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Book Review by Dennis Garrett
"The Mystery of the Cache Creek Murders-A True Story" by Roberta Sheldon. 336 pages, illustrated.
In late 1939, the bodies of four miners were found in the northern part of what was called the Cache Creek district, at the end of what is today the Petersville Road. Wild rumors surrounding the murders swirled around the area, and news of the "massacre" pushed the war in Europe off the front pages of the newspapers for weeks.
At first it was believed that the murders had been committed by Dick Francis, one of the victims, who had been involved in a long-running feud with the Jenkins', and that Francis had then turned his gun on himself. Subsequently it would be determined that Francis had been shot twice in the head with his own revolver. The other victims, Frank Jenkins, his wife Helen, and an employee, Joey Brittell, had been savagely beaten. Frank Jenkins and Brittell had been ambushed along the trail from Ruby Gulch to Ramsdyke Creek, near Dick Francis' cabin, and Helen Jenkins had been lured away from their cabin three miles distant before being murdered. The body of Francis had been found first, in his cabin on Ruby Gulch. A lethargic response by the Territories' sole F.B.I. investigator raised the ire of Alaska residents. Many in the mining community suspected that the feud had been exploited for the caches of gold rumored to have been hidden by the Jenkins' or for the Jenkins' rich mining claims. Both Dick Francis and the Jenkins' had been mining in the area for over three decades.
Despite the involvement of the F.B.I., the killer or killers were never brought to justice, and may very well still be alive today. There are also still unanswered questions regarding the alleged cache of gold the victims were thought to have had, as none of them had yet left the goldfields with their seasons' earnings. While the investigation turned up relatively small amounts of fine gold or "dust", conspicuously absent were the larger nuggets the Jenkins' were well-known for.
Prior to WWII, the Cache Creek district was one of the largest producers of placer gold in Alaska, but like many districts it has never returned to the levels of production seen before the war. Today mostly small-scale mining and numerous non-mining schemes occupy the district, which is often incorrectly referred to as the "Yentna" or "Petersville" district. Tremendous potential remains to be mined.
I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of Talkeetna author Roberta Sheldons' book, "The Mystery of the Cache Creek Murders-A True Story", and as someone with an above-average, even intimate knowledge of the history of the Cache Creek region, having been actively exploring and mining in the district for almost 20 years, I was throughly impressed.
The book, which the author had worked on for more than six years, is very well-written. Certainly there is no other body of work that so accurately details the history of this region, but also the way it is written will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Persons interested in mystery, Alaska, history, and mining will find tremendous value in this detailed, accurate volume. The author has managed to present a very complicated tale with a style that draws the reader into its' rich descriptions, making the reader feel as if they were there. Spanning much more than 100 years of area history, the book is illustrated with many never-before published photos and maps, and reveals many never-before published facts. And the book covers far more than just the events surrounding the murders. The passage of more than 62 years has not dimmed the flames surrounding the murder mystery, and at last, for the first time, the investigation is being made public.
The book is available in area Fred Meyers' and grocery stores for $17.95, or may be ordered directly from the author at:
P.O. Box 520481, Big Lake, Alaska 99652
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