Joe Vogler’s face, fedora and feistiness are known from the North Slope to the southern panhandle. He ran for governor three times, unsuccessfully, and founded his own political party, whose secessionist banner carried the present governor into office.
So where is he?
“It’s one of the biggest mysteries in Alaska today,” said Lynn Vogler, Vogler’s geologist nephew who dropped his work in Kansas and moved to Alaska after his 80-year-old uncle’s disappearance on Memorial Day.
Four months later, there have been no arrests and no word. Hardly anyone expects to see Vogler alive again.
“There’s all kind of speculation, but I’m fairly certain of some sort of foul play,” said Vogler, who moved into his uncle’s log home to be closer to the investigation and care for Vogler’s dogs and pet goose. “I just know the likelihood of seeing him walk through the door here is becoming less and less likely.”
Alaska state troopers say there was no sign of scuffle or forced entry at Vogler’s house in woods overlooking the Tanana Valley in Fairbanks.
“We’re looking at all the different angles that would cause a person to come up missing, including foul play,” Sgt. Mike Corkill said.
Troopers won’t say if they know of suspects or a motive.
Friends who walked through the house the day of Vogler’s disappearance said it looked as if the old man was preparing for bed. The goose’s cage was draped. His five dogs were inside.
Missing were his constant companions--a .32-caliber pistol and his gray fedora. But his heart medicine and wallet were on the kitchen table.
“He wouldn’t go anywhere without letting someone know,” said lobbyist and longtime friend Sasha Hughes.
“I think it could have been just somebody he knew who had a bone to pick with him,” said Lynette Clark, a Fairbanks miner and secretary of Vogler’s Alaskan Independence Party, a conservative group that advocates secession from the United States.
“But I also don’t think it’s far-fetched at all to think that the government would want to eliminate Joe Vogler” because of his secessionist beliefs, she said.
Vogler had gone so far as to vow never to be buried on U.S. soil.
The Alaskan Independence Party came in from the fringe when it attracted lifelong Republican and former Gov. Walter J. Hickel to run for governor again in 1990 with Vogler’s longtime friend, Jack Coghill, as lieutenant governor. The ticket entered with just six weeks to go, skipped the primary elections and won in a three-way race.
Coghill said on a Fairbanks talk show that troopers had three suspects, two from Alaska and an Oklahoma man. He said later he was passing on information the party obtained in a meeting with state troopers.
Troopers Capt. John Myers, who briefed the party, declined to confirm or deny Coghill’s information but said he wasn’t the source.
From radio call-in shows to bars, just about everyone has a theory about what happened to him.
Was it his politics? Something he said?
“I just can’t see it,” said his nephew. “He’s always been very vocal about politics, from local issues on up. Why at this point that would have triggered a reaction in someone, I just can’t see.”
Some friends wondered if he went to Canada to visit his wife’s grave at Dawson City on Memorial Day.
“It would be a sentimental thing he might do,” said Anchorage writer Tricia Brown.
Vogler came north in 1944 before Alaska was a state. He had lost a job in Texas after repeatedly cursing President Franklin D. Roosevelt and calling him a “Communist traitor.”
But in Alaska, Vogler found himself in a territory full of federal bureaucrats--"interfering government swine,” he called them.
“If I ever get a revolution going, I’m going to import a bunch of guillotines and lop off their lying heads,” he was known to say.