By Kirsten Swann
Exactly 834 days after his brother’s murder, in a city thousands of miles away, Phillip Erwin posted a Craigslist ad with a single-word subject line: “Criminal.”
The ad was published to the local news board of the Anchorage website alongside posts about missing dogs and crooked lawyers and open houses and a weekend jam night at a downtown bar.
“1/13/2013,” began Phillip Erwin’s Craigslist post, copied and pasted from an Anchorage Crime Stoppers bulletin. “Unsolved Double Homicide-Kosbruk/Erwin.”
The brief post went on to ask for information regarding the deaths of 38-year-old Melvin Kosbruk and 67-year-old Gary Erwin, Phillip’s brother. The two roommates, were found slain in their Mountain View apartment one Sunday afternoon in January 2013. Investigators never publicly released any details about their deaths. A year later, the Anchorage Police Department put out a second call for public assistance in the case.
It still remains an open investigation, according to police. On the opposite side of the country, Gary Erwin’s family holds out for closure.
Shirley Pearson, living in Mississippi, didn’t learn about her little brother’s murder until a month after it happened. It was a shock, to say the least. She still struggles to wrap her head around it.
That December, she sent him a Christmas card, like she always did. In February, she sent him a card to celebrate his 68th birthday. By that time, though, he was already lying in a morgue. Pearson learned of his death when Kosbruk’s sister found the unopened birthday card and called her in Mississippi to tell her the horrifying news.
To this day, Pearson still doesn’t understand why it had to happen like that, why the family never received word from police. There had been some confusion, she learned. Despite the cards and emails from his brother and sister down south, APD initially believed Gary Erwin had no surviving family members.
She started placing calls to Anchorage on the day her brother was set to be buried.
“You can’t do that,” she said.
Erwin, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, deserved a burial in a military cemetery, Pearson said, not alone without his family even knowing he was gone. Things only seemed to go downhill from there, she said. There’s still no end in sight.
“It put us through hell,” Pearson said. “I don’t understand.”
Her younger brother was a quiet man with a tender heart, but no wife or children of his own. One of six siblings, he worked as a contract monitor in the commissary at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where he was just months away from retirement. After living here for 40 years, he had plans to leave Anchorage and join his two surviving siblings down south, Pearson said.
Erwin and Kosbruk were roommates for many years. Pearson said her brother took the younger man in off the street, and they lived together in a two-story apartment building on Irwin Street.
It’s a quiet road. Dotted with single-family houses and other apartment complexes, it’s home to families and the elderly; a block away from the Mountain View Boys & Girls Club and four neighborhood churches. Erwin’s apartment building surrounds a courtyard where children and dogs play. When it’s warm outside, the smell of barbecuing chicken wafts off front porch grills.
Pearson never came to visit. Instead, she used airline miles to buy tickets for Gary Erwin, who flew south to visit his family every year or two. Until 2013.
When a family member is murdered, the pain goes so much deeper than the first, immediate pang of grief. There’s paperwork—piles and piles of paperwork.
Pearson spent a year trying to sort out her brother’s affairs. He had no will—she believes it’s locked up in a safe impounded by APD in the wake of the crime. Without that all-important document, it took more than eight months to claw through the court system and settle Erwin’s estate. Pearson took extensive notes, recording everyone she spoke with and all the steps that came after her younger brother’s murder.
She filed the paperwork necessary to get copies of the family’s birth certificates in order to prove their relationships. She spent hours trying to track down answers and closure from various officials in different departments at numerous levels of government. It was “like pulling teeth,” she said.
When detectives didn’t release Erwin’s cause of death, Pearson sent for his autopsy results—a gruesome revelation that left her feeling more confused than before.
“I don’t want to relive that,” she said, speaking by phone from Mississippi 853 long days after her brother’s murder. “And then not ever having it settled … that was hard.”
By now, Gary Erwin should have been enjoying retirement somewhere in the Magnolia State. Instead, his family finds themselves wrestling with a pack of painful loose ends.
Pearson wants answers about her little brother’s death. She also wants the items seized by the police over the course of their investigation—a pickup truck and a safe and some other personal effects. But what can you do when you’re thousands of miles away, approaching 80 and caring for an ailing husband of your own?
Nearly a year and a half ago, an APD detective working the case told a local television station that there were persons of interest in the “brutal” double homicide. But that changed.
Today, the investigation is ongoing and there are no persons of interest, according to a police department spokeswoman.
“I would very much like closure but its just, like, nothing. There’s been nothing for over a year,” Pearson said. “[APD] kept saying they had leads, they had leads; and now we’re way far out.”
Desperate, she wondered: Maybe Craigslist could help find the answers detectives could not.