Murder on Highway 20
By Fred Owens
Eben Berriault shot and killed naval officer Scott Kinkele on Highway 20 in Skagit County. It was just past news accounts of the crime and my personal contact with Eben Berriault. It is not an objective account. I have known Eben since he was nine-years-old. on Friday, July 28, 2000. The prosecutor termed it a “thrill killing.” Berriault was convicted of first degree murder and is serving a 55-year sentence at Monroe Prison. This story is based on
I wrote a letter to Eben Berriault. He's been in prison for fifteen years. I have not contacted him since the day he got arrested in 2000. I was at his house the day he got arrested, but I left before the cops came. Eben is somewhat notorious in Anacortes where he used to live. He was convicted of the murder of Scott Kinkele one night on Highway 20..... For that crime he was given a 55-year sentence..... Serving it in Monroe prison....Eben's mother and his wife and his two children visit him often and they have told me how he is getting along in prison.... But today I wrote him a letter. He can write back if he wants too. Or not..... I've known him since he was a blonde-haired nine-year-old boy playing and running around.... It's a common thing to hear people say this, but I never expected him to be spending his life in prison.....Why did he do it? To be honest, I am ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I know such a man. At the time of his arrest and conviction I kept my mouth shut and would not stand with him in court. His crime horrified people. His crime horrified me as well and I wished I had never known him or his family. But I do know them quite well.
Eben and his brother Seth and I had talked about going fishing in Seth's new boat. We can go out in the channel and catch some salmon, I told them -- but instead they decided to run up to Mount Baker and go poaching a deer. That's when they got drunk and on the way home from the mountain they shot and killed Scott Kinkele..... Why didn't they go fishing with me? Nothing would have happened. I was a bit of a Scoutmaster to Eben and his brother and we would have drunk plenty of beers and broken a few fish and game regulations but nothing more than that.
Rhonda McLaughlin wrote to me on FB, “I was approximately 10 minutes ahead of this on my first night back to work after having a baby! I was heading home from LaConner to Anacortes on 20. I still get chills to this day when I pass the trees on the highway! So senseless!”
State Highway 20 runs all across Skagit County, from the Cascade Mountain Pass to the ferry landing in Anacortes. But it was on that stretch of highway past the Farmhouse Inn and just short of the bridge, where Eben Berriault murdered Scott Kinkele and left him for dead.
I have no understanding of why Eben shot Kinkele in the back, but I do understand about where it happened. That stretch of the highway has no soul. No soul. No spirit. No life. It is nowhere. No angels, no fairies, no ancestral ghosts. Only emptiness. The devil comes to earth in places like that. The devil waits until his people come to play out their evil purpose. Eben comes. His brother Seth comes driving drunk. Kinkele comes innocently, after stopping to buy gas. Did Kinkele know he had an appointment with Eben and his shot gun?
The bridge over Swinomish Channel is named after Duane Berentson, a prominent local politician. The Farmhouse Inn was established by Torre Dybfest, a popular man who knew how to feed people and make good money doing that. The train tracks run parallel to the highway and out to the refineries, but were hardly ever used in 2000. Across the highway from the Farmhouse Inn was a seed company cleaning station. Across the Duane Berentson Bridge is the Swinomish Casino, source of new wealth for the tribe. It was on that stretch of the highway between the Farmhouse Inn and the bridge where the crime took place. Not a bad place, but an empty place – so it seemed to me. That was my own emotional reaction to the crime in July of 2000 – I was not surprised it happened there.
You ask why. Why did Eben do it? Why did he pick that car, with that driver, at that time, on that stretch of the highway. Why?
Eben was not angry, not as I knew him, but he had this emptiness in him, an empty place in his psyche, a blank space, vacant and missing.
In 1983 in Wenatchee, he was 19 years old and hanging out with Chipper and Bear from the STP family. Chipper and Bear were very dangerous, violent men and why he was drawn to them and their people I’ll never know. There was a drunken party around a campfire, then a fight, then guys came at someone with rocks, then rocks and kicks and the guy died, then they took his wallet and ran off. Eben was there and he was arrested for that and they got him to testify against the others in exchange for “only” a five-year sentence for manslaughter. Since he testified against the others, he was a marked man in prison society and served all five years in protective custody, which is very restrictive.
Eben was 19 when he went to prison and he didn’t do it – kill the guy – but he was there and that was enough and he wasn’t one to complain and say he got a raw deal. As I said, he never appeared angry, but there was this empty spot in him.
He was in prison out by Port Angeles and then for the last year of his sentence he was in Monroe prison. I remember seeing him the day after he got out. His mom came over to Mount Vernon to visit us on the farm – Eben and his mom, Eva Anderson, his brother, Jesse Berriault, his other younger brother Seth Anderson, and his two younger sisters, Ruby and Grace. They all came to see us at the farm and Eben had just gotten out of prison. He was in a state of electric shock. It was very strange to me – his extra-pale skin, his over-built muscles from confinement and weight-lifting, his super tension, like a five-year wound-up spring.
That was 1988. Eben lived with his family in Anacortes after that. He met and married a wonderful, sensible, caring woman – a black woman from Belize. He really got lucky, to meet and marry her, she was a treasure. It seemed things were going well, on a steady track. They had two children and Eben worked construction, not steady but often enough, and drinking his beers at home and not too many beers. It seemed the bad times were all over, and 12 years passed since he got out of prison in 1988 until that night on Highway 20 when he shot and killed Scott Kinkele.
There was no reason to kill Kinkele. The prosecuting attorney called it a “thrill killing,” but that is not the right word. I don’t know the right word for what Eben did. There is no right word. He shot Kinkele and Kinkele died.
Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African-American church ladies in Charleston, South Carolina. It was a crime that shocked the nation, but Roof had a reason – he hated black people.
Eben didn’t hate anyone. He wasn’t angry, just empty and vacant enough for a bad spirit to enter him and take over his soul and get him to fire the weapon. That’s the best I can come up with. Crime – murder -- is that which does not make sense. Justice is how we make sense out of a crime. It made sense for the court to give Eben a life sentence in prison, a fifty-five year sentence to be exact. He belongs in prison.
I excuse him for the murder in Wenatchee in 1983 when he was 19. The way you clear him of that crime is to say the guy would have gotten killed in a brawl whether Eben was there or not there. Eben was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and got a conviction for manslaughter. I knew those guys from the STP Family, and you come near them once and you never come near them again because they were very bad and violent. Eben didn’t do that. He hung around and ended up in prison.
But I don’t clear him of the murder on Highway 20. It was all his fault. He shot Kinkele for no reason. Kinkele was a naval officer, a graduate of Annapolis with everything to live for, but he died, and the woman he was meant to love and marry never met him, and the loving children he was meant to have were never born. Scott Kinkele was too young and his loss rippled across the world. His mother died three years later, of some medical condition to be sure, but truly of grief and anger over the loss of her son. Eben’s younger brother Seth was driving the car that night. Seth was sentenced to 38 years at Walla Walla prison, but six months into his sentence he hung himself in his cell. So all those people suffered and died because of what Eben did. He belongs in prison for life.
His family, his wife and kids, and his mother, have always stood by him and visit him often.
"Bullet Ends Life Of Young Naval Officer"
"Fat Tom," The Second Installment of "Murder On Highway 20," A "Thrill Killing" In Anacortes, WA
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