A Cantwell legend, repeated for years by tour guides, goes like this: “Cantwell was one of the last U.S. towns to get television, and when they did, it came by satellite to the only bar in town. One night, the regulars were watching ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and the bartender was identified as the subject. When the FBI came to arrest the bartender they also arrested, on unrelated charges, the mayor. This shows that you can run, but not hide.”
A current tour guide emailed the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner this week, asking if we had any details about the incident. That’s what led to this conversation with longtime Cantwell resident Marty Caress.
Caress, 71, has heard many scenarios of what happened that day back in 1977, especially after his daughter showed him how to operate a computer and he could search for historical information himself.
“I’ve seen three or four different versions,” he said. “I was getting a laugh. It was all so mumbo jumbo.”
Those tour guides, he said, have great imaginations.
Here’s what really happened.
One day in 1977, Caress went to the local post office in Cantwell.
“I always have this habit, ever since I was a kid, of seeing the wanted posters in the post office,” he said. “I started flipping through these posters, then all of a sudden, bingo, I recognized him immediately. He was new to Cantwell. I jerked that wanted poster down. Underneath was his wife’s. They were wanted for murder and attempted murder. He was dangerous. I stuck those in my shirt pocket.”
Caress met Tom and his wife two months earlier, he said. He didn’t remember their last names. But the meeting was memorable and unexpected.
“Early one evening, I drove up to the Longhorn Bar and he’s got my friend John Goldsworthy in a headlock and is pounding the crap out of him. I jumped out and broke the fight up,” he said. “And he wasn’t a small guy.”
Tom was working construction in Cantwell, according to Caress.
Once Caress had those wanted posters in hand, he contacted Alaska State Troopers.
“Trooper Browne got Bob Gilbertson to go with him,” Caress recalled. “He wouldn’t let me go. I was kind of a loose cannon in those days.”
Tom and his wife were arrested and extradited, apparently to California, and Caress said they were convicted and imprisoned.
“The bad thing for me, was Tom was with the Hell’s Angels. Not only that, he was the president of the San Jose chapter,” Caress said. “Until close to 1995, for 15-18 years, troopers every now and then would notify me where he was at. First he was still in prison, then he was out.”
“I asked about him one time, after we had a change of troopers and the trooper checked and said, ‘He’s out. He’s even been through Cantwell.’”
After Tom and his wife were arrested, Caress began receiving death threats for turning the couple in to authorities.
“I carried a gun all the time,” he said. “I had two run-ins with them about 14 or 15 years later at Jack River.”
One time, he confronted eight Hell’s Angels in the parking lot of the local gas station.
“I caught them off guard,” he said. Luckily, no violence ensued.
“They knew that I hunted,” he said. “They knew I knew guys as ornery as they were.”
The stories he has heard over the years about the episode all have some variation of truth, Caress said.
“Usually it’s centered around the Longhorn Bar. Sometimes the bartender is the bad guy and I’m not sure who the old guy is, but sometimes the old guy is the good guy,” he said. “One variation, a really oddball one is that the bartender was the good guy, but also the mayor.”
Cantwell, by the way, doesn’t have a mayor.
But the made-up version that included the reality television show brought back other memories.
“The first pay phone in Cantwell went into the Longhorn Bar,” Caress said. “Somebody’s quarter got really stuck. He removed that telephone with his .44 Magnum, off the wall.”
“There was another time a .338 bullet came through the walls and the bar door,” Caress recalled. “Instead of hitting anybody’s foot, it hit the jukebox and broke everybody’s heart.”
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.