The Unsolved Murder Will Wait; First, Crawfish Bisque

Who killed John Sturgus?

Sturgus was the first police chief in Anchorage. He worked as a policeman in Montana and Washington before coming to Alaska in 1913 to search for gold. Like so many others before him, he didn’t find it.

In 1916, Anchorage already showed promise of becoming the city it now is when it was selected as the headquarters for construction of the Alaska Railroad. Sturgus made his way to what was then a tent city to find a job.

Thanks to his previous background in law enforcement, he was appointed a deputy U.S. marshal. On January 1, 1921, Anchorage became a home rule city and Sturgus became its first police chief. His tenure in office would last less than two months.

Anchorage had a sizable lawless element in those days. Organized crime controlled a section of what is now downtown. Though the city had voted to outlaw alcohol, bars operated openly. There was no attempt to hide the prostitution and gambling. Young girls who wandered through the area were often harassed and threatened.

Around nine o’clock on the evening of February 20th, Anchorage resident Oscar Anderson met Sturgus on the street. They exchanged greetings and each went his own way. Anderson was the last person to see Sturgus alive.

At 9:15 a shot was heard. Those arriving on the scene found Sturgus lying in a stairwell next to a drug store. He had been shot once. Though he was still breathing when he was found and was taken to a hospital, he died shortly before eleven o’clock. He died without speaking.

And that’s when the mystery began.

He was shot with his own gun. Though only one shot had been heard, there were two expended bullets in the gun.

While Sturgus was known to carry two hand guns, only one was found on him.

Most curious of all was the lack of any sign that anyone else had been on the scene. That was mysterious as the area was covered with snow.

It had been impossible to solve the murder in 1921. It was more so a hundred years later. It was even difficult to get to know exactly who Sturgus was. While he and his family were accepted by the young community’s socially elite, there was some evidence that he had a darker side.

He had recently been heard making light of the criminal elements in the town. He joked about being “…hot on the trail of the despised thief who steals milk from babies, groceries from the storeroom and laundry from the hallways.” There were also rumors that Sturgus frequented the gambling halls himself and had a fondness for faro, known in those days as “bucking the tiger.”

Sabine Parish Sheriff Jack Blake laid the story aside and sat thinking. As an experienced lawman himself, an unsolved crime was frustrating. Especially when it involved the killing of a fellow cop even if it occurred a century earlier.

He wasn’t going to solve the mystery this evening. Perhaps it was one he should pass on to his friend Trent Marshall. It was just the sort of adventure that would interest Trent.

But for now, he detected the deliciously delicate aroma of his wife’s crawfish bisque. The mystery of John Sturgus’ murder had remained unsolved for a century. It would wait until Blake had his fill of Jennifer’s crawfish bisque.

Sheriff Jack Blake’s Favorite Crawfish Bisque

1 cup peanut oil

1 cup flour

1/2 onion, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1 roasted red pepper, chopped

1/4 cup white wine

1 pound crawfish tails

Sheriff Jack Blake’s Favorite Crawfish Bisque

2 green onions, chopped

salt & pepper to taste

water sufficient to cover

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

First, in a large stock pot, make a dark roux with the oil and flour.

Saute the onions, celery, and roasted red pepper in the roux until the vegetables have softened.

Deglaze the pot with the white wine.

Add the crawfish, green onions, and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour in enough water to cover. Simmer for an hour.

Sprinkle chopped parsley over the bisque as garnish.

Wilderness Danger & Darcey’s Oyster Casserole

Three people sat in the long station wagon.

It was 1959. The father, mother, and young son were on the Alaska Highway. Somewhere in the wilderness of British Columbia. Or maybe the Yukon. It was hard to tell. They were in that section that wove in and out of the two provinces.

The Alaska Highway was all wilderness in 1959. A long gravel road that wound through the woods and mountains of western Canada.

A trailer, built by the father, was attached to their vehicle. Everything they owned had been loaded into it.

Up until a few minutes earlier, they were proceeding north to Alaska. Proceeding slowly. But proceeding. Then came the frightening screech and their vehicle came to a sudden stop. The father crawled under the car. When he emerged minutes later, he didn’t have good news. It looked, he said, as though the damage was serious.

Now they sat in the stalled vehicle wondering what to do. They knew there were no facilities for either people or vehicles within miles. Even if there was they had no way to get there. To strike out walking through the wilderness could have serious consequences.

Then came the noise. A rumbling, rattling, rustling noise.

The father and mother looked at each other. They tried to keep their son from seeing the concern in their eyes. What could it be? Could this day get any worse?

A grader came around a bend in the road. A crew leveling the gravel highway. The same grader that threw up the rock which damaged the young family’s vehicle.

One man was in the cab of the grader followed by two others in a pick up truck. They rolled to a stop near the young family’s stalled car. The highway crew was appalled when they realized they were the cause of the damage to the vehicle.

All the men worked together to unhitch the trailer. They used a chain to connect the car to the grader. The young family crowded into the cab of the pick up truck with one of the highway crew. The other members of the crew followed, slowly pulling the car along.

The young family soon found themselves in the highway crew’s camp, consisting of several Quonset huts. The crew lived in the uniquely rounded structures with their families. One of them invited them in for dinner and gave them beds in which to spend the night.

Darcey’s Oyster Casserole

When they awoke the next morning, they discovered the camp mechanics had worked all night. Their vehicle was repaired. The crew had driven back to reattach the family’s trailer. All was in place for them to be on their way.

The Canadians refused payment of any kind. Except for four relatively fresh tomatoes the father’s aunt had given them when they stopped by her house four days earlier. Fresh vegetables were hard to come by in the wilderness.

“And that’s why Robert likes Canadians,” Darcey said. “Did he ever tell you that story?”

It was a warm but stormy December evening in New Orleans. Trent and Darcey sat in the parlor of their home on Governor Nicholls Street in the Veuix Carre sipping flutes of Prosecco as they watched the rain pour down and the lightening flash.

“No, he never told me that one,” Trent replied.

Darcey smiled as she drained her glass.

“Let’s have dinner,” she said.

Darcey’s Oyster Casserole

1/2 cup butter

1 cup green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons Worcestershire

1 quart oysters, (reserve juice)

1/2 cup parsley

2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos

1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

bread crumbs (Darcey favors Panko)

In a heavy skillet, saute the green onion in the butter. When soft, add the Worcestershire and oysters. Cook until the oysters begin to curl.

Add the parsley, pickled jalapenos, and cheese. Continue to cook until the cheese is melted. If the mixture gets too thick, thin it with some of the reserved oyster liquid.

Spoon the mixture into a buttered, oven-proof baking dish. Cover with bread crumbs.

Cook in a 350 oven until the casserole is bubbly . It should take about fifteen minutes. If the bread crumbs aren’t brown, zap the dish under the broiler for a minute or two.

As they say in New Orleans, “Bon temps!”




Crawfish Beignets on A Winter’s Day


It was December but you couldn’t tell it by the New Orleans weather. Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson sat on the gallery of their home on Governor Nicholls Street sipping peach martinis. Both were wearing short sleeved shirts and jeans. Trent had made crawfish beignets that awaited the call to dinner.

Crawfish Fritters

He had also talked to their friend retired Alaska State Trooper Colonel Robert Monk earlier in the day. Robert reported Alaska was far different. Very cold and a lot of snow in most of the state. It reminded Trent of the story Robert told him about when he and his parents first arrived in Alaska.

“It was a long time ago,” Trent told Darcey. “Robert was just a boy. He said that first winter was the most beautiful he ever saw. Relatively mild temperatures, lots of snow. Those huge, fluffy flakes that are so beautiful.

“His dad came home one day and said, ‘I’m told this is a most unusual winter.’

“Robert said the second winter was the worst he’s ever seen,” Trent continued, laughing. “Very cold. Hardly any snow. What snow fell was quickly blown away by the heavy winds leaving nothing but ice. Travel was miserable and dangerous.

“His dad came home one day and again said, ‘I’m told this is a most unusual winter.’

Trent took a dramatic sip of martini before continuing.

“When the third winter rolled around, Robert’s dad came home one day and said, ‘I’m not buying this unusual winter stuff any more.’ “

Darcey laughed. Trent flashed his biggest smile.

“Let’s go have some crawfish,” he said.

Trent Marshall’s Crawfish Fritters

peanut oil

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

salt to taste

1 cup buttermilk

3 eggs

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/4 cup tarragon, chopped

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 cup corn kernels cut fresh from the cob

2 tablespoons mild green chilis (cans can be found in the Hispanic foods section of most grocery stores)

1 pound cooked crawfish tails

Mix dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry. Don’t overmix. The batter should be slightly lumpy.

Drop balls of batter into hot peanut oil and fry. They should cook in about four minutes. When done, set the fritters on a plate covered with paper towels to allow them to drain.

As Trent would say, “Bon Temps!”