down Jewish properties and leaving swastikas behind, this would be a national story and a multiagency task force would be hunting down the suspect. Downplaying the severity of these crimes is inexcusable, as is insinuating there is some sort of overreaction on the part of the local residents, who have every reason to be fearful of Jerry, or whoever is responsible for these horrible acts.
It seems likely this is going to end tragically for Jerry, and who knows who else. With relatively minimal response from law enforcement and the media, what choice do the locals have but to organize and track down the suspect themselves? Maybe a drone with night vision or heat sensing imagery would help to locate him safely. But he needs to be stopped and brought in to answer for his crimes.
well put Laura Stine. the reaction would be considerably different if this was someone burning down Jewish or African-American properties and leaving these notes. it would definitely attract national attention.
You are certainly Slops relative!
Reread the article. A village resident came into contact with New, the german paddler. S/he shared New’s picture so people would be aware he was a good guy. New stated to a different person he had been in contact with Harrison and he was crazy and wanted to get away.
typo? 2004 instead of ” end of summer 2014 only t” ??
Those who know better obviously are able to put two and two together at this point who cares, one thing is obvious, he is a crazed individual!
No that is correct year for that incident. The author is trying to show a time line criminal behavior/ incidents handle by AST.
So the German paddler said the suspect was “a good guy” but he also said the suspect was “crazy” and wanted to get away from him as quickly as possible? This is what happens when FB gossip is reported as “news”. Craig, you should find the German guy and get the story directly from him. That would be a story worth reading.