In 2004, Craig, Alaska, mom Lauri Waterman was like any other American mother struggling to understand her teenage daughter. The only difference was she lived in a place many would say is the end of the earth; a place too small to offer resources for parents suffering adolescent issues – issues that undoubtedly stemmed from boredom.
To a continental U.S. urbanite Mom, a daughter’s obsession with black clothing and piercings is usually viewed as a freedom of expression of one’s self. But in snowy white Alaska, a “Goth” sticks out like a snowman on the 101 in Los Angeles.
To get a better understanding of Lauri and her family’s life, you must first know where they lived.
Craig, Alaska. Population: 1500 (on a good day)
Craig, Alaska, is the largest town on the Prince of Wales Island, which is only 135 miles long and 45 miles wide.
The primary methods of transportation off the island is via water plane or ferry, the latter being a minimum three hour ride one way.
Commercial fishing is the predominate source of income for most of Craig’s residents, with lumbering and saw mills running a close second.
There are no fast food franchises such as McDonald’s, just locally owned joints with names like The Baitbox. Shelter Cove Lodge offers the island’s fine dining. Papa’s Pizza serves as the alternative to Domino’s.
The longest nights of winter in Craig can last almost fifteen hours and has recorded a low temperature at almost -80 degrees Fahrenheit, although the average winter temp is between 18 and 44 degrees. And when Summer finally comes to Craig, temperatures will be doing well to make it up the 70 degree mark.
Craig has one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school with an attendance of approximately 800 students in an average school year.
It’s easy to see why Rachelle Waterman referred to it frequently as “Hell, Alaska.”
Rachelle Waterman and Coming Of Age
Rachelle Waterman needed an outlet. Community theater, high school volleyball, and concert band weren’t enough.
She was trapped in this hellhole called Craig and she was suffocating. Although only sixteen years old, the harsh winters, the excessively long nights, and mundanity of organized activities and honors studies was getting old.
Very, very old.
Although it’s difficult to find a teen today that’s not blogging or social networking of some sort, in 2004 it was still a relatively new endeavor. But just like Alaskans are strong people willing to brave America’s last wild frontier, Rachelle was taking on the newly discovered frontier of the online world: blogging.
Setting up an account with the (then) free blog platform LiveJournal, Rachelle gave it a name that left nothing to the imagination about its content: My Crappy Life. It was here Rachelle begin sharing with the world her teenage troubles of boys, parental restrictions, never ending boredom, judgments passed by old friends, and the experimentation with the goth-look.
Blah, blah, blah, blah. Nothing we haven’t heard (or lived) before, right? Right.
And just as we’ve all come to regret some of the things we’ve said or done in the past, Rachelle’s blog would come back to haunt her. In a very. big. way.
The Murder of Lauri Waterman
On the night of November 14, 2004, Lauri Waterman finally had the house to herself. Her oldest child, Geoffrey Waterman, was away at college. Her youngest, Rachelle, was participating in a high school volleyball tournament in Anchorage. Her husband, Carl “Doc” Waterman, was away on business.
She had just returned from a Chamber of Commerce event and was looking forward to the solidarity of home. Before the night was over, however, Lauri would be abducted in the family’s purple minivan, which was later found 40 miles away, burned with Lauri’s charred remains inside.
In small towns, news travels fast and gossip even faster. It didn’t take long before Alaska State Troopers began hearing about the troubles between Rachelle and her mother – one officer knew the family personally (his daughter was a friend of Rachelle’s) and had first-hand information about the mother/daughter conflicts.
Almost from the moment Lauri’s body was discovered, Troopers focused on Rachelle as a prime suspect, regardless of rumors about Doc’s recent extramarital affair.
In all fairness, however, it wasn’t as if Craig has drifters that can just blow in, murder, and blow out. And Doc had an alibi. But didn’t Rachelle have an airtight alibi?
Yes, she did. But police had searched Rachelle’s computer, interviewed friends, and checked into her past activities. One name kept coming to the forefront: Jason Alan Arrant.
Jason Alan Arrant
Jason Arrant was one of a handful of Craig’s youth who didn’t seem to break free. He’d tried the military, but that didn’t work out. So he returned home and roamed aimlessly around the island with no real sense of direction.
It’s not unusual for underage teen girls to date men in their early twenties in place like Craig. After all, the pickings are slim. And no one would have thought much about Rachelle and Jason dating, except that Rachelle’s parents had higher aspirations for their daughter and marrying a loser like Jason wasn’t one of them.
Maybe Lauri feared her daughter’s life would become hers; a life of endless volunteer work to feel the otherwise boring days. Why, other than obvious reasons, Lauri was even more adamant than her husband that Rachelle not date Jason, no one will ever know, but she was very vocal with her opinion.
It wasn’t enough to keep Jason and Rachelle apart, however. Every chance Rachelle had, she was with Jason hanging out in the bookstore or sharing a pizza; never really trying to hide being in his company, and going through a vicious cycle of groundings and restrictions and groundings again.
Jason was like a love sick puppy around Rachelle, hanging onto her every word. The stories she told him about being abused by her mother only making him dream more of being the girl’s knight in shining armor.
Jason knew he was lucky to have a girl as intelligent and pretty as Rachelle. And he was willing to do anything to keep her.
Enter Jason’s BFF
Brian James Radel, also 24, was another of the handful of island misfits. Other than sporadic employment, Brian roamed aimlessly, living in the moment.
At one time – or still was, according to some, Brian had been Rachelle’s boyfriend. Unlike Jason, Brian had not had sex with Rachelle – at least not to anyone’s knowledge, which may explain why, although Rachelle’s mother had not approve, it had not been a strong point of contention.
Just like there isn’t much to choose from when it comes to dating, the same holds true for friendships in this Alaska community. And especially when you’re the sorts of Brian and Jason. So it’s no real surprise to anyone that these two rambling men would be pals.
But could they be a murder team?
Interrogations and Confessions
Police had spent hours gathering information and evidence. They had talked with the Watermans’ neighbors, Geoffrey Waterman, Rachelle’s teachers, and her classmates. There was hardly a soul on the island that hadn’t given any juicy tidbit of gossip in an effort to catch a killer.
They were anxious to question Rachelle about her most recent (and most talked about) blog entry, which read:
“Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered. I won’t have computer access until the weekend or so because the police took my computer to go through the hard drive.”
It was an entry that had went viral, long before it was ever a buzzword, and solicited more than 5,000 visitors to her blog.
Why would a sixteen year old girl, who had just lost her mother, to murder nonetheless, write such a cold, uncaring statement so devoid of any emotion?
Police told her they knew the answer: she had played a role in her mother’s murder. Rachelle emphatically told them they were wrong, her post was simply short and to the point. Nothing more, nothing less.
Troopers continued for hours to lie to, cajole, and scream at Rachelle, demanding a confession. Their efforts were to no avail. While the sixteen year old admitted she’d lied about the sexual relationship between her and Jason, omitted facts about telephone conversations between them, and had downplayed the familial conflicts while (maybe) exaggerating the physical abuse, she refused to cop to murder.
Jason, however, wasn’t as strong. Or maybe it was just his guilty conscience. Eventually, however, police elicited a confession from Jason.
According to Jason, he and his friend Brian were well aware of the abuse Lauri inflicted on Rachelle; at least, according to her. Jason had long wished to rescue his best girl from such a horrible life and solicited the help of his friend to finally put a stop to it all. Brian, per Jason, all but said the words, “Sure, why not” and they began developing a plan for murder.
Jason told police that Rachelle had told him of the upcoming evening when she and her father would be out of town and her mother home alone. It was then that the plan devised by he and Brian would be put into action.
Arriving at the Waterman home, Jason and Brian forced their way in and found Lauri preparing for bed. After binding her arms, they led her to the kitchen where they forced her to drink an entire bottle of wine, since a final act of the murder was to appear as a drunken driving accident.
After Lauri drank wine, the duo forced her into the family’s minivan and began searching for a good “accident” site. Growing tired of their search and nearing sunrise, they finally decided on a rutty, rarely traveled road primarily used by logging trucks. There they left Lauri unconscious in the vehicle and set it moving unmanned. However, when things didn’t go exactly as they imagined, they set the vehicle on fire and fled. The fire would be what first caught the attention of a hunter who made the call to law enforcement.
With a little more prodding, Jason finally admitted that Rachelle was aware of the murder plan that was to take place. After questioning Rachelle for hours again, she begrudgingly answered in the affirmative when police asked if she expected her mother to be dead by the time she arrived home from her Anchorage trip.
The time had come to arrest this motley trio and start making the trek toward justice.
Justice Denied, Justice Served
Jason Arrant and Brian Radel would both plead guilty to the charge of murder. In exchange for testifying against the alleged mastermind of the crime, Rachelle, Brian received 99 years for being the actual killer. Jason received 99 years, but 49 of those were suspended.
After spending almost a year in an Alaskan juvenile detention facility, Rachelle opted to take her chances with the jury. It was a good choice, the jury hung with the results being 10 to 2 for acquittal. The next day, the presiding Judge tossed out the indictment and declared the videotaped “confession” inadmissible because Troopers had failed to properly answer her questions about her needs for an attorney.
In February 2011, Rachelle Waterman made her first return to Craig, Alaska, since her first trial to stand trial a second time on charges she conspired to kill her mother. The jury took one week in its deliberations and returned with not guilty verdicts on Murder 1, Felony murder, kidnapping, burglary and attempted murder; guilty of Criminally Negligent Homicide and subsequently ordered to serve 3 years, with credit for time served while awaiting her first trial (479 days).
Rachelle was ordered to begin serving her time on September 2, 2011, but an appeal filed by her attorney postponed her start date.
Rachelle Waterman remains free on bond pending the outcome of the appeal. She is reported to be living and attending college in Florida.