Pack Animal

By on March 3, 2018

The serial rapist who terrorized Jackson Hole in the 70s is finally locked away, but are all of his crimes answered for?

The truck following closely behind the woman’s car as she approached the Aspen Drive In Theater likely didn’t seem out of the ordinary at first. The woman had just left her job at Pink Garter Steak House in Jackson and was headed home on the cool October night in 1975, which was only about a 20 mile drive through Hoback Junction.

But as the man in the truck began flashing his lights, signaling for the woman to pull over, it became clear that something was very wrong.

The woman relented to the flashing and pulled over. A few seconds later, the driver of the truck approached her window and warned the woman of a problem with her car. There was leaking brake fluid, and sparks were flying from the rear right tire, he said.

Worried, she exited the car to check but saw nothing wrong. She made her way back to the driver’s seat of her vehicle, but before she could shut the door, he grabbed her.

The woman didn’t go easily — she fought — but the man in the truck on the side of the highway proved overpowering, picking her up and forcing her into the cab of his truck before driving away.

Terrified, the woman made one last-ditch attempt to stop him, pulling the steering wheel of the speeding truck and aiming toward the back of her car.

He stopped her and issued a warning: Behave, or I’ll kill you.

The man drove the woman south on Wyoming 187, stopping near Scott’s Horse Palace before continuing on to Hoback Junction toward Pinedale.

From there, he continued a short distance before turning down a dirt road and stopping the truck.

He forced the woman to undress, forcing her to perform oral sex on him before sexually assaulting her.

She tried her best to resist, she later told police, but was afraid to anger the man too much, should he make good on his threat to kill her.

Following the attack, the man from the truck got dressed as did the woman. He ordered her back in the truck and drove back down the dirt road. As luck would have it, the truck got stuck after a short distance.

The man rocked the truck to free the wheels and then continued on, stopping once again a short distance down the dirt road. He got out of the truck and walked his victim to a row of trees, where he left her, barefoot and terrified.

The woman found her way out of the woods and walked down the highway, where she flagged down a passerby for a ride into Jackson.

She was taken by Teton County Sheriff’s deputies to the hospital for an exam before leading officers to an area near the county rodeo grounds, where she pointed out a truck as the one she’d been abducted in.

She also picked out the man as her assailant out of a lineup of nine men once they returned to the Sheriff’s Office, prompting officers to obtain a search warrant for his home and place of business, where they found several items of clothing belonging to the woman during the search.

The residence was that of 26-year-old Donald Kenneth Pack of Jackson.

Pack would later be found guilty of first-degree rape and sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison for the crime. But this horrific sexual assault was not the only one Pack committed during his time in Jackson in the 1970s. It would just take another 43 years — and an unrelated investigation — to prove it.

Serial Crimes in Jackson

A series of unsolved rapes occurred in Jackson during the same time frame that Pack assaulted the woman from Pink Garter. These crimes didn’t involve a truck or Hoback Junction, but each one was eerily similar to the other.

The man committing the rapes had the same method every time — he’d stalk the women by sitting outside of their homes in wait, and once they were in bed, he’d break into their homes and sexually assault them.

The man had been wearing a mask during each of the assaults, investigators said.

Police initially zeroed in on Pack as a suspect, but a lack of solid evidence meant they just couldn’t prove it. Well, not until a pair of underwear was discovered in a Teton County evidence locker 43 years later, anyway.

After his release from the state pen in Rawlins, Pack had been quietly living his life Cheyenne for about two decades before Division of Criminal Investigations Special Agent Mike Carlson inadvertently tied him to a 43-year-old rape case in Jackson.

Special Agent Mike Carlson was in Jackson trying to find evidence to tie Pack to the disappearance of Kathy Pehringer, a woman who’d gone missing from Fremont County in 1989. Carlson stumbled upon a pair of semen-stained underwear in Jackson Police Department’s long-term evidence storage unit that had been collected as evidence in an unsolved sexual assault case from 1943, long before DNA testing was developed.

Carlson sent the underwear to the Wyoming State Crime Laboratory in January 2016 to be tested, and lo and behold, the semen was a match to one Donald Kenneth Pack.

Teton County Judge James Radda initially prohibited the release of Pack’s identity in relation to the rapes, and Pack was referred to as DKP Jr. in early court filings from the case.

“While conducting the [Kathy] Pehringer investigation, DKP Jr. was developed as a suspect in the Pehringer investigation,” the court affidavit filed in March 2017 stated. “P was also discovered to be the suspect in a series of sexual assaults in Jackson, Teton County, Wyoming in 1974 and 1975.”

Now 66 years old, Pack was arrested in December 2017 at his home in Cheyenne. He came clean after his arrest, confessing to the rapes that occurred in October 1974 and April 1975 in Jackson, according to court documents.

When asked by Carlson about his motive for the crimes, Pack told the special agent that he’d committed the rapes “for the thrill.”

The Conviction

Shortly after his arrest, prosecutors charged Pack with rape, attempted rape, burglary and aggravated burglary for the crimes committed in 1974 and 1975.

Court documents filed in March 2017 described how Pack would stalk his victims outside of their homes until they fell asleep before breaking in and raping them.

“Mr. Pack describes in detail his methodology of scouting for victims by waiting in his truck until he was certain he was in front of a house that was occupied by only a lone female. Mr. Pack describes how he covered his face to conceal his identity. Mr. Pack describes the weapon he used on multiple victims and the threats he would tell them. Mr. Pack describes how he would, in multiple instances, wait until his victim would fall asleep, enter the house, wake them and sexually assault them in a similar fashion. The common features in the uncharged misconduct and the charged crime show that the perpetrator of the uncharged misconduct and the perpetrator of the charged crime is the same person,” the documents read.

Still, despite his confession and the solid DNA evidence against him, Pack initially entered a plea of not guilty to the charges. A plea deal was made shortly after, with Pack agreeing to plead guilty to two counts of rape stemming from incidents in 1974 and 1975 in exchange for charges of aggravated burglary and burglary being dropped.

“The victim of the crimes alleged in counts one and two of the first amended information wishes to avoid the trauma of participating in this criminal prosecution,” Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Weichman stated in the motion. “The Teton County Attorney’s Office respects the victim’s wishes and will not in any fashion attempt to compel her presence or involvement.”

It was a long time coming for the victims of Pack’s crime spree, who had for 43 years waited for the man who assaulted them to pay for his crimes.

Two of the victims took the stand during Pack’s sentencing hearing. The woman told the court that she was in her early 20s when Pack assaulted her at her cabin in Jackson.

According to her testimony, Pack — wearing a black ski mask — kicked in the door of her cabin and raped her.

“No one knows the terror I felt. I thought he would kill me,” she said.

She asked the judge to issue a harsh sentence for Pack, telling the court that she will always be looking over her shoulder because of him.

“This poor excuse for a human being should not be released from jail,” she said. “Please be harsh. I don’t care how old he is or about the time he has served. He should have thought of that a long time ago. I will never speak his name again. I will always be looking over my shoulder for another man who is seeking to take advantage of me. Always.”

The second victim was only a few days shy of her 25th birthday when Pack, wearing a mask and carrying a gun, broke into her home to rape her.

“After 43 years, I don’t remember exactly what he said or what I said, but have never forgotten the fear,” she said. “He got his pants down and rubbed the gun on my cheek. He said not to make a noise. He proceeded to sexual assault me. I remember saying the Lord’s prayer out loud. I remember thinking if he shot me my family would have nothing good to put on my tombstone.”

Pack threatened to kill the woman after the assault. Terrified of what he’d do, she hid in a closet until morning before getting help.

The nightmare didn’t end for Laura at that point, though. She lived in constant fear, she said, and would keep knives stashed and grab protection just to go to the bathroom.

That fear was only exacerbated when Laura received a phone call from her rapist a few months after the rape. He told her if she didn’t stop talking to the police, he’d kill her.

It was a voice Laura would recognize as Don Pack, the man who would drive past the bowling alley on league night or appear at other places he shouldn’t have been.

The fear pushed her to pack up and move away in 1977. Away from Jackson and away from Donald Pack.

As part of the plea deal, Pack was required to recount what had happened the nights of October 15, 1974, and April 21, 1975, to the court.

“There is no doubt that 1974-75 have proven to be the worst years of my life,” he said in a statement.

“I forced myself upon this woman after breaking into her house and had sexual carnal knowledge with her,” he said. “Most definitely against her will.”

“I forced myself on her sexually,” he said.

Defensive Maneuvers

It appears that after Pack was released from prison for the 1974 rape he was a model citizen, at least on the surface. No criminal cases are pending against Pack from the years he spent in Cheyenne post-prison, and he appears to have lived a pretty quiet life until Carlson’s discovery.

He got a job as a manager of a trailer park in Cheyenne, and even began dating the trailer park’s owner. It’s a position he kept from the ‘90s until his arrest in 2017.

If Pack really did stay out of trouble and wasn’t just smarter about hiding his crimes, it’s an impressive feat. The recidivism rates for sex offenders vary thanks to a number of factors but are generally reported to be anywhere from 5 to 15 percent. It’s unclear how accurate that statistic is, though, since the majority of sexual assaults go unreported.

It’s also unclear what the statistics are for serial rapists like Pack, who terrorized the women of Teton County in the ‘70s.

Whatever the number, it appears that Pack managed to stay on the right side of it, and out of trouble once he moved to Cheyenne.

According to Robin Poteet, the Criminal Department Supervisor at Laramie County Court, no adult felony or misdemeanor records could be found on Donald Kenneth Pack Jr. at in the First Judicial District Court of Laramie County as of January 8, 2018.

There aren’t any active charges against Pack anywhere else in Wyoming, either. Aside from a few traffic tickets, Pack was, until DNA proved him tied to the 43-year-old rapes, pretty squeaky clean.

That squeaky-clean image is a notion Pack relied on during the sentencing phase of his recent trial. One of the two expert witnesses for the defense was Dr. Chuck Dennison, an expert in psycho-sexual evaluation.

Dennison stated that Pack was as “rehabilitated a man as he has ever seen,” a strong claim from a doctor whose work is widely revered.

Dennison did note that Pack tested high for strong narcissistic personality, which involves a distorted self-image, according to the United States’ National Library of Medicine. Emotions can be unstable and intense, and there is excessive concern with vanity, prestige, power, and personal adequacy. There also tends to be a lack of empathy and an exaggerated sense of superiority..

Still, even with the narcissistic personality traits, Dennison told the court he was sold on Pack’s rehabilitation and called for leniency in Pack’s sentencing.

“It does appear this is a man who has been rehabilitated,” Dennison said. “Punishment probably won’t bring his behavior down anymore. It is already low. Now we are stuck with the question: Does additional punishment change the risk level? I don’t think so because it’s already low, and can’t get lower than low.”

Dennison also noted that punishment for any of the charges would have a significant impact on Pack’s life. He would have to register as a registered sex offender, which would likely cause him to lose his job at the Greenway Trailer Park, where he’d worked since the early ‘90s.

Pack may admit to committing the crimes, but whether he takes full responsibility for his actions or not is open to interpretation. Pack told investigators that he was using both alcohol and cocaine heavily during the span of time that he was sexually assaulting women.

Those claims were reiterated by former probation officer John Olive, who was called as a witness called by the defense during sentencing.

Olive told the court that Pack’s behavior during time he was committing serial sexual assaults was mainly due to his abuse of alcohol and cocaine. Pack was a thrill-seeker, Olive said, which led to him seeking an adrenaline rush by breaking into homes and scaring women. When that lost its luster, Pack escalated the behavior to getting an adrenaline rush from the sexual assaults, Olive said.

Pack had been facing one year to life in prison on each charge. In early February, Pack was sentenced to eight to 12 years for his crimes.

Questions Remain

Pack may have managed to skirt any charges for crimes committed post-conviction, but there is still the lingering question of whether Pack has ties to the case of Kathleen Hazel Pehringer, or Kathy, who disappeared from her home in Riverton, Wyoming on April 17, 1989, while her daughter was at school. Pehringer took her purse with her when she disappeared, but her vehicle was left behind. She has never been heard from again.

Authorities believe Pehringer’s left her residence willingly with someone she knew and intended to be gone for only a short time. There was no sign of a struggle of her house after she vanished.

Police suspect foul play in Pehringer’s case, although her body hasn’t been recovered.

Her case is what prompted Carlson to poke around in the Jackson evidence lockers in the first place, leading to the new convictions against Pack.

And while Pack hasn’t been formally tied to Pehringer’s case — Carlson didn’t uncover any new evidence linking the two during his time in Jackson — Pack was the last person to have seen at her home the day she disappeared, according to his ex-wife Loretta Ehnes.

At the time when Pehringer went missing, Pack was living with his Ehnes in Riverton. He’d been out of prison for about two years and allegedly knew Pehringer.

Ehnes said she believes Pack had something to do with the disappearance.

“She trusted him,” Ehnes told the Jackson Hole News&Guide earlier this month.

Ehnes, who said she wasn’t aware of Pack’s criminal history when she married him, thought the court would lay a heavy hand on the serial rapist for the new charges.

“He’s a menace to society and himself,” Ehnes told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “I thought they’d throw him in for another 40 years.”

Second Thoughts

And while pack may have admitted to raping the women in 1974 and 1975, he wasn’t always as forthcoming about his guilt. In 1977, his attorney filed an appeal in the 1974 case, stating that the police had, among other things, intentionally erased tape recordings.

Defendant Pack asserted in his appeal that the victim was asked a number of improper questions concerning her emotional state, and that the questions were designed solely to create sympathy with the jury.

He accused the investigators of intentional erasure of tape recordings that destroyed not only exculpatory evidence, but also evidence that they had helped influence the victim selecting his photograph in the photographic array.

Pack argued in his appeal that he should have been allowed to present evidence of “prior, recent sexual intercourse to raise the possibility that the sperm present was from other than the alleged criminal act.” In layman’s terms, Pack’s attorneys wanted to counter the prosecution’s evidence showing motile sperm present in the victim’s vagina with the idea that it came from the victim engaging in consensual sexual intercourse with someone else.

In his appeal, Pack also alleged that certain police witnesses offered by the prosecution were defendants in a then-pending civil false-arrest lawsuit,

And, as a final Hail Mary, Pack asserted that the trial transcript was lacking sufficient evidence to support his conviction.

His appeal was unsuccessful.

What Now?

Whether Pack will ever be formally tied to Pehringer’s disappearance or any other cases remains to be seen. For now, he’s off the streets of Cheyenne and Jackson, tucked into a cell at Teton County Jail to serve out his new sentence on those old crimes.

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