By DAVE KIFFER
October 15, 2012
That led some residents to even joke that local stores would put a mandatory waiting period for the sale of the ubiquitous blue tarps, a joke that is even evoked today if one is seen purchasing a blue tarp at a local store.
But the crimes themselves were very serious and both involved domestic violence.
The first occurred in the summer of 1991 in a small house on the corner of First Avenue and Austin Street. Toward the end of the summer, neighbors began complaining of a rank smell in the area and a large number of flies.
They finally contacted the city police who came to the house. The smell was coming from a a tarp in the yard. They investigated and the woman living in the house, Dana Hilbish, told them her landlord had left some fish under the tarp.
Weeks later, the smell and flies had worsened. The police returned and looked a little more closely under the tarp. They found human remains.
The remains turned out to be Charles Dalby, Hilbish’s common law husband. Dalby was a mechanic at the Thorne Bay logging camp while Hilbish lived in Ketchikan with the couple’s four daughters. They had been a couple for many years but had never married.
According to testimony at Hilbish’s subsequent trial, Dalby had discovered that Hilbish was having an affair and had come into Ketchikan on May 30 to confront her. Dalby made several attempts to reconcile with Hilbish over the next couple of days, but she rebuffed him. He was last seen alive on June 3.
When the case went to trial it was determined that Dalby had died of two .22 caliber gunshot wounds in the head. When police questioned Hilbish about Dalby’s whereabouts after June 3, she told them, and others, that Dalby had left and gone to Hawaii.
After Dalby’s body was discovered and Hilbish was charged with his murder, Police uncovered evidence that Dalby had been killed inside the house and they found Hilbish’s fingerprints on a box of ammunition that had been concealed inside the house. They also concluded that Hilbish had lied about weapons in the house and had also tried to forge his signature so she could cash his last check.
At the trial, evidence was also introduced about Hilbish’s efforts to “clean” areas in the house where blood residue was later found and that she was seen by neighbors “fiddling” with the tarp on the day after Dalby was last seen alive.
During the trial, Hilbish’s defense introduced testimony that a neighbor heard two men arguing about a woman on the property around June 3. The defense attempted to lay the blame for the killing on the man that Hilbish was having an affair with, but no specific evidence was introduced. Meanwhile, Hilbish continued to contend that she knew nothing about the killing or how the body had ended up under a tarp in the yard.
She was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to up to 99 years in prison. She appealed her conviction but that appeal was denied in 1995. She has been at Hiland Mountain Correction Center for the better part of the past two decades.
Shortly after Dana Hilbish was convicted of murder in the case that was called “tarp one,” Dianne Wyatt, a well-known Ketchikan woman was murdered.
On October 22, 1992, she disappeared. In local shorthand, her murder would be called “tarp two.”
Dianne Wyatt’s body was found in the shallow waters off the log sorting yard in Ward Cove five days later. Her body was wrapped in a tarp and weighed down with chains and small anchors.
Suspicion immediately centered on her husband Ronald, because Dianne Wyatt had told several friends and a marriage counselor that she planned to seek a divorce. She had also contacted Women in Safe Homes and expressed concern for her safety. The shelter had suggested she come in immediately but she declined.
Evidence was also introduced at trial that Ronald Wyatt had told Ketchikan Gateway Borough co-workers that if he ever wanted to “kill his wife” he would dispose of the body in a tarp, weigh it down and toss it in the ocean.
But the most damning trial evidence was the testimony of a security guard at the Ketchikan Pulp Mill who saw Wyatt in the water near the sort yard and also took down the license number of Wyatt’s vehicle. Wyatt later contended that he had gone in the water to relieve himself and that it was a coincidence that his wife’s body was later found nearby.
During his trial, Wyatt tried to cast blame on a male friend of his wife who had counseled her on her marital issues. Wyatt’s defense was that his wife was murdered by someone else and her body was thrown in the water in Clover Pass and floated seven miles into Ward Cove where it was found.
The prosecution contended that Wyatt’s primary motives were the pending divorce and the loss of his wife’s considerable financial assets and insurance money.
Wyatt was found guilty in 1994 and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He also appealed his conviction and that appeal was denied in 1999. He is currently serving his sentence with other Alaskan prisoners at the Hudson Mountain Correctional Center in Colorado. He is scheduled to be released in November of 2062. He would be 117 years old.
Hilbish, who is scheduled to be released in November of 2016 when she would be 57, has become a bit of an inmate media star in recent years, appearing twice in stories in the Anchorage Daily News and at least once on local Anchorage television.
In October of 2010, the Daily News published a story about inmates at Hiland Mountain, Alaska’s prison for female inmates, taking part in a day-long conference in which they mingled with local business leaders and court officials as part of their classes on “reentry” back into society.
“For inmate Dana Hilbish the conference is a break from the monotony of day to day prison life,” the Daily News wrote. “Hilbish, who has spent 18 years at Hiland has more than a year left in prison. Because she participated in the fashion show, she was allowed to sit in on sessions and wear more casual clothing later in the day.”
“My normal wear is Carhartts, and work boots and a yellow tunic,” Hilbish told the Daily News, adding that the “conference” and fashion show gave the inmates something to look forward to.
“What I wish you could experience is the aura of this place afterwards,” She told the newspaper in 2010. “I wish you could bottle it, I really do. Because it is very positive…People are thinking and they are not just thinking about ‘who can I get one over on next.’ They’re thinking about what they just learned about ‘what is this going to do for me.’”
That same year, Hilbish was also quoted in an Anchorage Daily News story about Hiland inmates training a service dog for an injured soldier. The dog in this case was named Sha Ren and was from the MatSu Animal Shelter.
The Daily News reported that the puppy was eight weeks old when it was taken to Hiland and that “Hilbish trained Sha Ren to retrieve objects and bring them to her owner and a raised height, open doors and carry items for her owner.”
“Inmate Dana Hilbish, 50, was Sha Ren's main trainer,” the Daily News reported in 2010. “She said being a trainer in the program taught her compassion and how to let go. ‘She wasn't ever mine, but she'll always be here,’ Hilbish said, holding her hand to her heart.”
Earlier this year, Hilbish was also featured in a KTVA television story about the greenhouse at Hiland. One of the correctional officers noted that inmates who work in the greenhouse have a “nourishing” attitude.
“Inmate Dana Hilbish has that attitude now, but it’s taken time,” KTVA reported. “She’s nearing the end of a long sentence for a serious crime. She says working in the greenhouse for 14 years has taught her to be more flexible.”
“When I leave these walls that’s exactly what I’m facing,” Hilbish told KTVA. “I have to adjust to society and this has been a great practice ground for me.”
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