The long wait for answers

The last time Georgia Andrews saw her aunt alive was more than two years ago, when Marie Andrews stopped by her home on North Park Street with a present.

It was a little sign, the kind you hang on your kitchen wall or your front door: “Welcome to our cabin, clean up after yourself, your mother doesn’t live here.”

“I said, ‘Auntie, my mom does live here!” Georgia Andrews recalled.

Her aunt just laughed and laughed; she still thought it was so funny.

Then, on Oct. 11, 2012, Marie Andrews’ body was discovered at the bottom of a hill alongside the eastern end of Mountain View Drive. The 62-year-old’s pants were pulled down and she had bruises on her face. She was later identified later by her pacemaker, because her wallet and cell phone were missing.

Georgia Andrews said her family never learned what happened to their auntie: Police called the death suspicious at the time, but Marie Andrews’ name is still absent among the unsolved homicides by Anchorage CrimeStoppers.

But long after her name vanished from the headlines, her family is still hoping for answers.

Marie Andrews is just one of several women — nearly all Alaska Native — whose deaths in Mountain View have gone unsolved over the past 20 years.

Doris Ransom, of Sand Point, was found bludgeoned in Davis Park in October 1997. Helen Kinegak, born in Bethel, was found dead outside her home on North Lane Street on a cold January morning in 2000, and 35-year-old Martha Toms died at a local hospital after she was found, severely beaten, under a picnic table at Lions Park in 2005. Police continue to seek information in all three cases.

Then, on Oct. 15 of this year, a passerby found the body of 54-year-old Irma Williams, a Mountain View resident and native of Saint Mary’s, near Lions Park. The Anchorage Police Department concluded it was a homicide. As of late November, a spokeswoman for the department declined to release any additional information about the case.

“When this happened, we all thought, ‘There’s something going on,’” said Georgia Andrews. “There are too many elderly Native ladies in Mountain View that this is happening to.”

Violence against women–especially Alaska Native women–is an epidemic across the state.

More than one-third of Alaska Native and American Indian women will be sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and more than three-quarters of them will be physically assaulted. Per capita, more women are killed by men in Alaska than anywhere else in the country.

In a neighborhood where more than 8,000 people live within less than two square miles, and everybody seems to know everybody, the unsolved deaths of Irma Williams, Marie Andrews and the women lost before them strikes a particularly deep chord.

Alice Lawrence, 79, hasn’t forgotten them.

For decades, Lawrence has run an informal soup kitchen out of her two-story home on Richmond Avenue. She meets a lot of people that way: They come by to eat or to help out.

Even though nearly 20 years have passed, Lawrence still remembers Doris Ransom’s smile. She officiated the funeral after Ransom was found, lying face up, in the park down the street. And Lawrence remembers Irma Williams for her sense of humor, and how she was always looking out for other people. It was just a few months ago that Williams stopped coming by. When Lawrence found out what happened, she said it was nearly unbearable.

The fact that both Ransom and Williams’ murders have gone unsolved is hard to swallow.

“The police aren’t watching. They’re not paying attention,” Lawrence said. “I know not all of them are that way, but they’re so busy they don’t take time to find out who that person really was, and what was her life like.”

Andrews, who continues to wait for answers in the death of her aunt two years ago, said she believes the police are doing what they can. But she still remembers what her aunt’s life was like–what she was like–and she wants to see her case brought to a conclusion.

Before she died, Marie Andrews was homeless, living off and on in a tent in Davis Park, and recently separated from her lifelong partner. Originally from Anvik, she battled alcoholism and suffered from failing vision and hearing and a bum knee. She was one of the most generous people you could ever hope to meet, her niece said.

“Even though she struggled, she was a good person,” Andrews said. “She would have given you the coat off her back if you asked.”

She spoiled her great-niece, Andrews’ 7-year-old daughter, calling her “baby girl” and showering her with knick-knacks she picked up here and there; a mood ring, or a little ceramic vase.

Now that she’s gone, her great-niece refuses to part with them. She still cries about her great-aunt’s death, Andrews said.

She said police never called great aunt’s death a homicide. She had alcohol in her bloodstream at the time of her death, and police told her family her death could have been an accident. Maybe she tripped and fell and hit her head while she was trying to go to the bathroom in the lightly wooded area where she was later found.

Andrews doesn’t think it happened like that; it just doesn’t add up.

Some weeks after her aunt’s “suspicious” death, she said, her cousin received a mystery phone call from her mother’s cell phone, which police later found — along with her wallet and ID — in a dumpster near the place where her body was discovered.

That was the last the family heard of the investigation.

Andrews has since moved out of Mountain View, but as the number of unsolved deaths in the neighborhood inches upward, she and her family keep hoping for a little bit of closure.

“Her case, it still bugs the hell out of us,” Andrews said. “Nobody in this world has a right to take someone’s life.”

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