John Hartman was still clinging to life support following a brutal beating when Fairbanks Police received a tip from Barbara Ann Higgins, a 41-year-old bartender who knew both the victim's family and that of his last known companion, Chris Stone.
Higgins, who worked along with Stone’s mother at El Sombrero, had arrived home that Saturday in October 1997, about the time medics delivered Hartman to the emergency room. She'd found a recorded message from 14-year-old Chris, pleading for a place to stay.
Higgins hand-written police report and excerpts from the detectives recorded interview with Stone are available through links posted below. These files and other public documents indicate authorities paid cursory attention to Stone, the person last known to have accompanied Hartman.
Stone and his mom were often at odds. It wasn’t unusual for the youth to bunk at her place. But this was the first time he’d called in advance, and the tone of the message had her concerned. Though it was awful late, Higgins called Stone’s mom. She was curtly informed the teen was already home.
Later that day, Higgins heard the news about a young “John Doe” on life support at FMH. That evening she learned who it was. Higgins had seen Stone’s bruises following the thrashing near Fort Knox gold mine. She figured this had to be related.
When she got off work about 1 a.m. Sunday, Higgins headed straight to FPD headquarters and spelled out what she knew in a full-page, hand-written report. “I have some names in Chris assault that will probably be included in this case,” she wrote near the end.
“Chris is known to run away,” she added. “So if he thinks he’s in trouble he will.”
Higgins preserved Stone’s message on her answering machine for months figuring police would be interested. Despite Detective Aaron Ring's direct reference to her suspicions during the interview with Stone to the message, no one one from the Fairbanks Police Department ever listened to the tape.
A power failure eventually erased the recording, Higgins told UAF Journalism in 2004.
You decide if Stone was questioned thoroughly: Listen to excerpts from Detective Aaron Ring's interview with the troubled teen about the night his friend was fatally assaulted.
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