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Alaska Nuggets: My Last Summer in Fairbanks. Or, the Day My Dog Dug Up the Body in Our Backyard.

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It was the summer that I turned ten.

We were living in Fairbanks, and the whole family had decided to move to Anchorage. When I say everybody… I mean everybody — all my uncles, aunts, cousins, and even my grandmother. The whole family, en masse, was moving to Anchorage. I was looking forward to the warm, subtropical temperatures. But for now, my mom was pregnant with my youngest sister, Heather. The move was put on hold until she got here.

This was to be my last summer in Fairbanks!

Our house had a large backyard that backed up onto the yard behind us. The house had recently sold and the people who lived there had a large shed that backed up to the chain-link fence, separating our two yards. With my mother expecting, we spent most of our time playing in the backyard. On occasion we would sneak down the block to the weird guy who had an airplane parked in his front yard. The airplane was an old DC-3 cargo plane from the Second World War and, as any 10-year-old little boys would, we would spend our days bombing the Germans, the Japanese, the southern rebels, the wild Indians out west and anybody else we could think of… they all got bombed. We believed Custer would have won if he had just waited for our air cover.

Then we would sneak out of the airplane and head home for dinner under the bright daylight of the Fairbanks midnight sun.

We had a tan dog named Buddy. He was a boxer, He was also dumber than a box of rocks. One day we noticed that Buddy was chewing on something in the backyard. We were afraid that it might be a chicken bone or piece of plastic or something else that could get lodged in Buddy’s throat and require a trip to the veterinarian’s office. So we went over to investigate. Buddy was chewing on a bone… a human bone!

The summer was about to get very interesting.

We investigated. Buddy had dug under the chain-link fence and then under the storage shed that belonged to the house behind us. We collected all the bones in a box and took them to my mother, who was nine months pregnant with my sister, and asked her what we should do. My mother saw the box of bones and immediately realized two things: they were human bones and they were real.

Needless to say, my mother lost her mind. She called the police. We were not allowed to go in the backyard until the police got there. When they arrived, they took over our investigation. The police asked us if we were sure that there were no more bones in the backyard, and we assured them that we had. Then, they turned Buddy loose in the backyard and, from the safety of the window above my mother’s kitchen sink, they watched the dog, while staying concealed from the neighbors. Buddy ran around the backyard little bit then started sniffing around. As sure as anything down that hole he went and about a minute later he came back out with another bone in his mouth. I believe this one was a femur. The police had my mother open the back door and call Buddy. The dog brought the bone into the house. The whole episode was a little bit freaky. The police now had probable cause that a crime had been committed and had the proximity of the (rest of the) body.

Needless to say, this was the coolest thing that ever happened on our block. And we were right in the middle of it. Years from now I would be sitting in a bar and people would say, “hey do you remember that summer in 1972 when those kids helped the police bust what turned out to be the worst serial killer Fairbanks history?” And I would smile wide and say, “yes… Yes I do. I was one of those children.” I could almost taste the movie, and I wondered what childhood star would be cast to play me.

 

The police waited in our house until backup arrived, then went into the backyard and hid behind the shed. Meanwhile, we snuck around to the front of the neighbors’ house.

We were thinking how cool this was. Our serial killer neighbors were going to get into a shootout with the police, and we had a great view of everything!

Then something happened that we didn’t expect. The police came out the back door into the back yard with our neighbor. He wasn’t even in handcuffs. Our neighbor and the police were talking for a little bit. Our neighbor did not look happy. The police officer who had just been in our kitchen pointed to our house while he was talking to the neighbor. All I could think was, oh no he just told the serial killer where we lived. The leading officer walked over to another officer, who had been hiding behind the shed, and told him something. Then, he pointed to our house. That officer came to our backdoor and asked us for the box of bones. I asked what he was going to do with them. The police officer said “we’re going to give them back to him.”

I said, “but those are evidence.”

“Normally they would be,” said the officer. “But in this case he has a permit.””

Now this had just gone off the weird charts. A permit? How do you get a permit to be a serial killer?!

It turns out our new neighbor was a professor of human anatomy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The bones were props and, although they were actually human bones, he had a permit to possess them. Now they were damaged and had been half-eaten by our dog. He was not happy with us at all. Needless to say my parents had to make restitution.

We finally made it to Anchorage, but I noticed that Buddy didn’t make the trip. When I asked my mother where our dog was, she said Buddy had decided to stay in Fairbanks.

I was kind of okay with that. Buddy was dumber than a box of rocks.

 

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One of the best parts of living in Alaska is hearing the stories from the locals who grew up here. Have one to tell? Email us at info@alaskacommons.com and you could be featured in a future edition of Alaska Nuggets.

Mike Byers is a 6th generation Alaskan. He was born in Fairbanks and grew up in Anchorage. Mike and his wife and daughter make their home in Dallas Texas. Mike is still very connected to Alaska by family and friends.

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