Kodiak Moment

Why is an Alaskan hunter gunning for a giant bear - in a Phoenix strip joint?

He managed to get back to the hide safely, the 17-foot skiff with its 35-horsepower outboard barely making it through six-foot waves. He got the hide aboard, but the lagoon he was in was too shallow to use the outboard. But he couldn't get into deep enough water just by pushing off; the waves kept driving him back to the beach.

So Fabriger took off all his clothes and swam the boat out past the waves. Nearly frozen, he scrambled aboard only to find he'd broken the steering handle off the outboard.

"I had to wrap my arms around the motor to steer the skiff. That was okay, though, because it was warm and I was freezing."

This state of Alaska sealing certificate is all Fabriger needs to prove it's his bear.
Jack Satta
This state of Alaska sealing certificate is all Fabriger needs to prove it's his bear.

Once in the open water, he put his clothes back on. But the waves were too much. They kept crashing over the bow.

About halfway back, things got so bad that Fabriger decided he'd better get ashore. He ran the boat up on the beach near a cabin. Inside, he found dry clothes and managed to get a fire going. Then he slept.

The next morning, the weather was better and he made it back to the cannery (but not before the engine died partway there, and he had to clean the spark plugs and get some water out of the fuel line to get the motor going again). He and the watchman weighed the hide, then put it in the cannery's cooler.

The next morning, he hiked back to his base camp for the last time. He packed his gear and waited for the pilot to pick him up. They made a stop at the cannery for the hide and skull, then flew to the Kodiak airport where state game officials inspected the hide and certified that he, Antonin Fabriger, was indeed the proud owner of a very large Kodiak brown bear.

Back in Anchorage, Fabriger took the hide to AAA Taxidermy. He could have it made into a rug, or he could have it mounted, a much more expensive proposition.

Fabriger says he didn't have the $3,000 for the mount. So the taxidermist suggested he find a sponsor, someone who would pay for the mount in exchange for being able to display the bear. The taxidermist put him in touch with a man named Wayne Carpenter, who at the time ran a small museum in downtown Anchorage, the Alaska Wildlife & Natural History Museum. (Carpenter couldn't be located to discuss this story.)

But it was Bush Co. owner Jack Cox who actually paid for the mount.

In 1986, Jack and Edna Cox were well-known in Alaska as owners of the Great Alaskan Bush Co., a place an Anchorage newspaper once deemed "the most famous strip joint on the last frontier."

They were about to open a branch in Phoenix, and the huge stuffed bear was perfect for the new club.

Fabriger didn't know it, but the Coxes were gaining notoriety in Arizona as well, according to newspaper reports. For years, Jack Cox was investigated for narcotics trafficking, racketeering and fraud by state and federal law enforcement agencies; as he puts it: "Nothing ever stuck." Still, a previous felony conviction stemming from an Alaska case kept him from getting a liquor license for the new Bush Co.

"I'd wanted to have some Alaskan-type artifacts to add some flavor to the concept," says Cox, who's now working as a legal aide in Phoenix. (Cox passed the Arizona Bar Exam, but his license has been held up by the character committee of the state bar association.)

Cox says he doesn't remember all the details surrounding the bear, but says it was agreed that if he paid for the taxidermy, he could keep the bear in Phoenix for a few years. "When that period expired, he was to come and get the bear," Cox says.

Fabriger has a copy of a five-year "personal property lease," dated November 13, 1986, signed by himself and Carpenter. The lease values the bear at $20,000 and states that the bear will be kept at the club on Grand Avenue in Phoenix.

"I knew it was going to be shipped to Arizona," says Fabriger, "but I didn't know the trickery involved."

Fabriger got $1,000 under the lease, which also allowed Cox or Carpenter to renew the arrangement for another five years -- and another $1,000.

At Fabriger's insistence, Carpenter paid for a $20,000 insurance policy for the bear, which listed the Bush Co. as the insured party. Later, the Bush Co. itself bought insurance on the bear, records show.

In 1990, Carpenter closed the wildlife museum and moved, apparently out of Anchorage. Fabriger never heard from him again.

In 1991, the lease expired. Fabriger says he never heard from Cox about renewing the lease. Letters to Cox from Fabriger's attorney were not answered.

Cox says he remembers "there were some problems" reaching Fabriger. "There was a time when he left some messages and I remember when I tried to call him back I had some difficulty getting ahold of him," Cox says.

In 1992, Fabriger was seriously injured in a car accident. He says he could no longer work, and moved to a small town in Washington state, near the Hood River, where life was cheaper.

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