There’s something exotic about Alaska and its identity in America as our “Last Frontier”, compared with what Alaskans call the “Lower 48”. I don’t know much about it, besides that it used to be Russia, it’s the least-populated U.S. state, Jewel and insane Sarah Palin are from it, and it’s cold and has lots of bears and whales. Apparently, there are also lots of serial killers, because most recently it was the scene of Israel Keyes’ last abduction and murder, and this month two true crime books about Alaskan serial killers came across my radar: this one, Ice and Bone; and a rereleased edition of Butcher, Baker. Guys, what’s going on up there? Everything ok? Cause judging by all these murderers and the Palin family, it definitely seems like no.
Award-winning journalist Monte Francis has written a compelling investigative look at Joshua Wade, a sick murderer with a sad life. His almost clichéd troubled childhood is no excuse, but there are no winners in this story. It’s terrible for everyone involved. And yet therein lies its importance, as commentary on those families who get left behind, kids shuffled through a bleak existence with drug, alcohol, and sexual abuse always on the margins until these things take over their own lives too, eventually spreading further into society with tragic consequences.
Although it’s a bit difficult to get into at the beginning, with a lot of names, hectic situations and a somewhat unclear narrative structure, it straightens out and becomes a gripping if devastating true crime narrative. I kept thinking I’d put it down for a break but it seemed like just when I was reaching a stopping point, there was a twist in the story and I couldn’t pause. I loved the chapters detailing FBI investigative techniques and special dog handlers that helped crack one chapter of the case. It was compellingly written and fascinating.
It’s an engaging story overall, peppered with real-life characters who feel the aftereffects, like shock waves, for years and years after the deaths of their loved ones. It’s disturbingly easy to read stories like this and develop some sense of remove from those involved, reading true crime like it’s fiction. But these are real lives and real consequences that people are still living with today, and Francis does a thorough, excellent job of making sure that comes across clearly in his writing. It gives readers a lot to think about, especially in terms of the situations of Native Alaskans, and how the systems are failing them along with other struggling families. Almost a decade since Wade committed his last homicide, not much has changed in how society helps those who have fallen through its cracks.
I was left with a frustratingly unfinished feeling, that there wasn’t enough attention paid to the possibility that others were victims of Wade’s crimes; and if not him, who? I’m not sure how much source information was available, but if he was a serial killer, why/how did these other women come into his orbit? I would’ve liked to know more about them, not only their names in passing plus a heartbreaking portrait of one woman’s family members, and more possibilities that law enforcement hopefully uncovered about their individual situations. It just felt like it was left undone for the sake of focusing on Wade and I think that was probably for reasons of solid evidence tied to him coupled with his penchant for lying and obfuscating. But they were mentioned, so I wanted more. Then again, like I said, there are apparently a lot of people taking advantage of Alaska’s isolation and social atmosphere for nefarious purposes, so who knows what’s happening.
I was curious to hear more about the Natives in Alaska, including the racial issues they face. I know embarrassingly little about this, and the Native Alaskan Desa Jacobsson is a standout highlight in the book, one of the few bright, positive spots in the otherwise cold, dreary landscape of people and unfortunate events. She cares deeply about the plight of the Natives, and my perception, though it was never overtly addressed in the book, is that Native Alaskans are not awarded the same investigative attentions and efforts that Caucasians are. Wade himself and those close to him point to race as being a factor in his targets of abuse and murder. Francis is a detail-oriented and clearly persistent reporter, I think he could write something enlightening on the topic, like he did with this case. And include way more of Desa Jacobsson, please! I love her and I don’t even know her!
Ice and Bone: Tracking an Alaskan Serial Killer
by Monte Francis
published by WildBlue Press on April 19, 2016
I received a copy courtesy of the publisher for unbiased review.