Who killed John Hartman? We don’t know. And if this case has taught us anything it is that accusations of this seriousness should not be levied lightly. But from the beginning, evidence has pointed firmly away from the Fairbanks Four and toward attackers that have not yet been identified. Over the years at least two serious theories have emerged among readers – this post outlines one.
One of the most stunning elements of the investigation and arrest of the Fairbanks Four for the murder of John Hartman is that there was no shortage of evidence pointing away from them. In fact, on the night of October 10 into the early morning hours of the 11th, there was a litany of violent beatings and robberies. The victims of these attacks described their attackers as four African-American men in a light-colored four door sedan. These crimes were sickeningly similar – multiple assailants violently kicking and robbing victims who were vulnerable and on foot. They shed terrible light on what John’s terrible last moments may have been like.
Robert John was walking down the road late in the night of October 10th when a light-colored car pulled up behind him. When he turned around, three African-American teenagers jumped out of the car and began a sudden unprovoked attack on Robert John. They attempted to knock him down and began kicking him. They were not successful in knocking him down, and he escaped. He walked into Pastime Card Room, badly shaken, and told Rubin Sam the details of the attack.
12:15 am (approximately) While walking out of Spade Room, Raymond Stickman saw a sight that he will never forget. An older Native man was on the ground, clearly just assaulted, with three young African-American men wearing dark-colored clothing surrounding him. The assailants took off running, jumped into a car with a waiting driver, and sped away. The Native man got up and went into an adjacent building – Raymond Stickman followed him in to be sure he was okay, and the man told him that he had been knocked to the ground and kicked by the group. It is unclear whether he was robbed.
1:00 am (approximately) Frank Dayton left the reception at the Eagle’s Hall and walked along the south side of First Avenue. He was violently assaulted and robbed about ten minutes later. According to Frank, he heard a car rolling up behind him at a slow speed and assumed it was pulling into a parking lot. The next thing he heard was the rapid approach of feet. He was knocked down to the ground, and struck his right knee, elbow, and head on the pavement. One of the attackers stepped on Frank’s right hand, and Frank was able to see a white high-top shoe. While he was pinned to the ground they kicked him in the side and back. One of the attackers reached into Frank’s pocket and stole the $20 he was carrying. His attackers rushed back to their car and pealed off. Frank Dayton described the car as a large white or light tan four-door sedan. He did not see his attackers. The only details that he was able to provide were the exact location, the description of the car, and that one assailant was wearing white high-top sneakers.
1:30am Frank Dayton arrives shaken and injured back at the Eagle’s Hall. His sister-in-law calls 911 and the call is logged at 1:34am. Multiple witnesses place Marvin Roberts at the Eagle’s Hall during this 911 call (you can see his timeline HERE).
1:30 am A few blocks away from the site of Frank Dayton’s attack, John Hartman is beaten to death. The wallet he had with him was never recovered, making it seem as if he also was robbed. The attack on Hartman lasted only five minutes (read about the attack HERE and read his timeline HERE).
Don Moses is a non-drinker and his memories of his attack are still clear these many years later. Don was attacked in the early morning hours of October 11th as well. His attackers pulled up in a car, and four men got out and rushed toward him. He said while recounting the incident, “I have never done anything like this in my life before, but I rushed back at them as if I was ready and willing to fight.” His instincts told him that his life was in danger. At the same moment, sirens rang out nearby. The attackers reacted to either Don’s bold posturing, the sirens, or both, and ran back to their car and drove off. Don does not know the exact time of his attack, but the chilling possibility exists that the sirens in the distance were the ones called to an ailing Frank Dayton, while just a few streets over John Hartman lay unconscious.
Ultimately, the night that John Hartman was murdered was a cold and bloody night on the streets of Fairbanks. Hartman will never be able to describe his attack in his own words. But several others were attacked at random that night and were able to relate the experience, and through them a troubling and uninvestigated thread emerges.
These attacks point to another early investigative failure. ALL of the listed attacks were known to investigators and the DA, and more may have occurred and gone unreported. When at least four similar attacks take place in the span of a few hours with three victims living and one fatally wounded, it is incomprehensible that investigators did not pursue the young men or the getaway car described. But, they did not. With an abundance of evidence indicating that they should be looking for four African-American teenagers in a light-colored four-door sedan, they arrested The Fairbanks Four one at a time through happenstance encounters, with no evidentiary indication that any one of the four had committed the crime. They would eventually enter into evidence Marvin’s bright blue two-door car and four pairs of shoes, none of which were white high-tops.
At least one person reading this blog KNOWS who killed John Hartman. Someone went to high school with these teenagers cruising in that light sedan. Someone remembers. Someone suspects. No information is too small. No gut instinct should be ignored. At least one person, and probably many more, can step forward anonymously and write an ending to this story. Change it from a tragedy to a triumph. Please, please, do.
COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS tips can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or called in to the Innocence Project at 907-279-0454