Kodiak Moment

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

He continued to write to the Bush Co., demanding the return of his bear. He never got an answer and didn't find out until later about the pending bankruptcy.

In 1997, when the Gateses took over ownership of the club and its assets, Fabriger began writing to Dan McCauley, the Gateses' attorney. He says he initially received a letter saying the Gateses had purchased the assets through bankruptcy court.

But, Fabriger says, subsequent letters in which he tried to point out that neither Cox nor the court was lawfully in possession of the bear were ignored.

Tony Fabriger and his bear, in 1986, at the taxidermist shop.
courtesy of Tony Fabriger
Tony Fabriger and his bear, in 1986, at the taxidermist shop.

Then, in January 2000, Fabriger showed up at the club with a friend of his. McCauley says they told the manager the friend was a federal agent with authority to seize the bear.

McCauley told the bar manager to call the police because he wanted any taking of the bear to be overseen by authorities. McCauley hurried down to the bar, too, and found the police talking not to an employee of a federal law enforcement agency but to someone who identified himself as a "U.S. Constitutional Ranger."

"I asked the police to arrest him for misrepresenting himself," McCauley says. "But they just said he was nuts, that he was a relatively harmless person."

Fabriger says he's not clear what a U.S. Constitutional Ranger does, but that he knows it is not a federal law enforcement job and that neither he nor his friend meant to imply that it was. "Not too many people know too much about it," he says. "It's got nothing to do with the federal government."

McCauley says the only document Fabriger showed him was "a deal with a museum in Alaska."

"There was no link, no chain of custody, from him to that bear," McCauley says.

"If he proves to bankruptcy court that they improperly conveyed an asset, then we'll deal with it then."

So how does someone prove he owns a bear?

"Having the sealing certificate would certainly seem like proof of ownership to me," says Bruce Bartley, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Alaska law prohibits the sale of a bear, including the hide or a mount. So there would be no way Cox or Carpenter could claim legal possession.

It took Bartley just a few minutes to look up Fabriger's old certificate in state files. The original certificate, bearing Fabriger's name, the date of the kill and other information, is still on record. It's signed by both Fabriger and the state official who inspected the hide.

"It sounds to me like he's the real deal," Bartley says. "There's one copy in our file, and the only other copy is the one we give out [to the hunter]."

Fabriger still has the other copy. It's become part of the mammoth file he's compiled over the years.

"It's definitely his bear," says Jack Cox. "I believe he's entitled to it back."

Cox says he's happy to testify or give a deposition in any legal action Fabriger brings to recover the bear.

The irony of that is not lost on Fabriger, who notes that he tried for 10 years to get ahold of Cox and that neither Cox nor anyone from the Bush Co. ever tried to call him to tell him the bear should be picked up.

"I don't trust those people," Fabriger says now. "I am not going to go through that anymore. I want that bear."

Now, Fabriger may have to petition the bankruptcy court to reopen the old case.

If that doesn't work, Fabriger's only recourse -- short of convincing McCauley and the Gateses to just give it back -- would be to take them to court.

"I am definitely going to work on it 'til I get my bear back," he says, although once he gets it, he's not sure what to do with it. He says he'd like to find a museum or organization that would display the trophy, "something to do with sporting or hunting."

"I never thought I would have to hunt this bear twice," he says. "I almost froze to death the first time, but that was easy compared to what I've been going through."

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