North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

November 29, 2001

Manhunt has Humboldt Connection:
Case on America's Most Wanted Saturday

Daly building buyer found?

St. Joe's nurses to organize?

Murrelet controversy

New humane society director

Town square for Garberbille?

Copper cobra crime caper

Property tax due

Money for microbusiness

Chesbro's health care forum


Manhunt has Humboldt Connection: Case on America's Most Wanted Saturday

A nationwide FBI manhunt is underway for a man who lived in Humboldt County much of the past six or seven years and was apparently last seen in a campground on the Trinity River.

Fugitive Robert Durst, 58, is a member of one of New York City's richest and most influential real estate families, according to an article in the New York Times. He was arrested Oct. 9 in Galveston, Texas and charged with the murder of a neighbor. He was released on $250,000 bail the following day and disappeared.

A campground manager near the Humboldt/Trinity County border said Durst spent 24 hours there in mid October.

Mugshot of DurstThe case has gripped the attention of the New York press all year because Durst has been linked to two other high profile crimes -- the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen Durst, in 1982 -- a missing persons case that was reopened in 1999 -- and the murder Christmas Eve last year of Durst's long-time friend, Susan Berman, in Los Angeles. Berman was the daughter of a mobster who made her living writing about organized crime.

Durst has been the subject of several television shows this year, including ABC's Vanished and Prime Time. This Saturday the Durst manhunt will be featured on America's Most Wanted.

Nearly a decade ago Durst broke with his family, which owns a string of skyscrapers on Third Avenue and the Avenues of the Americas in Manhattan. In the years since, he has moved around the country between residences in New York, Texas and California's North Coast.

He bought a home in Trinidad about six years ago where he spent "50 or 60 percent" of his time, according to Diane Bueche, a neighbor who sold Durst the house and eventually became his friend.

"He travelled a lot, but we were constantly in touch by phone, e-mail or faxes," Bueche said. When he was in town, "we might go to the movies. He was a running partner or sometimes we'd go to some event if one of us had tickets."

Because she knew him well, Bueche defended her friend when ABC's Vanished came to town in the spring to do a story on Durst's wife, who had been missing for 18 years, and the murder in Los Angeles last year .

"I thought he was totally a victim of the ruthless press," she told the Journal last week. She refused to talk to ABC and other reporters and even invited Durst to the campground she owned in the mountains as a retreat to shield him from the press.

Bueche recalled once in the spring Durst called her and told her to watch Unsolved Mysteries, "not a show I am accustomed to watching," she said. She now thinks he called her to prepare her in case she inadvertently saw the show and would be alarmed.

Bueche's support for Durst continued up until the first week in November, two weeks after the nationwide manhunt began.

"I was in Safeway Arcata and picked up People magazine -- and thought -- oh, my God. Maybe it's all true," she said.

Bueche -- who owns and manages a number of properties in Humboldt County as well as the Lazy Double B, a campground near Salyer -- was with Bradley Bass, her campground manager. They both read the People article detailing Durst's arrest for the murder of a 71-year-old Texas man whose headless, dismembered body was found floating in Galveston Bay.

Bueche said she has had no communication with Durst since early October. She did not see him in mid-October, but Bass said he is certain it was Durst at the campground just days after he fled Texas.

Ironically, there was a large gathering of police and highway patrol officers and their families at the campground that day. "They come every year for salmon season," Bueche said.

According to Bass, a small pup tent appeared in the middle of that group. Late in the day Bass knocked on the tent and spoke with the man briefly. That night the tent and its occupant were gone. He said he did not know it was Durst until he saw the photograph in People.

"There is no doubt that it was Durst," Bass said. "He has a couple of things that are very distinguishing --large nose and ... tiny warts in the packets of skin under his eyes."

The Galveston police are calling the incident "an unconfirmed sighting" since it was not reported until nearly two weeks after the fact.

Police say that complicating the search for the fugitive is the fact that he has been known to wear a wig and disguise himself as a woman.

"Not a very attractive one, apparently," said Lt. Mike Putnal of the Galveston Police Department, in a telephone interview.

Bueche said she is worried Durst may still be in the area "and he is extremely dangerous." She believes Durst came back to the North Coast in mid-October expecting to be sheltered. "After all, I had invited him," she said.

Durst sold his Trinidad house last year because he feared the purchase of Trinidad Head by the Trinidad Rancheria would mean an expansion of traffic and casino operations, according to Bueche. Durst told her he purchased land in Big Lagoon and planned to build but was having trouble with permits from the Coastal Commission. He said he had a business office in Eureka and was renting in Big Lagoon until his new place was ready.

According to a report in the New York Times, Durst said on a lease application that he was a self-employed botanist who made $480,000 per year in salary and investments and had worked for Pacific Lumber Co. for 15 years.

"We've never had a Robert Durst work for us," said PL spokeswoman Mary Bullwinkle Monday.

"Who knows how much of what he said is true," said Bueche. "He was obviously a notorious liar. He told me he liked to shop with his daughter in the fancy stores in New York.

"He doesn't even have a daughter."

-- reported by Judy Hodgson


Daly building buyer found?

A potential buyer has been found for the Daly Building, the defunct theater and department store complex in downtown Eureka.

The building was purchased by the Humboldt State University Foundation in 1998 for conversion into a performing arts space. That idea was dropped in the fall of 2000 because of a perceived lack of financial support in the community.

The prospective owner, who was not identified as of press time, is not particularly interested in renovating the theater, said Eureka City Manager Dave Tyson.

"He would want it for retail, and he understands that's not necessarily what the community wants," Tyson said and added that it was likely the city would step into the redevelopment process to preserve the theater, possibly through a public/private partnership.


St. Joe's nurses to organize?

Nurses working for the St. Joseph Health Care announced Nov. 27 that they will try to unionize the 600 registered nurses employed by the nonprofit health care system in Humboldt County.

"We decided that it has reached a point where we want to move ahead," said Anne Stafford-Wade, a registered nurse at St. Joseph. The most important issue is improving staff recruitment and retention -- including providing better compensation.

The election could take place within three to four months, Stafford-Wade said.

It is necessary to gather the signatures from 30 percent of the nurses in order to call for a formal election. The nurses hope to gather signatures from 60 percent of those eligible.

Representatives of St. Joseph could not be reached before press time for this report.


Murrelet controversy

Proposed timber harvesting by Pacific Lumber Co. under its habitat conservation plan has come under criticism from one of the Headwaters Agreement's state legislative architects.

State Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford), who was heavily involved in the negotiations surrounding the Headwaters Agreement, has said a plan to thin timber within a Marbled Murrelet Conservation Area (MMCA) is "expressly forbidden" by the contract that accompanied the agreement.

The timber harvest plan in question is in the Allen Creek MMCA, north of Carlotta. PL wants to thin out second growth trees, claiming that such harvesting would foster the old growth marbled murrelets need to thrive.

But opponents, including Sher, contend that any harvesting is illegal. In a letter to Andrea Tuttle, the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Sher said that the contract between PL and the state "prohibits for 50 years `any timber harvesting... '" within the MMCAs.

The contract was one of the conditions required for passage of AB1986, which appropriated the state's share of the money for the Headwaters purchase.

PL spokesperson Mary Bullwinkel responded that the company's HCP allows for harvesting in the conservation areas under specific conditions. She backed up her claim with language from a different section of the plan that sets out strict regulations for harvesting in the MMCAs but does not prohibit them.

Section 6.1.2.2.2 of the HCP "specifically says in our HCP that `second growth stand components ... are to be managed to buffer old-growth and residual habitat'," Bullwinkel said. Management alternatives outlined include limited harvesting. The THP is now being reviewed by regulatory agencies.

The controversy over PL's timber harvesting was not limited to Allen Creek. Protests over THP 520, popularly known as the "Hole in the Headwaters," have continued over the past month.

North Coast Earth First has sent out a request for volunteers "willing to live in tree-sits, block roads, talk to timber workers and work toward a vision of a better world." The activist group, which staged large protests over the summer on PL's holdings in the Mattole Valley, is asking people to "pack your bags and head for Humboldt County, where you can have the experience of a lifetime."

"What better way to spend the holiday season that living 100 feet up in the forest canopy?"

PL is responding with the same legal tactic used this summer: A civil suit has been filed by the company against protesters, claiming they have deprived PL and its affiliates of the ability to earn income. While no protesters have yet been arrested, some have been cited and released for trespassing. That, Bullwinkel said, is enough.

"The lawsuit was filed for the same reason as in the Mattole: To send a message to people with no respect for the law that we will take whatever steps are appropriate to see they do not interfere with our legitimate right to do business," Bullwinkel said.


New humane society director

In September, 93 percent of the cats received at the Sequoia Humane Society animal shelter were euthanized. Most of them were kittens and most of them were sick.

"That's sickening," said Kathleen Kistler.

It is also something that Kistler, the new director of the Sequoia Humane Society, wants to change.

The society, which runs the county's animal shelter, has long suffered from limited capacity. Because it also deals with an almost unlimited number of homeless animals, the society has had to kill many potential pets. Often, animals are only held for the legal minimum of six days before being destroyed.

The situation has driven the society, now located just south of Eureka, to look for a new facility. "We need a space so we can not just comply with the legal requirement but hold animals until they can be treated and find a home."

And many animals require some treatment when they are brought in. They require either medical care, human socialization or both to make them suitable as pets, Kistler said. The problem is that with limited space, the animals that need support to be adopted are often shuffled aside in order to give ones that are immediately adoptable more time.

"Treatable animals, because of the desire to keep adoptable animals as long as possible, are often euthanized."

Kistler said she was "beginning discussions with the county right now, as well as our supporters." A capital campaign should begin in the near future. The society will also take an aggressive approach to the roots of pet overpopulation by expanding its spay and neuter program, Kistler said.

"We do not like euthanizing animals," she said. "Our goal is to end that tragedy."


Town square for Garberville?

A group of Garberville residents eager to establish a central town square has opened escrow on a piece of property in the center of town.

The land, currently used as a parking lot, recently came up for sale. Rather than see it converted to commercial use, the Garberville Town Square Committee put together $5,000 to secure a contract.

The property, across the street from the Chautauqua grocery store between Jacob Gardner Square and Locust Street, costs $220,000. Of that sum, $55,000 has already been raised.


Blue Lake eyes annexation

The city of Blue Lake is considering a move that would double its size so that it can help to control sprawl on its edges.

The property the city is looking to annex -- about 1,000 acres -- already enjoys Blue Lake water. In some cases, Blue Lake has extended its sewer services to residents of the area as well. The city's police force usually responds to calls from the area.

What Blue Lake doesn't do is control land use. The land is predicted to see a building boom after the construction of the casino at the Blue Lake Rancheria.

County government and the majority of property owners in the area would have to agree to the move. If the City Council decides that annexation is the way to go, the approval process would take years.




photo of cobra cobra sculptureCopper cobra crime caper

On Nov. 10, the last day of the Redwood Art Association's fall show in Old Town Eureka, a six-foot tall, middle-aged man entered the gallery.

He did not stop to study the works on the wall or chat with the gallery's host. He went straight to a hidden corner of the space, and walked right out of the building, carrying a large copper sculpture of a cobra with him.

"A couple of other artists who happened to be there chased him but eventually he escaped," said Orr Marshall, who sits on the art association's board of directors.

About a foot tall and a foot and a half long, the sculpture is made out of thin strips of copper welded to a wire structure. Artist Don Fosdick, who was asking $2,500 for the piece, said the piece can be easily identified by looking for his name on the underside. Anyone with information about the theft should call the Eureka Police Department at 441-4060.



Property tax due

The property tax deadline is fast approaching, and only a quarter of those required to have paid up.

State law requires that property tax be paid by Dec. 10. After that time, a 10 percent late fee will immediately apply to outstanding tax bills.

The Humboldt County Tax Collector's office anticipates a large rush of people trying to pay at the last minute and requests that those who have tax bills pay by mail. Call 476-2450 for more information.



Money for microbusiness

Humboldt County lives off of small business: More than two-thirds of Humboldt County's businesses have fewer than five employees.

Those businesses, called micro-enterprises, are now eligible for help. Humboldt County has received $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to fund its micro-enterprise assistance program.

That program already offers technical assistance for the small-business owners. This new money will fund an Individual Development Account program. IDA programs give matching funds to entrepreneurs who save money for business expansion. If a micro-entrepreneur saves $1,000, for instance, he or she could have as much as $3,000 to invest.

"Reportedly, access to technical assistance and initial seed capital are the two most common obstacles for micro-entrepreneurs," said 3rd District Supervisor John Woolley in a press release. "This program helps our local small business owners jump both hurdles."



Chesbro's health care forum

2nd District State Sen. Wesley Chesbro will hold a forum on rural health care Dec. 5.

Chesbro, who chairs the senate budget subcommittee that deals with health and human services, is holding the public meeting to find out what concerns his constituents have about rural health care access. Representatives of state government and the senior, business and medical communities will be present.

The timing could not have been any better: Chesbro was honored by the California Primary Care Association as its legislator of the year last month.

For more information on the forum, see this week's Calendar.


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