My husband and I live in the Alaska wilderness, and brown bears, deer, foxes, and eagles are our only neighbors. The most terrifying thing I can imagine would be to wake up in the middle of the night and see a shadowy figure looming over me. The following story captures my nightmare in vivid detail and is a true event.
On Saturday, December 1, 2007, Christopher (Chris) Erin Rogers Sr., 51, and his girlfriend Elann Moren, 55, threw a party in their Palmer, Alaska home to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their relationship. Rogers’s son Christopher Erin Rogers Jr. (Erin), 28, helped Elann buy groceries and prepare his favorite meal, homemade pizza, for the occasion. During the celebration, Elann and Chris discussed their planned wedding scheduled for June 21st, the summer solstice, and Erin volunteered to oversee the flower arrangements for the wedding. Amid the frivolity sat Bear, Chris’ dog, a half English Mastiff and half wolf mix, weighing 150 lbs. Bear was very loyal to Chris and never left his side.
After the party ended, Elann and Chris retired to their bedroom. Elann said she heard Erin in the living room watching TV, and she listened as he went in and out of the house several times. She assumed he was smoking cigarettes outdoors and then returning indoors to watch television. When she awoke at 4:20 am and still heard the television, she considered telling Erin to turn off the TV and go to bed.
A few minutes later, Elann froze as a shadowy figure walked into their bedroom. It was too dark to make out the individual’s features, but she could see the person holding something long and slender in his hand. She thought the object was a stick, and when the shadow began hitting Chris with the stick, she reached over to grab the offending object and stop the beating. After two of her fingertips fell from her hand, she realized the attacker gripped a machete, not a stick. As her mind raced to find a rational explanation for this nightmare, she briefly wondered if this intruder had also attacked Erin. In a flash of horror, though, she realized the man hitting Chris repeatedly with the machete was Chris’s son, Erin. When Elann asked Erin why he was hurting his father, Erin said, “You made me do it.” Elann thought by now, Chris must be dead, but a moment later, Chris rose out of bed in one burst, picked Erin off the floor and carried him into the kitchen, where Chris collapsed and died.
Meanwhile, Elann scurried to the bathroom. She shut the door but couldn’t lock it with her mutilated fingers and blood-slick hands. Erin had whacked off part of her elbow and inflicted a deep wound on her leg. She huddled in the bathroom, terrified and unsure of how to save herself. A moment later, Erin burst through the door and again began striking her with the machete. Elann told him, “We’re dead. You’ve killed us. You can stop now.” Erin paused his relentless attack for a moment, and Elann thought her words had penetrated his deranged mind. Soon, though, she realized it wasn’t her words but Bear, Chris’ huge dog who had stopped Erin. Bear had gripped Erin’s pants in his teeth and pulled him away from Elann.
Bear viciously chased Erin out of the house, and Erin jumped into his father’s pickup and sped away. Meanwhile, Elann managed to lock the bathroom door with her teeth and dial 911 with her engagement ring. She told the 911 operator, “We’re dying here. He started chopping us up. My arm is barely on my body. Please help us.” The 911 operator told Elann to remain on the line, but Elann told her she was passing out.
When the troopers arrived at Chris and Elann’s home, they found pools of blood on the floor and crimson splattered across the walls. Elann was barely alive, but she managed to tell investigators it was Erin who had attacked them, and she told the police, if Erin left the premises in Chris’s truck, he is now armed with more than a machete. Before their dinner party the previous evening, Chris decided it would be safer to place his .357 magnum revolver under the seat of his truck instead of leaving it in the house. Erin now had a gun, and no one knew where he would go next.
The troopers found bloody paw prints in the snow outside the cabin, and when they followed them, they discovered Bear, whining in pain. The dog also had been hit by the machete and was missing a canine tooth and had a six-inch gash in his chin.
By Sunday morning, Anchorage police had learned about the domestic crime in Palmer and were aware troopers were still searching for the assailant. They knew to be on the lookout for the missing vehicle, but they did not understand the brutality of the Palmer crime nor the unhinged individual who had committed it. They also had no idea the vicious killer had driven to Anchorage, had a gun, and was looking for his next victim.
Troopers checked to see if Erin Rogers had a police record, and what they discovered, worried them even more. Rogers was a habitual offender who twice had been caught stealing. He had also set two forest fires in Eagle River, had been arrested for domestic violence, and had two DUIs. After each conviction, the judge gave Rogers probation and another chance. After the last DUI, four months earlier, Chris and Elann agreed to allow Erin to live with them and promised to supervise him in their home while he served his probation. Neighbors said Erin seemed to be doing well and helped around the house with construction, painting, and yard work.
Erin Rogers drove 43-miles from Palmer to Anchorage, where he abandoned his father’s truck at a gas station, and taking his father’s gun and ammunition, he walked into a residential neighborhood. Around 7:00 am Sunday, Erin spotted 27-year-old Jason Wenger warming up his Ford Bronco in his driveway. Wenger was sitting in his vehicle with the radio playing, probably oblivious to his surroundings, when Erin walked up to the driver’s side window and shot him eight times. Wenger’s body fell against the accelerator, and Erin panicked and ran away, afraid neighbors would hear the revving engine and come to investigate. A neighbor walking his dog discovered Wenger’s body at 10:30 am.
Wenger’s murder initially stumped authorities. Who would want to kill this young college student on his way to church? The crime made no sense. Jason Wenger worked with developmentally disabled folks and had a big heart. He was well-liked and didn’t seem to have any enemies.
After murdering Wenger, Rogers crawled into the woods and took a short nap. He then walked to a nearby convenience store and bought beer and cigarettes. At this point, Erin later told authorities, he no longer worried about being apprehended but “just wanted to kill a few more people along the way.”
After resting, Rogers began to wander through the woods. He saw Elizabeth Rumsey walking down a bike trail while she talked on her phone. Elizabeth, a law clerk for the Alaska Supreme Court, had been helping with an event at a local theater and was now headed home. Erin approached her and asked her if she knew what time it was. Erin’s appearance frightened Elizabeth, and she began to walk faster. When she was within a block of her home, Erin opened fire, shooting her three times. As she fell to the ground, she lost her grip on her phone, but she called out to the friend with whom she had been talking and told her she had been shot. Residents heard the gunshots and called police. Elizabeth Rumsey was rushed to the hospital at 7:20 pm. Despite serious injuries, she survived the attack. Erin Rogers later said he shot Elizabeth because she seemed nervous, and he feared she recognized him.
The random shootings in the city stumped police, and neither Anchorage nor Palmer authorities realized they were hunting the same person. After the murder of Jason Wenger and the shooting of Elizabeth Rumsey, Anchorage police remained on high alert.
At 7:00 am Monday, December 3, architect Tamas Deak started his Jeep Cherokee in his driveway, planning to let the vehicle warm up while he returned to the warmth of his house for a few minutes. When Deak stepped out of the Jeep, Erin Rogers, who had been hiding nearby, began firing at him. Six of Erin’s shots hit Deak, and then Erin bashed Deak in the head with the butt of his revolver, knocking Deak to the ground. Erin jumped into the Jeep and sped down the road. Deak tried to call to his wife, but one of the bullets had punctured a lung, and he couldn’t draw enough breath to speak above a whisper. Deak’s wife heard the gunshots but dismissed them as fireworks. Despite his critical injuries, Tamas Deak managed to withdraw his cellphone from his pocket and dial 911. Help arrived within minutes. Deak described his assailant as very thin, bearded, and dressed in a dark blue jumpsuit with a hood.
With the aid of Deak’s description, police finally understood they and the troopers in Palmer were chasing the same man. They quickly pooled resources and began searching for Erin Rogers driving Tamas Deak’s Jeep Cherokee.
Approximately one-half hour later, police spotted Deak’s stolen Jeep Cherokee, and after a brief pursuit, officers rammed the vehicle, pinning it between a power pole and a tree. Rogers attempted to shoot the officers, but his gun jammed, and police arrested Rogers without further incident. Once he was in custody, Rogers confessed to killing his father and Jason Wenger and to wounding Elann Moren, Elizabeth Rumsey, and Tamas Deak.
What caused Erin Rogers to embark upon his murderous rampage? Elann Moren told troopers she believed Erin might have taken some of her prescription medication before he began his murder spree. Erin told police he attacked his father and Elann because he was angry with them and believed they thought poorly of him. He also told troopers the machete attack required too much energy, and he would have preferred to shoot them if he could have found his father’s gun.
Rogers stood trial in both Anchorage and Palmer. For the Palmer portion of his crimes, prosecutors charged him with the murder of his father, Christopher Rogers Sr., the attempted murder of Elann Moren, animal cruelty for hacking Bear with the machete when Bear pulled him away from Elann, and several other charges. In Anchorage, the charges included the murder of college student Jason Wenger, the attempted murders of law clerk Elizabeth Rumsey and architect Tamas Deak, robbery, and assault. Rogers was found guilty on all charges.
In November 2009, an Anchorage judge sentenced Rogers to 309 years in prison, and in January 2010, a Palmer judge handed down a sentence for an additional 189 years in prison. Rogers appeared at the Palmer sentencing with a long beard and a shaved head and eyebrows. His eyes remained downcast during the proceeding. When asked if he had anything to say, he told the court he was sorry for what he’d done and regretted his actions had affected so many people. He said he wished he had never been born. “I wish I could die today,” Rogers said. “I do hope that capital punishment is passed in Alaska and that I’m eligible for that. Because thinking about my crime and what happened, every day tears me apart more than people believe.”
Rogers appealed his Anchorage and Palmer convictions and lost both appeals.
Bear, the dog that pulled Rogers off Elann Moren and then chased Rogers away from the house, received local and national citations as a hero. Sadly, though, Bear died a year and a half after surviving wounds from the machete attack. He was ten-years-old when he died from cancer in Elann Moren’s arms. Elann says she believes Bear not only saved her life but possibly also the lives of their neighbors in Palmer.