March Edition

One-Eyed Jack: 

An Alaskan

Mystery

By Daphne Minks Daly

One-Eyed_Jack_with_eyepatch.jpg

On October 22nd, 1979, the thick metal door slammed shut, separating the ten-foot by ten-foot gas chamber from the theatre-style room filled with anxious onlookers. They awaited the moment Jesse Walter Bishop, a career criminal, would take his final breath. Bishop had pled guilty, waived his right to a jury trial, and was ultimately sentenced to die. Requesting steak for his last meal, and upon finishing, he sent his compliments to the chef. 


Bishop, refusing to use the phone provided to him to make a last-minute appeal, stated that he had only three last wishes. Those wishes were to have a woman, a fifth of Jack Daniels, and an expedited execution. Of course, all but the third were denied. Jesse Bishop was lead into Nevada State Prison's gas chamber, which had not been used for 18 years until then. 

An article dated November 5th, 1979, and published in Time Magazine, stated that Bishop was "dressed in a crisp white shirt, and pressed Levis," and walked with a purpose-filled stride. "He looked as if he were ready to go to a disco," remembers Guy Shipler, one of the official witnesses. Shipler stated that Bishop smiled at the fourteen onlookers as he was placed in a chair that set atop a black vat filled with sulphuric acid. At 12:14 a.m., guards activated the device that would drop dozens of cyanide tablets down into the tub of acid.

In response, Bishop simply gestured toward the floor, indicating the lethal cyanide had reached its destination. Crinkling his nose at the smell of the toxic fumes, witnesses then reported that the killer took hastened, deep breaths, filling his lungs with as much gas as possible. His body twitched, his eyes closed, and his mouth hung agape. Eventually, his body became still, with all but sporadic shudders. At 12:21 a.m., Bishop was pronounced dead. It took him precisely nine minutes to die. 

 

At the tender age of fifteen, Bishop committed his first armed robbery and later spent twenty-two years in prison for the 1977 murder of David Ballard. The young newlywed was murdered while attempting to prevent Bishop from robbing the El Morocco Casino in Las Vegas, the venue for Ballard's wedding reception. According to a bystander's report, Bishop shot Ballard "like a dog."

 

Former prison director Charles Wolff said of Bishop, "He was like an iceman and as tough as nails to the end." Bishop rejected all attempts to save his life, hoping that his execution would be gruesome enough to repeal the death penalty entirely. According to Wolff, Bishop's parting words to him were, "This is one more step down the road of life that I've been heading for all my life." 

 

Earlier that year, in August of 1979, an Alaskan resident discovered human skeletal remains while collecting firewood along the Alaska Hwy, just east of the town of Tok. A small hamlet outside the Tanana Valley State Forest, Tok, Alaska, is home to the Mukluk Land Theme Park, which praises itself as "Alaska's most unique destination." Located just slightly west of the Yukon border, Tok's total population inches above just one-thousand permanent residents. 

Upon their arrival, police found a substantial amount of evidence at the scene. Ravaged by animals, the body's skull and various other bones were strewn about the location. Among the skeletal remains was a black leather eye patch tangled with what is believed to be the victim's hair. The bones showed signs of stab wounds, and an examination of the victim's skull revealed that the left eye was missing. A large white and orange marble was found with the victim, and it is highly suspected that the decedent may have used it as a glass eye, giving him the name "One-Eyed Jack." 

 

The forensic anthropologist who examined the remains determined that the victim was a tall white male, twenty-five to thirty years old, with brown curly hair and a beard. Three packs of matches and two packs of Winston cigarettes were found with the bones leading investigators to surmise that the man was a heavy smoker. A size large green and brown plaid 'Mervyns Mark' brand jacket containing a dime and a nickel in Canadian currency was also found with the remains. The unidentified man also had a broken yellow pencil in his possession. He wore a plaid shirt, blue bandana, brown hiking boots, blue socks, and a white T-shirt.

 

Although a composite drawing and dental charts were developed, the deceased's mandible has never been recovered, hindering forensic composites. DNA analysis wouldn't be used in a criminal case for another six years. Due to the condition of the remains fingerprinting was impossible.

Shortly after the skeleton's discovery, and over three-thousand miles away, an entirely different Jesse Bishop was being questioned about unsolved crimes throughout the U.S. In Oregon, Jesse Burt Bishop confessed to One-Eyed Jack's murder. This crime would send web-sleuths into overdrive decades later. With rumors, speculations, and crossed facts, sleuths also inadvertently pinned One-Eyed Jack's murder on Jesse Walter Bishop in Nevada, confusing the facts of the unidentified man's case even further. 

 

State Trooper Investigator Lantz L Dahlke of the District Attorney's Office in Fairbanks, Alaska, was one of the Tok, Alaska case's lead investigators on the 'One-Eyed Jack' case. He tells me that "(Jesse Burt) Bishop claimed to have murdered a hitchhiker near the Yukon-Alaska border the year before." Investigator Dahlke states, "Jesse Bishop made statements to Alaska State Troopers that in "October of 1978, he had escaped from a halfway house in Los Angeles. After which, he stole a car and drove to Boise, Idaho, to visit a girlfriend."

He went on to explain that Bishop's "girlfriend's house was under surveillance, so he decided to flee to Alaska. He picked up the victim hitchhiking north of Boise." After deciding to accompany Bishop to Alaska, the victim reportedly began complaining a lot, causing the killer to become increasingly irritated. According to Investigator Dahlke, Jesse Bishop chose to kill the victim but did not want to do so in Canada. He says, "After crossing into Alaska, Bishop stabbed the man to death and dumped his body in the woods on the highway's side, describing the approximate area that the victim was found." 

Bishop described the hitchhiker as "a white man in his early thirties from Oregon." He also stated that Bishop told them that the man's first name was Charlie and that he wore an eye patch. The clothing Bishop described also matched the clothes found with the skeleton.

 

It is rumored that Bishop thought his victim may have said he worked as a logger in Oregon and had lost his eye in a logging accident. He also believed the victim might have been employed by a Lincoln car dealership in either Colorado or Utah.

 

Bishop asserted that the traveler told him he had been married but that the victim also lied quite a bit. When asked why he stabbed the man, the prisoner simply said, "He was getting on my nerves." 

Very little is known about One-Eye Jack's killer, Jesse Burt Bishop, other than he died in a California prison sometime in the early 2000s. Amidst the confusion, amateur web sleuths have even speculated that Jesse Burt Bishop was lying and Jesse Walter Bishop was the actual killer. To that, Investigator Dahlke responds by saying, "I did not get to talk to Bishop before his death. However, being that he confessed to the murder, gave a description of the victim and where the homicide occurred, what reason would he have to lie about other things?"

Despite the challenges in the case, a few missing persons have been considered potential matches. Still, the unidentified man's identity remains a mystery. A victim of Jesse Burt Bishop, it still stands that no matter who his murderer was, this man had friends, a family, and acquaintances. He was someone's son and someone's employee.

 

After four decades of having only a nickname, it's time to give this man back his name. If you have any information that could help identify One-Eyed Jack, please contact the Alaska Medical Examiner's Office or the Alaska State Troopers Office referencing case number #I79–7425 or NamUs #UP12375.

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