The murder of Michael Zagars, a frontiersman who was gunned down by his neighbor in Wasilla, Alaska, nine years ago, will be featured on the documentary Fear Thy Neighbor on Investigation Discovery. The title of the episode this week is “Feud on the Frontier.”
On Fear Thy Neighbor, Michael Zagars and Fred Heilman are neighbors in Wasilla, a place where only the toughest people survive the rugged conditions. For Michael Zagars, a true mountain man, the beautiful landscape was home.
However, the peace and tranquility on the back roads of the frontier were forever shattered after Zagars came into contact with fellow neighbor, Fred Heilman. In the beginning, Fred and Michael were on friendly terms. They would even drink a few beers together and go fishing, according to an article in the Frontiersman. However, it didn’t remain friendly.
Michael Zagars was told by at least one neighbor that he needed to stay away from Fred Heilman, who was described as a loose cannon, a quick-tempered type who was known to carry guns.
Michael Zagars got his first taste of Fred Heilman’s wrath after his dog scared Heilman’s daughter and her son. Fred’s daughter and grandson had come to live with him in Wasilla. From that encounter, a feud escalated and ignited.
In June 2008, police received a call that someone had been shot. When detectives arrived, they found 49-year-old Michael Zagars with multiple gunshot wounds to the body. The critically-wounded man was pronounced dead at the scene.
Detectives were led to the home of the man who shot him, 63-year-old Fred Heilman. When they arrived at Heilman’s home, he refused to surrender. Then a standoff ensued and ended in the worst way possible.
Fred Heilman exited his home that Sunday evening and shot himself. He was declared dead at the local hospital, Juneau Empire reported. The murder-suicide rocked Wasilla residents who knew both Fred Heilman and Michael Zagars well.
People who knew Michael Zagars say that he was a friendly neighbor with playful dogs. And although Fred Heilman was less friendly, those who knew him well say that he had a big heart.
After the neighborly bloodshed, local law enforcement officials were heavily criticized for not squashing the tension early on. The longstanding feud is well-documented in court records, which details the times police were called out to the scene after threats were reported.
It is believed that had the police taken the threats seriously, it could have saved two lives. Others praise the local police for doing everything they could.
As for Michael Zagar’s two sons–Michael Zagars Jr., and Antone Zagars– they have grown into handsome and fun-loving young men. They still reside in Wasilla, Alaska. Their mother died before the fatal dispute.
About Wasilla (via Matador Network)
“Wasilla, Alaska, rests in the belly of the Matanuska Valley, a place famous for giant produce (think 100+ lb cabbages) thanks to near 24-hour daylight during the peak growing season. It is on the way to Anchorage if you’re arriving by road from Canada, and on the way to Denali National Park if arriving by plane in Anchorage. Half the year most of the buildings are covered in snow, the other half, mud. The real charm is the landscape this town was plopped down in: neighborhoods are still on dirt roads, forests are still rich in life, the streams are still clear, and the mountains are so close, rugged and blue you feel like you’re standing in a postcard.”
The tragic story will be re-enacted on Fear Thy Neighbor this Thursday, April 27, at 9 p.m. on Investigation Discovery (ID). Last week’s Fear Thy Neighbor was so intense, it outraged viewers. That story was based on Ronald Ragland. See below.
[Featured Image by Fear Thy Neighbor/Facebook]