The Newman Family Murders
Who brutally assaulted and killed Nancy Newman and her two daughters?
The 1987 brutal murders of a mother and her two daughters in Anchorage, Alaska, terrified residents, and they wondered who could commit such a barbaric act, and would he strike again?
People move to Alaska for a variety of reasons, including adventure, the chance to make good money, a desire to live in the wilderness, and a chance to escape the problems in their lives. Alaska is not a good refuge for people with serious issues, though. Harsh weather and endless winter nights lead to depression. If a person has psychological problems to begin with, they are likely to get worse in Alaska. Kirby Anthoney was so flawed before he moved to Alaska, it is difficult to say whether his condition worsened once he lived here for a while, but from his actions, we can guess it did.
Nancy Newman and her sister, Cheryl Chapman, were waitresses at Gwennies, a popular Anchorage restaurant still in business today. Nancy’s husband, John, worked as a heavy equipment operator for MarkAir until he was seriously injured in a forklift accident. Workman’s Compensation paid to have him retrained in California as a locksmith, and he was in California at his training in March 1987. Meanwhile, Nancy and her two daughters, Melissa, age eight, and Angie, age three, stayed in Anchorage, where Nancy worked as a tax accountant in addition to her job at Gwennies.
At 6:00 pm on Friday, March 13th, 1987, Nancy joined her sister, Cheryl, and Cheryl’s husband, Paul Chapman, for dinner at Gwennies. Meanwhile, Cheryl’s daughter took Nancy’s children swimming. Nancy left her car at Gwennies and rode with the Chapmans to their house, where they sat and talked. Later, they drove to Nancy’s apartment and sat around her kitchen table smoking and drinking coffee. Melissa and Angie returned home at 9:00 pm and went to bed, and the Chapmans departed awhile later. Nancy left her car at Gwennies that night and told the Chapmans she would get a ride to the restaurant the following day to retrieve it. Her next shift at Gwennies was not until 6:00 am Sunday.
At 8:00 am on Sunday, a ringing telephone startled the Chapmans awake. Nancy’s boss at Gwennies apologized for calling so early but said Nancy was two hours late for her shift. Nancy’s car was still parked at the restaurant, and no one had moved it since Friday night. Her boss was concerned because Nancy was never late for work. Cheryl immediately knew something was wrong, and she and Paul hurried over to the Newmans’ apartment. Cheryl had keys to her sister’s apartment, so they let themselves in, and Cheryl, who was a nervous wreck, sat at the kitchen table while Paul searched the apartment.
Paul opened the door to Melissa’s room, where he found the little girl’s body on the floor. She lay on her back with her right arm under her back and her left arm out to her left side. Both legs were bent at the knees and spread wide. Her nightgown had been pulled up above her waist. In the second room, Paul found Nancy dead on the bed with a pillowcase around her neck and her nightshirt pulled above her breasts. The horror got worse when he opened the third door and found three-year-old Angie Newman covered in blood. Both her left carotid artery and her jugular vein were severed.
Paul fought to remain calm as he returned to the kitchen and told his wife, “Don’t go down the hall; they’re all dead.” Cheryl can be heard screaming in the background on the 911 tape when Paul called to report the crime.
Detective Sergeant Mike Grimes, head of the Homicide Response Team of the Anchorage Police Department, lead the investigation into the Newman murders. He assigned two groups of detectives to the case. One group was responsible for gathering evidence from the crime scene while the other group concentrated on leads and suspects. It was one of the most intensive murder investigations in the history of the state.
The forensic team spent two weeks combing the apartment for blood, hair, and fluid samples, as well as for fingerprints. They even searched for footprints on the carpet.
According to Paul Chapman, Nancy borrowed their vacuum cleaner on Friday, March 13th and cleaned her apartment. The freshly cleaned apartment allowed detectives to vacuum again and gather recently shed hair and fiber. Detectives meticulously collected, labeled, and shipped all the evidence, either to the state crime lab or to the FBI lab.
Detectives noticed two cereal bowls in the kitchen sink, a coffee cup on the kitchen table, and a few cigarette butts in the ashtray. Cheryl Chapman told the police the girls liked to get up early on Saturday morning, watch cartoons, and eat cereal while Nancy drank coffee and smoked. This information led authorities to believe the murders took place sometime Saturday morning.
A large, empty cookie jar also sat on the kitchen table, and John Newman told police Nancy kept her tip money in the jar, the coins packaged in rolls. Also missing from the apartment were Nancy’s purse, jewelry, John’s keys, checkbook, a wallet, and an expensive 35 mm camera. Despite the missing items, the apartment looked tidy; it had not been ransacked. It seemed as if the perpetrator knew exactly where to find the things he took, and he disturbed nothing else.
The murderer struck Nancy in the face several times with a blunt object and then strangled her to death. Police found blood and a small amount of fecal matter on her sheets and green, wool gloves near her body. They discovered blood on the underneath side of the bathroom light switch, and a damp washcloth wadded up in the sink. Investigators recovered three pubic hairs on Melissa’s bed and thirteen more pubic hairs on or near her body. They found one pubic hair on Angie and collected two more from floor sweepings. They found an additional hair on the washrag in the bathroom sink.
The killer had sexually assaulted all three victims, and Sergeant Grimes felt certain the perpetrator not only knew the victims but had enjoyed himself while committing these atrocities. After he murdered Nancy and her daughters, he splayed their bodies as if displaying his handiwork. Grimes believed the killer was a sexual psychopath, and he consulted the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit.
FBI analysts told him the murders probably were committed by someone close to the family and someone who spent enough time at their apartment that his presence in the neighborhood early in the morning did not arouse the suspicions of neighbors. The profile also stated the killer could likely keep himself under control when things were going well, but he fantasized about rape and murder and probably had assaulted other young girls. They noted that this type of individual could commit a brutal murder and then act normal an hour later.
Police immediately suspected John Newman’s nephew, 23-year-old Kirby Anthoney. Anthoney and his girlfriend moved to Anchorage from Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1985 when authorities in Idaho accused him of raping and brutally beating a twelve-year-old girl at a campground near Twin Falls. Prosecutors never filed charges against Anthoney because the young girl was the only witness to the crime, and the beating she received left her so brain-damaged, she could not identify her attacker. Anthoney denied raping and beating the girl, but a few years earlier, in 1982, he did confess to robbing an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman in her house. Before he left the woman’s house, he tied her up and sprayed Mace in her face. When he later withdrew his confession for robbing and assaulting the woman, prosecutors dismissed the case against him. Anthoney was also arrested numerous times for burglary.
When his problems escalated in Idaho, Anthoney fled to Anchorage, where his Uncle John and Aunt Nancy Newman lived. He and his girlfriend stayed with the Newmans for a month in 1986 before taking jobs on a fishing boat in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Onboard the Arctic Enterprise, Anthoney’s girlfriend broke up with him when she grew tired of his abusive behavior, and a short while later, Anthoney was fired.
Two months after leaving Anchorage to work on the Arctic Enterprise, Kirby Anthoney returned to Anchorage and took a taxi to Nancy Newman’s apartment. By this time, John was in California training as a locksmith. Kirby asked Nancy if he could stay at her apartment for a while, and she reluctantly agreed. His volatile temper and drug use concerned her, and she didn’t like having him around the girls. John was not happy when he heard Kirby was living in their apartment, and he told Nancy to kick him out. Nancy asked Anthoney to leave, and while Anthoney complied, he reportedly was furious with his aunt.
According to Anthoney, he spent the night of March 13th drinking alcohol and using cocaine at a dice-playing party across the street from where he lived. He stayed up all night and returned to his apartment the following morning when his roommate was getting ready for work. The roommate said Anthoney left again around 8:45 am. Anthoney said he then went to the home of his friend Kirk Mullins and arrived there around 9:00 am. Mullins, though, said Anthoney didn’t come to his place until between 10:00 and 11:00 am. Mullins did say, however, that when Anthoney arrived, he acted normal as if nothing were wrong. If Kirby Anthoney was the murderer, police wondered how he could savagely rape and murder three members of his family and then carry on a casual conversation an hour later?
Detectives asked Anthoney for the clothes he had been wearing Friday night and Saturday morning, and they then searched his apartment, where they found John Newman’s camera. Anthoney claimed Nancy let him borrow the camera. The clothes they collected were reasonably clean, but analysts found a drop of blood on his shoe and discovered a spot of feces on his shirt. Remember, this was back before the era of DNA analysis. The investigators determined the blood was human, but the sample yielded no other information.
While the crime lab continued to run tests on the evidence, the Anchorage police task force played mind games with Anthoney. They sporadically tailed him, making sure he saw the tail, and two of the detectives talked to him frequently, playing good cop/bad cop with him. By April 15th, Anthoney felt the pressure, and he climbed in his truck and fled for the Canadian border, asking his roommate not to tell the police where he’d gone. His roommate immediately called the Anchorage police, and authorities stopped Anthoney at the Canadian border. Police brought Anthoney back to Anchorage and arrested him for the murders of Nancy, Melissa, and Angie Newman.
Detectives knew they had the killer in custody, but they had no witnesses and no direct pieces of evidence to tie Anthoney to the crimes. Detectives uncovered no murder weapon, nor were they lucky enough to find Anthoney’s bloody fingerprints in the apartment. The forensic evidence and its analysis would be essential to Anthoney’s conviction. Anthoney had lived with the Newmans, though, so it was reasonable that police would find his fingerprints in the apartment. However, there was not a good reason why his prints were on the empty cookie jar, where Nancy stashed her tip money. After the murders, witnesses saw Anthoney use rolls of coins to pay for things.
Pubic hairs removed from the victims’ bodies and the damp washcloth left in the bathroom sink looked identical to ones collected from Kirby Anthoney. Still, the hairs could not be matched definitively to one person. More damning were the lice egg casings clinging to some of the pubic hairs collected from the bodies as well as to the pubic hair collected from the rag in the sink. At the time of the murders, Anthoney had pubic lice. The washcloth also had green, wool fibers on it, matching the gloves found near Nancy Newman’s body, and the gloves were full of hair pulled from Nancy Newman’s head. It appeared as though the perpetrator attacked Nancy while wearing the green gloves. He then removed the gloves and went into the bathroom to clean himself with the washcloth, leaving behind the wool fibers and a pubic hair covered with lice egg casings. Detectives also believed Anthoney got feces on his shirt from the spot on Nancy Newman’s bed.
Prosecutors struggled with the task of explaining to the jury how anyone could brutally murder three people and then act perfectly normal an hour later. FBI Agent John Douglas, with the Behavioral Science Unit, explained that the FBI categorizes acts such as those perpetrated against the Newman family as “sex-power killings.” These premeditated acts are committed by a sane individual with a character disorder. While the perpetrator knows the difference between right and wrong, he doesn’t care; he lacks a conscience. If he feels no remorse, there is no reason for him to act guilty after committing a brutal act.
Once the attorneys presented all the evidence, the jury deliberated for two days before returning a verdict of guilty on all counts. Kirby Anthoney’s sentence was so long that he would not even be eligible for parole for 120 years. When pronouncing his ruling, the judge stated Kirby Anthoney was the most dangerous offender ever to enter his courtroom.
The Newman murders understandably outraged the city of Anchorage, and Kirby Anthoney received numerous death threats. The crime even sparked a movement to reinstate the death penalty in Alaska, but the movement never gained traction.
This case is an excellent example of the use of forensic evidence to capture and convict a murderer. Thanks to the many hours crime scene investigators spent combing through the Newman apartment collecting evidence, prosecutors were able to build a strong circumstantial case and put Kirby Anthoney behind bars where he belonged.