September 29, 2005
“Papa” is still in the wind.
The latest news on Robert Hale is that the Troopers are still looking for him and concentrating on the Valdez-Glenallen area.The Scripture-quoting patriarch was indicted
last Thursday on 30 counts of sexual assault and related charges
involving one of his daughters.
The 17-member family, bound by strict rules
that Hale drew from his reading of the Bible, broke apart last winter
after a single, horrific episode, described by troopers this week. They
said Hale locked a daughter in a small shack on family property near
the Kennicott River in McCarthy and raped her repeatedly. Some other
family members knew she was in there, heard suspicious sounds and were
concerned, troopers said.
Soon after, the older children left the
family, which also had a homestead on an old mining site 14 miles from
McCarthy, inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. A sympathetic Palmer
family took them in. Troopers were contacted over Labor Day and began
“When our sister came to us for help, we were
united in our desire before God to take whatever action was necessary
to protect her,” the older Hale children said in a statement Tuesday.
Multiple charges of rape and assault, as well
as single charges of kidnapping, coercion, and incest, were pegged to
an incident Jan. 10. Other charges broadly cover the seven years the
family known as the Pilgrims have been in Alaska.
Troopers who have interviewed the children say Hale was able to carry on his abuse of his daughter in secret.
“It was a secretive thing, so most of the family wasn’t aware of the direct sexual abuse,” said investigator Derek DeGraaf.
But the situation was complicated by the mysterious hold the father had over his family, said Massie.
When this story broke a couple of days ago, all I knew of the Pilgrim
family was about their apparent disregard for park rules and ecological
concerns in the park that surrounds the homestead on which they live,
and for private property rights and the public rights of way in the
little town nearby where they set up a business to get some tourist
dollars. What I had seen of Papa in the media struck me as a
sleazy and self-righteous hypocrite, using scripture freely as a screen.
The ADN website had links to earlier stories. One of them amazed me with the complexity of this man’s life.
Papa’s papa was football hero I.B.Hale, two time All-American offensive
tackle at Texas Christian, who led his team to a national championship
in 1938. Instead of accepting the professional football career he
was offered, I.B. joined the FBI. He was a “close associate” of
J. Edgar Hoover. After the FBI, he became head of security for
military contractor General Dynamics.
The son, Robert, eloped in 1958 at the age of 17 with the daughter of
John Connally, who later became governor of Texas and Nixon’s Treasury
secretary, the man who was wounded in JFK’s car that day in
Dallas. A month later, Kathleen Connally Hale was dead.
“Kathleen had been open and sweet and
wholesome, a daughter to be envied by anyone who raised a child,
watched her bloom. She had never caused us the least of worries,”
Connally wrote. “But suddenly a wall had gone up that we could not
At the coroner’s inquest, Bobby Hale said
she’d been alone in their apartment with the shotgun when he returned
home from looking for her. He tried to persuade her to put it down. He
said he’d grabbed for the gun and it went off, according to Connally’s
“I have not spoken to Bobby since then,” the
former governor wrote. “Over the years, he has attempted to call me. I
have never taken his call, nor will I. If this seems flinty and cold,
so be it. Our daughter was gone and so was Bobby Hale, as far as I was
The death was ruled an accident.
In a 1997 book about the Kennedy administration, The Dark Side of
Camelot, investigative reporter
Seymour M. Hersh places Bobby Hale and his twin brother, Billy, in a possible plot involving his father to blackmail
President Kennedy.Hersh’s story is based on FBI documents
obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. It involves Judith
Campbell Exner, the woman revealed by a congressional committee in 1975
to have been having an affair with the president even as she had close
ties with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana and mob associate Johnny
The affair was known to FBI chief Hoover. He had Campbell’s Los Angeles
apartment under FBI surveillance in August 1962, when agents observed
two young men break in through a sliding glass door on a balcony.
According to FBI documents in the case examined by the Anchorage Daily
News, the burglars’ getaway car, a blue Chevy Corvette, was registered
to I.B. Hale, the former agent who was now chief of security for
Hersh’s account was also corroborated by an ABC-TV documentary.
The FBI said the description of Hale’s sons is “generally similar” to
that of the two burglars seen at the glass door, one of whom later
drove away in the car registerd to Hale. The Dallas FBI office reported
one of the sons drove a Chevy sports car and was possibly in California.
The FBI agents did not try to intercept the burglars or report the
incident to police — presumably, Hersh wrote, because they would have
blown the cover for their own stakeout.
Exactly what happened in the apartment is unknown; the FBI agent
interviewed by Hersh said agents assumed an electronic listening device
Three months later, Hersh wrote, the Kennedy administration shocked the
Pentagon and Congress in awarding what was then the largest U.S.
military aircraft contract in history. The $6.5 billion contract for
the experimental TFX jet fighter went to General Dynamics, a distant
second to Boeing in all the procurement studies.
Had Kennedy been blackmailed? The surprise contract inspired
investigative hearings in Congress, which found no collusion between
the company and high government officials. But investigators did not
have access to the burglary information in the FBI files, Hersh said.
The congressional investigation, unfinished, was called off after
Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
Papa says he dropped out in the 1960s, spent
some time in Haight-Ashbury, lived on an Oregon commune, and wandered
around South America on horseback. When he was 33, in 1974, he
met Kurina Bresler in the California desert. She was 16.“The Lord spoke to me. He said, ‘This is your wife. She’s strong and she will bear you many children,’ ” Pilgrim said.
Betty Freeman, a singer and actress, said her daughter was in drug
trouble and running from home and Hollywood when she met Hale and quit
“In spite of everything he tells you, he trapped her with sex and drugs,” she said.
They married and legally changed their last name to Sunstar, which
makes me wonder why current news stories say that Papa Pilgrim’s legal
name is Hale. Oh, well, there are a lot of things about the
Pilgrims that make me wonder. The Sunstars lived, stole, and
alienated their neighbors on a New Mexico ranch owned by Jack
Nicholson, where Papa was known as Preacher Bob. They left there
on their way to Alaska in the late 1990s, when the ranch was in the
path of a wildfire.
Since they have been here, Bobby “Papa” Pilgrim-Sunstar-Hale and his
adult sons have had run-ins with the law over illegally-taken game,
trespassing, allowing their horses to run loose on a small-town
airstrip, and a bunch of other violations stemming from the Park
Service’s efforts to protect the Wrangell-St. Elias International Park
from them. Papa has characterized at least one of the law
enforcement people who thwarted his desires as “worse than the
terrorists.” In the bulletins notifying the public of his
fugitive status, he is described as “armed and dangerous.” No