This story was update from the original on May 9
Rapist Deacon Evan from the tiny Alaska village of Stony River spent most of the last 19 years in the care of the Alaska Department of Corrections.
He was released, the agency says, on mandatory parole in July of 2016 and absconded only about a month later. On Wednesday, he was reported dead back home in Stony River.
The caller who reported his death in the fading village now down to fewer than 50 residents said the 66-year-old man “was believed to be a suicide,” according to troopers.
A subsequent investigation found otherwise. Troopers who arrived in Stony River from the communities of St. Mary’s and Aniak were suspicious of the scene they found and summoned homicide investigators.
“With the assistance of Fairbanks GIU (general investigations unit) and a crime scene technician from Anchorage,” a trooper Dispatch later reported, “it was determined that the death was not a suicide and that it had been purposefully staged to appear as a suicide. A suspect has been developed and the case investigation is ongoing.”
Someone, troopers now believe, murdered the last of the four, trouble-plagued Evan brothers in an island community near the confluence of the Stony and Kuskokwim rivers in a vast wilderness 225 miles west of Anchorage.
It was a sad end to the family history. Friends of Evan said he’d reformed in old age.
“You didn’t know him or live with him in Stony,” Alyssa Gregory posted on Faceback. “He was a great friend and elder in our community. People can change.”
Evan was well known to troopers. The Alaska State Court system records his problems, which began in earnest at age 35 when he was arrested for theft and assault. Things would get a lot worse after that, and Evan would mark himself as someone that anyone in a tiny village like Stony River might someday want dead.
“In March 1988, Deacon Evan raped his first cousin,” according to state appellate court records. “According to the presentence report, Evan twice raped his first cousin at knife point and threatened to kill her and her sister if she told anyone. The presentence report set out Evan’s extensive criminal history over a period of eighteen years, including two prior felony convictions and a history of violence. The presentence report concluded that Evan was ‘an extremely dangerous and unpredictable person, and certainly among the worst offenders in this class of offense.'”
Evan pleaded no contest to the sexual assault charge and was in 1989 sentenced to 30 years in prison with 10 years suspended. Credited with time for good behavior, he was released in 2007 and placed on five years probation.
He did not adjust as well to freedom as he had to prison. The good behavior quickly ended.
Less than a year after he got out of jail, the state moved to revoke his probation, saying that he had violated his conditions of release. Superior Court Judge Douglas Blankenship sent him back to jail in December 2008 and made it a condition of his future release that he undergo sex-offender treatment.
Evan was then to report to the North Star Center halfway house in Fairbanks and spend six months there. Evan got out of prison again in September 2009, but he never showed up at North Star.
Instead he took off. Court records say he “apparently spent a year at his family’s homestead at Deacon’s Landing, roughly 80 miles downriver from McGrath.”
Deacon’s Landing is a good place to hide. It is referenced as 80 miles downriver of McGrath because McGrath, a community with a population of but 340 itself, is the largest gathering of people along the now largely deserted upper stretch of the Kusko.
Most of the citizens of Alaska live 300 miles to the south on the opposite side of the Alaska Range in the roaded part of the 49th state. McGrath clusters around a busy airstrip that is the lifeblood of the surrounding region where only a few hang on these days by mining gold or trapping in a style not much different from that of 100 years ago.
Downriver, Deacon’s Landing is no more than several cabins along a creek at a big bend in the Kusko.
“Deacon and Agnes Deaphon, now deceased, moved to the site in 1945 and the name ‘Deacon’s Landing’ is derived from use of the location by Deacon to cut wood for
steamboats that used to travel on the Kuskokwim River,” according to a Bureau of Indian Affairs history.
The Deaphons were the grandparents of the Evan brothers – Deacon, Elya, Wassillie and Evan – who were to become well known in-country for reasons both wrong and right. Bethel defense attorney Myron Angstman has a photo of them posing with a trooper outside the Bethel jail in the 1970s. Deacon is wearing tie-dyed jeans and sports the long hair fashionable at the time.
“The picture shows a trooper who had many dealings with the Evan family, obviously not always pleasant,” Angstman writes on his blog. “Despite that he had enough appreciation for the brothers to have his picture taken with them. They appear as they were a colorful, handsome, capable group of young men who truly grew up in the woods.
“All four spent most of their early years at Deacon’s Landing on the Kuskokwim, their grandfather’s spread. Their family was among the last in the area to abandon the migratory pattern of living that existed in all of Alaska at one time when groups went where food was available in each season. The formation of the village of Stony River roughly coincided with that change, and that happened in the ’60s when the government started a post office and school there. But the Evans only partially accepted that change. They spent much of their time at the Landing, and their lifestyle was closer to the eras that went before them than they were to the modern era.”
Evan and Wassillie died fairly young, drowned in the Kuskokwim River. Elya succumbed to a heart attack at the start of the decade.
‘Deacon is currently in jail, where he has spent much of his adult life,” Angstman wrote in 2011. “Alcohol figured high on the list of problems for each brother. When sober, they really had no match in the bush. Powerfully built, tireless, and smart, they could tackle any job that involved hand skills. Three of them worked on the log building that now houses Angtsman Law Offices (in Bethel). In addition to those traits, they all shared engaging personalities that shine through in the photo.”
But there was a dark side, a very dark side. Deacon wasn’t the only one who couldn’t abide by the laws. Wassillie had a record of arrests for felony assault, resisting arrest, driving drunk. He once shot up a house in which he was living in Stony River.
Nothing written here should be read as excusing anything Deacon or the other Evan brothers did. Deacon was guilty of one of the most despicable and all-too-common crimes in rural Alaska, a crime about which the state needs to do a whole lot more to end.
But Deacon and his brothers were in lesser ways, much lesser ways, victims themselves. It is a tough change to go from living in the 19th Century to the 21st Century.
When troopers went to retrieve Deacon at the Landing in 2009, court records reflect that he was armed, but put down his gun “when the trooper approached him. The trooper found four firearms in Evan’s residence, along with marijuana. The state filed a petition to revoke Evan’s probation. Evan admitted violating his probation.”
Maybe he was more comfortable in prison than in freedom.
His probation officer recommended the court order a three-and-a-half year sentence to provide enough time for Deacon to complete a sex offender treatment program at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau and afterward complete a community-based program in Bethel.
The judge instead sent Deacon back to prison for 3 years and 10 months. He got out for the last time in the summer of 2016. When he went back to Stony River is not clear. Friend Elizabeth Wells messaged on Facebook that he was a different man when he came back for the last time.
“Deacon Evan had a past that he wasn’t proud of,” she wrote. “I can say that he had changed and he was functional in society….Deacon served at Vietnam for our country. He showed many symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome), yet kept moving forward. Throughout the time that I had known Deacon, he was not dangerous, yet he was helpful, kind, outgoing, and always willing to lend a helping hand. He had expressed that he was not proud of his past and he was ashamed, but he asked for forgiveness. He left that part of his life behind him. He constantly volunteered within the community. He would donate what little he had to community dinners and get togethers.”
He didn’t have much. Stony River doesn’t have much. It is a hardscrabble village threatened with extinction. It is easy for people there to feel forgotten except in times like this.
When the outside world notices Stony River, it is usually for the wrong reasons – homicide, suicide, the village school threatened with closing because it is falling short of the required number of students, or the rural Alaska living conditions most Americans would judge substandard.
“This was the first time that I had visited Stony River and hadn’t seen Rubbermaid trash cans of water being hauled,” Ryan Autenrieth, an environmental health official from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation wrote just four years ago. “Stony River has been battling for over 50 years to provide the most fundamental of services to their residents: the running water and flush toilets that most of us take for granted.”
The Indian Health Service and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spent about a $1 million between 1990 and 2005 trying to downsize traditional urban water and sewer projects to work in the village. It failed.
Help isn’t always helpful in rural Alaska.
Eventually, Autentreith wrote, “the community decided that they’d had enough with centralized water systems and feasibility studies. Individual wells with indoor plumbing and septic systems became their focus.”
That project was a success and Stony River struggled on into the 21st Century. And now it has another problem with which to deal. There appears to be, for better or worse, a killer in its midst.