ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Anchorage detectives on Wednesday afternoon hosted a Facebook Live chat session to provide new information on some of the evidence connecting five 2016 homicides, all of which were committed using the same revolver.
A driver's license photo of Ritchie compared with a composite sketch of the Bolin Street murder suspect. Police say the two images are similar. (From APD)
The crucial firearm, a .357 Colt Python, was found in the possession of 40-year-old James Dale Ritchie after he used it to shoot an Anchorage police officer multiple times early Saturday morning. In the brief shootout that followed, Ritchie was killed and the officer was rushed to a hospital for emergency medical treatment.
The revolver was brought back to the State Crime Lab, where investigators confirmed it was the same weapon used in one homicide and two double homicides that occurred this year.
While investigators have linked the same firearm to each of the killings, they have not definitively said that Ritchie pulled the trigger in each of the fatal shootings. However, evidence connecting Ritchie to the other crime scenes has been found. In fact, investigators say they almost have enough evidence to prove Ritchie was responsible for the July 29 murder of TreyveonThompson, and expect to close that case soon.
In the Facebook Live video, Lieutenant John McKinnon with APD’s homicide division and Captain Bill Miller with the detective division, said investigators have confirmed that a witness at some point reported seeing Ritchie in possession of the yellow bicycle stolen from the Bolin Street crime scene shortly after the murder of Treyveon Thompson.
“We know now that Mr. Ritchie brought it back to his residence. We’ve confirmed through a witness that had seen the bike,” McKinnon said. “The bike is no longer around. The witness told us it’s been disposed of, we don’t know where it’s at.”
Furthermore, police say Ritchie’s driver’s license photo closely resembles a composite sketch that was developed by the FBI using witness testimony from the Bolin Street homicide.
1 gun, 5 homicides
Click through the timeline below to see which homicides have been connected to the revolver and what evidence investigators found at the crime scenes. The interactive map also illustrates where and when each of the incidents occurred.
Ship Creek - Bullets fired from a .357 Colt Python first surfaced as evidence during the investigation of a double murder that occurred on the Ship Creek bike trail during the early morning hours of July 3. A cyclist discovered the bodies of 20-year-old Brianna Foisy and 41-year-old Jason Netter Sr. lying on the pathway and contacted police.
“There was not a whole lot of evidence to go on,” McKinnon said, describing the initial investigation of this crime scene. “We did not have a lot of clues as to what happened and why.”
Bullet fragments recovered from the scene confirmed that Foisy and Netter had been shot by a .357 Colt Python, police said. Police also received a tip from a person who reportedly heard six gunshots in the area that morning while he walking his dog.
According to McKinnon and Miller, investigators reviewed hundreds of hours of security surveillance footage from the area frame by frame. They released images of two persons of interest seen in the footage near the crime scene during the time of the killings. Ultimately, neither person was determined to be a suspect, McKinnon said.
Bolin Street - The investigation took a turn on the morning of July 29 when police responded to reports of a shooting on the 300 block of Bolin Street in Muldoon. Officers arrived on scene and found Treyveonkindell Bobby Dwayne Thompson suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He was declared dead at the scene.
Bullets recovered from Thompson’s body were sent to the state crime lab where investigators confirmed they had been fired from the same Colt Python used in the Ship Creek homicides, police said.
“When we found out that the second homicide also involved what was most likely a Colt Python, it started pulling together,” Miller said. “But again, you have a gun that’s very unique, unusual in today’s day and age. That started spurring our thinking on where we needed to go with this investigation.”
Detectives were able to obtain surveillance footage that captured the suspected shooter during the incident. With help from the Alaska State Troopers, the video was used to determine an approximate height for the suspect: 6’4”.
With just six homicide detectives on staff, McKinnon said APD needed more resources to properly work these cases and reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for assistance. The FBI joined the investigation and was able to compile a composite sketch of the suspect using descriptions provided by three witnesses to the shooting.
Finally, detectives also learned that the shooting suspect had stolen Treyveon’s yellow bicycle shortly after the murder and police circulated a photograph of the bike hoping to elicit more tips from the public.
Valley of the Moon Park - On the morning of Aug. 28, Anchorage was struck by another double homicide, this one discovered at Valley of the Moon Park in the South Addition neighborhood. A passerby discovered the body of 25-year-old Bryant C. De Husson on the park’s bike trail at around 1:43 a.m. When officers responded to investigate, they found a second body, that of 34-year-old Kevin S. Turner, underneath the park’s pavilion.
Again, bullet fragments recovered from the crime scene confirmed the victims had shot with the same Colt Python used in the Ship Creek and Bolin Street homicides. Other than that, very little evidence was recovered from the crime scene McKinnon said.
“Police conducted an area and neighborhood canvas but were unable to develop any leads about the suspect or what happened to the victims,” police wrote in a statement. “There was no indication of any link between the two victims and it appeared they did not know each other.”
At this point, police had little evidence linking the five murders other than the firearm. But the revolver was used once again several weeks later, this time to attack an Anchorage police officer.
Suspect killed in early morning shootout with police:
Anchorage police finally located the Colt revolver used in all five homicides following a shootout on the streets of downtown Anchorage during the early morning hours of Nov. 12.
The trouble began at around 4:30 a.m. that morning when police were notified that a man had walked away from a taxi cab near 4th Avenue and B Street without paying his fare. Anchorage police dispatch issued a suspect locate to all patrol officers in the vicinity.
One of the officers on duty that night was Officer Arn Salao, a five year veteran of the police department. Also on duty was Sergeant Marc Patzke, who currently oversees APD’s K9 unit, according to police.
As Salao was driving through the area searching for the runaway taxi client, he encountered Ritchie walking along 5th Avenue near Cordova Street.
Detectives Miller and McKinnon on Wednesday clarified that Ritchie was not the person who avoided paying the cab fare, but just happened to be passing through the same area as Officer Salao was conducting his search.
According to an official police statement, Officer Salao pulled up next to Ritchie and attempted to make contact with him from his patrol car. Ritchie initially ignored the officer’s requests and kept walking without saying anything.
“Officer Salao pulled his vehicle over to the southside of 5th Avenue near the suspect in an attempt to make contact with him again. The male turned, firing a gun at Officer Salao multiple times,” police wrote.
Officer Salao was struck multiple times as he exited his vehicle and returned fire. During the exchange of gunfire, Sergeant Patzke arrived on scene and opened fire on Ritchie as well.
“He ran towards the suspect and returned fire, ultimately causing the suspect to fall to the ground over to of Officer Salao,” police wrote. “The suspect continued fighting Officer Salao until he was subdued by other officers.”
Police began administering first aid to Ritchie but were unsuccessful. He was declared deceased at the scene. Officer Salao meanwhile was transported to a local hospital with at least four gunshot wounds to the lower half of his body. According to police, the bullets travelled up into his abdomen, where one even became lodged in his liver.
Salao underwent approximately seven hours of surgery over the weekend.
Ritchie’s firearm, a Colt Python 357, was handed over to the state crime lab, where investigators confirmed it was the same firearm used in all five of the aforementioned murders this year.
Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley announced the crucial piece of evidence at a Tuesday press conference held at APD’s training facility. He also updated the public on Officer Salao’s condition, saying that he had been discharged from intensive care and was on the road to recovery.
“He’s a fighter,” Tolley said. “He’s so determined to live his life and has a great outlook. I’m happy to tell you that, despite some infection setting in over the weekend, we think we’re past that and the officer has been moved out of ICU and has begun to take some steps.”
At the conference, Tolley praised the bravery and investigative prowess of his police department, saying that the officers responded quickly and effectively to a dangerous situation.
“Because of the heroic actions of these Anchorage police officers, they have made sure that his individual will not hurt any one of you or any of the citizens of Anchorage,” Tolley said. “I am so very very proud of them.”
The investigation continues:
Although the murder weapon has been located, police say the investigation into these homicides is still ongoing. Detectives say they are still working to develop more information about Ritchie and are asking anyone with information on these incidents to contact them at 786-8900.
Captain Miller says all information on investigations such as these are forwarded to the FBI so it can be added to a national database that allows law enforcement agencies across the country to compare notes. Miller said investigators haven’t ruled out the possibility that Ritchie’s criminal activities were not isolated to Anchorage alone.
“That’s something we always have to look at and take into consideration. Certainly we’re trying to figure out what his movement has been around the United States and Alaska over the past probably several years,” Miller said.
Additionally, detectives are working to determine a chain of possession for the Colt Python, which was purchased in Anchorage in the 1970s. Police say they have made contact with the original owner and are still working to understand how the firearm ended up in Ritchie’s possession.