As winter closes fast on Central Alaska, the family of short-lived, reality-
TV star Duane Ose fears he has gone off to die in the homestead cabin that is no longer his in the foothills of the Alaska Range.
The 78-year-old Ose and then-wife, Rena, last year signed the cabin over to a British couple who came out on top of a BBC-aired, TV competition to “Win the Wilderness: Alaska.”
For participating in the show and turning over the cabin to the winner, Duane’s family says he and Rena were paid in “six figures.” The big payday enabled them to move back to Minnesota, where Duane grew up, to be closer to family and state-of-the-art health care.
Rena had a heart condition. Duane, likewise, had a weak heart and had battled cancer. Rena’s heart problems caught up with her in May, and she died in surgery.
Duane, who’d used a magazine advertisement to find Rena in the late 1980s, promptly went online to start a search for a new mate. In the tubes, he found Ellie-Mae Blair, a younger woman who grew up in nearby Wisconsin before spending years roaming across the country.
Blair was already familiar with these sorts of modern-day hookups.
The written description of the video says “mom n child under Death Threats over Land Fraud Case being exposed. Men, time to man up and stand up n stop letting women tell u what to do. Please Help. CIA and Military Welcomed to this Proposition.”
In the video itself, the attractive blonde woman suggests she needs a husband because “the town of Hallie, Wisconsin said that a woman cannot own a $20 million commercial property unless she is married. Besides the ability to work hard and invest exceptionally well, I am also a great cook specializing in smoked meats, homemade pasta, bread and pies.
“And yes, they did tell that my place is in the kitchen, baking chocolate chip cookies, wearing nothing but an apron and high heels.
“So…I am an intelligent, college-educated Mensa, and I work on military battle analysis, etc., working on a masters in diplomacy, peace negotiating and military history.”
It goes on from there with Blair (then known as Ellie White) claiming to have been chased by men with guns who “stole our personal belongings” and are trying to steal her land, “the best commercial property in the Midwest.”
It ends with a plea for “someone to help me. They want me to get a man to stand by me. Is that man you? Will the right man please stand up?”
The right man
White/Blair seems to have now found that man in Duane, who promptly abandoned Minnesota to meet up with her in Fairbanks. They were married there last month and then began trying to reclaim the cabin near Lake Minchumina now owned by Warwickshire, England sheep farmers Emily Padfield, 37, and Mark Warner, 53.
Duane claimed he’d been duped in the deal with British TV and wanted to move back into the three-story structure he and Rena built. This despite the fact they hadn’t spent winters there in years.
Heating the three-story house on “Ose Mountain” with a wood-burning stove in a place where temperatures sometimes drop to 50-degrees-below zero was too much of a struggle for the elderly couple, so they rented an apartment in Fairbanks for the winters.
Fairbanks resident Peggy Billingsley met the couple there and became friends with them.
“The last time I saw Rena and Duane was just before they moved,” she messaged. “We were at the hospital together for a blood draw. Rena and I were laughing at Duane talking the lab tech’s ear off. He was unsteady on his feet back then, but his weight was healthy. It’s far from that now.
“A friend saw Duane at Walmart last week and took a photo. When he shared it with me, I was very alarmed. Duane is very thin and his clothes are hanging off him. My friend watched him walk from Walmart over to the hotel. He had to stop numerous times to rest. (Ellie Mae) was actually following him in a car.”
Billingsley, like Duane’s family, is not sure the old man can last long in the big house in remote Alaska despite his years of experience in-country. Duane is no Chris McCandless, the dead young man of the book “Into the Wild” who was lionized for a spring to fall sojourn in the Alaska wilds that left him dead of starvation.
Duane survived alone in the wilderness in an underground shelter for a couple years before marrying Rena and buiding the dream home where they spent decades.
“Duane and I chatted a fair bit on Facebook over the past few years…, about trapping mostly,” Billingsley said. “He was an excellent resource and helped me out a great deal. I really enjoyed chatting with him.”
No more. She said Duane blocked her after she liked a Facebook post on his page that he didn’t like. Other old friends have reported similar experiences, as have most in the Ose family. Efforts to reach Ose for this story failed. Facebook messages went unanswered.
Far away in the lower 48, Ose’s family is very concerned. Duane and his new found love were stuck in Fairbanks for several weeks because no local air taxis would fly them to the airstrip at his old homestead after the legal owners of the cabin said they didn’t want him moving back in.
Somehow, however, he and Ellie-Mae found a helicopter pilot willing to make the flight.
“I spoke to the owner of the chopper business today for 30 minutes,” Carol Hansen, Duane’s daughter emailed on Sunday. “They had no idea what was going on with my dad. The pilot said my dad seemed depressed and didn’t say anything. She did all the talking.”
The family is supscious Ellie-Mae is after Duane’s property and money, but on his Facebook page Duane paints her as a savior, claiming she has for years been preaching Christianity in South and Central America.
His page is now full of posts about relgion, some signed by Ellie-Mae, some not. Old friends don’t remember Duane ever speaking about religion.
Family members have asked Alaska law enforcement officials for help, but there is nothing officials can do. No crimes have been committed. Duane appears to be acting of his own free will.
Ellie Mae does act and sound a little crazy. In one of her YouTube videos, she claims she once died and went to heaven, but returned to what must have been a very large hospital room because 38 “specialists” were there working on her body.
When she came back, she said, the doctors wanted to find out “what had happened to me; why I had died; what was given my body that I was now not only alive but completely healed. I was miracuously cured of everything on top of being brought back to life.”
But making odd claims is not against the law in the U.S. It is, in fact, legally protected free speech.
Family member Amber Ose days ago wrote to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner thinking reporters shining light on the situation might help.
“Things have in recent days escalated to what we all fear are life and death levels of danger,” she said. “The woman he flew to Fairbanks to meet has a very disturbing history of marrying older men and benefiting from their financial establishment. She has at least five former names that we have been able to discover. She also has some very disturbing YouTube videos of herself, claiming very outrageous things such as having saved former President George Bush from assassination attempts.
“Many of his family members assumed he just fell in love with a younger woman and was on his own to deal with the drama, but there are many things that have become increasingly concerning. A very large life insurance policy is one thing as well as the show earnings, combined with the fact that all communication with Duane has been cut off from all those that had regularly spoke with him prior to this. It is clear to those of us that know Duane that this woman has been operating all his media accounts and will not permit anyone to have direct contact with him.”
There are, however, no laws against old men falling in love with younger women and letting them largely take over their lives. Possibly of more concern is Amber’s claim that “there is not enough wood cut nor food at the remote location to sustain Duane or anyone else for any length of time.”
The temperature at Lake Minchumina was 25 degrees on Sunday night. Night time temperatures are forecast to be down into the teens by midweek. It takes a lot of wood in the woodstove to heat a three-story cabin.
The old good news is that Amber said the helicopter is scheduled to return to Ose Mountain on Sunday with a “large load of supplies.” The bad news is that during the filming of the reality TV show Duane said that he’d die if he left Ose Mountain.
Now he’s back. The family’s concern is that he might be back hoping to remain at Ose Mountain forever.