Alaska mail bomb conspiracy: How two prisoners orchestrated a daring revenge plot from inside prison to kill the key witness in their case
Raymond Cheely and Doug Gustafson managed to establish contact with each other inconspicuously while inside the jail to plan their revenge
A new Oxygen documentary called "Killer Siblings," takes a look at a '90s case where two inmates, incarcerated at the Alaska Department of Corrections for the same crime, were able to exact revenge on their former friend and a key witness in their case, by successfully sending a mail bomb to his house that ended up killing his father and seriously injuring his mother.
In September 1991, just months after 20-year-old George Kerr of Chugiak, Georgia, helped the state put two of his friends, Doug Gustafson and Raymond Cheely behind bars for 65 and 60 years respectively after he witnessed them fatally shooting teenager Jeffrey Cain on the Glenn Highway, the Kerr's family received a package in the mail addressed to George - who was not there at the house at the time.
As David Kerr, George's father tried to open it, the bomb went off, blowing him into pieces, ripping a hole in the roof of their home and destroying a picture window. Miraculously, George's mother, Michelle Kerr, survived the mail bomb and pointed the investigators to Gustafson and Cheely, who quickly became the primary suspects. There is just one problem - both of them were already serving time behind bars, which was a pretty solid alibi. Or was it?
According to prisoners that the detectives in the case talked to at Spring Creek Correctional Center, where Cheely was housed and Gustafson was previously housed, the former had made a hit list of the people he wanted to kill. On top of the list was George Kerr's name.
But that was only the start. Cheely and Gustafson also managed to establish contact with each other inconspicuously while inside the jail to plan their revenge.
"They were able to pass notes - in jailhouse lingo they call them 'kites.' They would utilize the assistance of other prisoners like, 'Hey, can you give this to Doug over in the other jail cell?' They were also able to coordinate a specific time in the day to call the Cheely house. They have two separate phone lines that come into that home and that someone out there was taking the phones and literally turning mouthpiece to earpiece and they were able to talk to each other over the telephone that way," Joseph Bottini, a retired U.S. district attorney who was the lead prosecutor in the case, said in the documentary.
But there still remained the impossibility of the pair actually getting their hands on the components needed to make the bomb and physically taking it to a post office to mail it. So investigators had to figure out who was helping them in their revenge plot. They finally zeroed in on Peggy Gustafson Barnett, Doug's elder sister who believed from the start that her brother was innocent of the crime he was convicted of and was wrongly incarcerated.
During his phone calls to his pregnant sister, Doug kept giving Peggy coded instructions on how to make the bomb, under the pretext of helping her fix her car and she showed him pieces of it during her jailhouse visits.
Two years later, Peggy was sentenced to 28 years in prison after pleading guilty to the bombing and her brother, Craig, who helped her build the bomb, was sentenced to 22 years. Both Doug and Cheely were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In the same year, Michelle sued the Alaska Department of Corrections for negligence, saying in her lawsuit that the state had "no control" over inmates, according to the Associated Press. She was awarded $11.8 million in the judgment.
'Killer Siblings' airs Sundays at 7 pm ET/PT on Oxygen.