• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
News Alert: Follow our AFN Live Blog - Read More
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 18s

A cold death

By Rhonda McBride 10:47 PM December 26, 2013

Woman found dead in used car lot raises questions and tugs at heartstrings

ANCHORAGE – As morning rush hour traffic was starting to build on East Sixth Avenue in Fairview, Anchorage police had cordoned off a used car lot with yellow tape.

They were called to Alaska Professional Auto Dealer around 7:30 a.m. Thursday, after a woman’s body was found in a white Chevrolet van. Shortly after, medics pronounced her dead at the scene.

Police later identified the woman as Elaine Marie Cleveland, 34, of Anchorage.

As neighboring businesses began to open and watched investigators photograph the van, workers already suspected what had happened.

“It makes me feel blessed, I guess, to have a warm place to sleep at night,” said Ryan Suchan, who works at Far North Supply, which has a shop across the alley from the car lot where Cleveland was found. “Every morning we come to work. We see people get out of the cars, the homeless people, you know. They seek shelter to get out of the elements.”

Turns out Suchan was right. Investigators did not find signs of foul play. An autopsy revealed that exposure to the cold was a factor in Cleveland’s death.

Temperatures overnight ranged from -3 to 6 degrees.

Later in the morning, a man named Ed walked by. He recalled spending a night in one of the cars in the same auto lot where Cleveland died. He said it’s better to keep moving when it’s so cold — but when you’re drinking, the urge to rest somewhere, anywhere, gets stronger. Ed said sleeping in a car would not be his first choice, because it’s like sleeping in a “cold box,” which in Cleveland’s case turned out to be a coffin.

A woman who only wanted to be identified as Charleis, pronounced “Charlie,” knows something about sleeping in cars. She said a week ago she reached her 30-day limit at the Brother Francis Shelter.

She was sleeping in a tent — but after it was stolen, her brother let her use his car to live in. It’s parked near the shelter, and she worries that it may be towed because it no longer runs.

Charleis prefers the tent to the car.

“You might as well sleep in a tin can,” she said. “You ever put a tin can out? And then you look on the inside, it’s going to be frozen.”

For now, Charleis is making do with the car, even though it was vandalized. Two windows were busted out, windows now covered with blue tarp.

“In here, it’s cold,” Charleis said, as she rubbed the frost off the dashboard and exhaled a frosty breath of air. “It’s cold, ain’t it?”

To keep warm at night, Charleis wears five layers of clothing. She has a bedroll and a blanket that she uses to cover her head and keep warm air inside a cocoon.

At least there’s one thing she doesn’t have to worry about:

“That’s my food right there,” Charleis said, pointing to a plastic grocery bag. “It ain’t gonna spoil.”

Charleis said she can relate to what happened to Cleveland. She wonders if Cleveland had been drinking alcohol.

“When you pass out, first you’re cold. Then you start getting warm. Then you start relaxing, and then you go into a deep sleep,” Charleis said, who described the impact of extreme cold and too much alcohol as an experience like a coma. “And when you go into that coma, you’re slowly dying.”

Anchorage police said it might be six to eight weeks before toxicology results are available for Cleveland. They aren’t saying much about the circumstances which led up to her death — how she got into the van, whether she was homeless or whether she breathed her last breath on Christmas day or sometime the next morning.

“If that lady did not have no blankets or anything, she would have been frozen within three hours,” Charleis said.


Latest Stories

  • APD discusses crime stats, safety tips with Airport Heights community

    by Daniella Rivera on Oct 21, 9:56

    This year’s spike in violent crime has had Anchorage neighborhoods on edge, and many people asking what they can do to help. Officer Robin Nave is part of the Anchorage Police Department’s (APD) Community Action Policing team. In January, she attempted to survey residents in all community councils within the municipality regarding crime issues in their neighborhoods. Airport […]

  • News

    Mayor says Fairbanks 4 deserve compensation

    by Associated Press on Oct 21, 8:29

    The mayor of Fairbanks says the city and state of Alaska should consider compensating the four indigenous men who spent nearly two decades in prison before their convictions for the beating death of a teenager were overturned. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports Mayor John Eberhart discussed ways the city can work to repair its relationship […]

  • Weather

    First snowfall makes for slippery morning commute in Anchorage, Mat-Su

    by Rachael Penton on Oct 21, 6:25

      ANCHORAGE — Last updated at 8:58 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 21 Make extra time for your Friday morning commute if you plan to drive in the Anchorage or Mat-Su areas. A cold front passing through Southcentral has brought the season’s first measurable snowfall. The Anchorage Police Department has received reports of at least 16 vehicle crashes and 35 […]

  • News

    Flash mob brings opera to students at Clark Middle School

    by Lauren Maxwell on Oct 20, 20:11

    Students at Clark Middle School got more than they bargained for at the school cafeteria on Thursday. Lunch came with a side of opera and dance, courtesy of a flash mob. Several members of the Anchorage Opera dressed as cafeteria helpers surprised students by bursting into song for a short performance from Rigoletto. Bruce Wood, […]

  • Anchorage police want to teach you how to track local crime online

    by Shannon Ballard on Oct 20, 19:56

    The scanners may be turned off but the Anchorage Police Department (APD) says there is another way to figure out when crime is happening in your neighborhood. For the first time, the Anchorage Police Department is hosting a series of Community Crime Map training events. The technology has been around for years and officers say […]

  • News

    50 years later: AFN remembers milestones, talks unfinished business

    by Liz Raines on Oct 20, 19:15

    The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) kicked off its annual convention in Fairbanks Thursday. This year, with a milestone. It’s been 50 years since Alaska Natives banded together to reclaim lost lands, a bond forged through long hours, and endless determination. “We took the heat, the criticism, the negative editorials,” remembered Emil Notti, one of […]

  • Politics

    ‘I am so done with it’: Voters feeling fatigued this election season

    by Bonney Bowman on Oct 20, 18:43

    With the final presidential debate wrapped up and the presidential election only 18 days away, the candidates have a short time left to win over voters. But do voters want to be won over? Or are they just over this election? Election fatigue is when people start feeling exhausted by non-stop coverage. The Pew Research […]

  • On-Air

    Reality Check w/ John Tracy: It’s time Anchorage gets excited about Uber

    by John Tracy on Oct 20, 16:26

    On a recent trip outside Alaska, I decided to find out what all the fuss was about concerning the ride sharing company Uber. I’m not the most technically savvy guy, but even without the help of my teenager, I downloaded the app and reluctantly gave Uber my credit card number. When I arrived at the […]