Julia O'Malley

Julia O'Malley writes a general interest column about life and politics in Anchorage and around Alaska. She grew up in Anchorage and has worked at the ADN on and off as a columnist and reporter since 1996. She came back full time as a reporter in 2005.

As a reporter, she covered the court system and wrote extensively about life in Anchorage, including big changes in the city's ethnic and minority communities.

In 2008, she won the Scripps-Howard Foundation's Ernie Pyle award for the best human-interest writing in America. She has also written for the Oregonian, the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Press.

E-mail her at jomalley@adn.com.

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For the right tip, The Showboat is yours

Terry Stahlman owns adult entertainment businesses in Anchorage and Fairbanks. He's offering The Showboat in Anchorage as a reward for information that leads to finding missing barista Samantha Koenig. (MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News)Terry Stahlman owns adult entertainment businesses in Anchorage and Fairbanks. He's offering The Showboat in Anchorage as a reward for information that leads to finding missing barista Samantha Koenig. (MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News)

Add to the $70,000 or so reward fund to help find missing barista Samantha Koenig one strip club business that could be worth as much as $250,000, courtesy of Terry Stahlman.

That's right, Stahlman, felon, recovering drug addict, fading strip club kingpin and occasional street philanthropist, would like to make this his largest public gift yet. He's retiring, so it's kind of a finale.

He called me last week to tell me about it. His idea: give The Showboat Showclub in Anchorage to anybody who provides police with the information they need to find Koenig, whether she is dead or alive, he said. The tipster has 10 business days from today.

"I want to do something real grandiose," he said. "Get this thing some attention."

The Showboat, housed in a fluorescent green and blue building on Fifth Avenue, is home to six or seven strippers, some as young as 18, who rent the privilege of stripping to their underwear on the premises. Cokes and energy drinks are on offer for $10 to $15 apiece.

"It's a moneymaker," Stahlman said.

I reached Koenig's father James on his cellphone. He said he had no problem with the offer and asked for Stahlman's phone number.

"I don't judge people for their pasts, I've got a past too," he said.

There is, naturally, some fine print. For the first year, the recipient of the business wouldn't pay anything. After that, he'd need to start paying rent and utilities, Stahlman said.

I went to interview Stahlman after he called last week. He answered the door of his Hillside home wearing a gray sweatsuit. He is barrel-chested with frail arms. His posture reminds me of an amateur actor with a chest full of air, getting ready to deliver a line. His hair is champagne-colored and cut into a sparse pompadour. Too much skull shows through the skin of his face. His eyes are like flints.

Stahlman doesn't know Koenig's family, he said; he just read about her disappearance and couldn't stop thinking about it. It also happens that Stahlman is putting all three of his clubs -- he also owns The Showboat Showclub and the 49er Club in Fairbanks -- up for sale in mid-March. After 25 years, he's ready to retire.

He's got enough to do raising teenagers and fighting with his ex-wife over custody, among other legal issues. Plus, he's turning 70. This fact becomes more interesting when you consider he's been using heroin on and off for the last 50 years. His last relapse was four years ago, he told me. At the time, he was eligible for Social Security.

If Stahlman's name rings a bell, it might be because of his history in the state's gaming industry, or you may remember one of his many lawsuits. He's sued the Peanut Farm, near which he used to have a strip club, the city and the Daily News, among others. He's also been sued a number of times. He was once the defendant in a burglary trial -- he was found not guilty. Most recently he's been in the news for high-profile donations.

In 2010, he put up his Big Timber Motel as collateral to free Mechele Linehan, a former stripper turned suburban mother who appealed her conviction for persuading a suitor, John Carlin III, to kill a man named Kent Leppink for his life insurance. Stahlman was convinced she was innocent at the time. But then he changed his mind and rescinded his offer. Her conviction and indictment were later thrown out.

Then there was the time in 2003 that Cleo Bishop, who worked the shoeshine stand at the airport, found a lockbox full of money next to an ATM there. There might have been $20,000 in that lockbox. Bishop turned the box in. Stahlman was so taken with the story he paid to send Bishop on a trip to see family in Chicago. And there was the strip-a-thon to help buy a dress for renegade Mountain View food pantry hero Alice "Mother" Lawrence the time she met the president.

Stahlman ushered photographer Marc Lester and me into his office, a room adjoining his garage, where I could see a Harley and a dusty yellow Corvette Crossfire with its hood up like at a car show. He took a seat at a desk in front of an old computer. The place had rosy carpet and smelled of cigarettes.

I scanned framed news clippings on the walls. Mainly they were about his charitable giving and various criminal exploits. I noticed a very old clip from when he escaped from jail at age 17. He had been doing time for robbing a convenience store with a cap gun. It hung under an enormous picture of himself and his father in a bar when he was 12. He was smoking and drinking a beer.

I asked him if he was sorry to retire. He said he was burned out, so no. I asked what got him into the strip club businesses.

"Initially I liked the girls. After a year, I hated the girls. Look, dancers, dancers are crazy. Dancers will drive you crazy. They never want to come to work, they never want to take care of the rent."

His phone rang. He searched around and found it under his desk chair.

"Huh? What'd you say? My account is closed? OK, OK, I'll be a son of a gun. You know, that's over those forgeries. ..."

He hung up. I told him whatever he was talking about sounded complicated. He said it had to do with an ex-wife. He has three children. His oldest is going to UAA. His youngest lives with her mother. He is suing that ex for a number of things. He also has her name tattooed on his neck. The middle girl is in high school.

"I spend an inordinate amount of time following her around and talking to these boys, threatening 'em," he said.

He laughed. I laughed. Then he stopped laughing and eyed me.

"I'm kind of joking but kind of not, OK? She's 16."

I asked what interested him about the Koenig case.

"It just pulls at me, OK?" he said. "I see myself in this girl and her father. My God, I don't know how that guy is surviving. ... I'd have guys with guns on the streets looking for this guy."

In particular, it was one quote from James Koenig's Facebook page that stirred something in Stahlman. It read: "I have resources, good and bad, I do not want to unleash the bad, I do not wish ill against you or yours, but if this does not end soon, you leave me no choice."

"I have a bad side, real bad," Stahlman said.

He paced in front of his desk and then peered at me. He pointed to a small, round black spot tucked in the wrinkled skin next to his right eye.

"You see this tattoo? I'm serious business," he said.

Was that a tear drop? I asked. It looked a little like a mole.

"That means I did things and an accident happened with somebody," he said.

Stahlman explains why he wants to help: "I see myself in this girl and her father. My God, I don't know how that guy is surviving. ... I'd have guys with guns on the streets looking for this guy." (MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News)Stahlman explains why he wants to help: "I see myself in this girl and her father. My God, I don't know how that guy is surviving. ... I'd have guys with guns on the streets looking for this guy." (MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News)

He gave it a beat to let the line soak in, then went back to pacing. I asked him if he wanted to give things away because he felt guilty about mistakes he'd made. He said no. He's been in 12-step programs long enough to have a relationship with his higher power and a sense of having made amends. We got back on Samantha. Terrible things could be happening to her, he said.

"I would kill that son-of-a-bitch, if it was my daughter, I guarantee you."

He started talking about how he would feel if his club offer did make a difference. If Samantha was returned unharmed.

"I'd be jumping up and down, I'd be so happy," he said and then choked up. He reconsidered my question about doing good things to make up for bad things.

"It cleans up some things for me, makes some things right between me and you know who, OK?" he said.

Soon Marc and I got up to leave. He followed us out. The tipster could call him directly, he said. His number is 764-0474. (The Anchorage Police Department would prefer that anyone with a tip call them directly, according to spokeswoman Anita Shell. Anonymous tips may be also be phoned in at 561-7867.)

Stahlman said he would guarantee confidentiality to any caller. The information just had to take police to Samantha. There had to be a person out there who knew something, he said. No matter who they were, they could trust Terry Stahlman.

"My word is very good," he said. "With gangsters, drug addicts, you name it."

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