A Homer man found dead on the Spit last Saturday, Jeff Wraley, should be remembered for his intelligence, kindness and contributions to the community, said his close friend, Nina Faust.
“I want him to be remembered as an incredibly generous, wonderful human being,” she said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Homer Police on Tuesday identified Wraley, 56, as the man found dead last Saturday afternoon on the Homer Spit. Wraley did not have any identification on him when he died, and police and the Alaska Medical Examiner’s office used fingerprint records to identify him.
According to online court records, Wraley had no criminal history, but as a former federal employee, he would have been fingerprinted.
Next of kin have been notified. Foul play is not suspected, said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl. The Alaska Medical Examiner completed an autopsy and Wraley’s remains have been released to a mortuary. Robl said a toxicology test showed nothing noteworthy, with no evidence of alcohol or drugs.
About 12:45 p.m. April 2 a beach walker found Wraley’s body partially hidden by rocks southeast of Mariner Park, with just his head sticking up out of the rocks. Wraley appeared to have scrambled over the rocks about halfway between the Homer Spit Road and the beach and attempted to hide, Robl said.
Wraley died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police recovered a revolver near his body.
Robl said Wraley was estimated to have been dead from 12 to 16 hours before being found. Faust said a friend reported last seeing Wraley early Friday evening.
High tide on Saturday was at 10:51 a.m., with a 14.3-foot tide, and beach goers would not have been able to walk southeast of Mariner Park toward the stretch of beach where Wraley was found until the tide had gone out. There also were no reports to police of gunshots fired earlier that morning or late Friday night.
Wraley was born in 1958 in Westerville, Ohio, near Columbus, where he grew up and graduated from high school. He came to Alaska in 1986, part of a dream he had to come up here, said his mother, Brenda Wraley, of Westerville. Her son cashed in retirement from a school maintenance job and drove a Toyota pickup truck with a homemade camper to Seattle and took the ferry north.
“He wasn’t sure where he was going to go. He went to Homer and loved it,” Brenda Wraley said.
Faust said one of the first places in Homer Wraley wound up in was at Alice’s Champagne Palace.
“He was struck how friendly people were,” she said.
Wraley connected in Homer with some U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workers, including Faust’s husband, Ed Bailey. Wraley started working summers on an alien species eradication program, helping to remove animals like foxes from islands in the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
“He became pretty much a regular on much of those expeditions,” Faust said.
Brenda Wraley said her son had shown an interest in the outdoors and archaeology as a teenager and worked in a program with the Columbus Historical Society, learning to excavate and take notes. In Alaska, Wraley made an important archaeological discovery, finding a cave with mummified remains on the Island of Four Mountains. Faust said Wraley was most proud of his work eradicating alien species.
“‘That was my most productive work I ever did in my life. I feel like I gave back to the environment, cleaning up the islands from foxes so seabirds could come back,’” Faust said Wraley told her once.
Wraley lived alone. One winter he spent in a wall tent on Inspiration Ridge, property owned by Faust and Bailey, and later lived as a caretaker on their land. At the time of his death he lived in an apartment complex on Mattox Street.
A voracious reader, in the past year, Wraley had taken on a project of collecting used books that were to be thrown out by thrift shops and used book stores, sorting through them and donating them to the Homer Jail, the Homer Community Food Pantry, South Peninsula Haven House and other organizations. He wanted to make sure poor people had access to books.
“His thought was, ‘There are a lot of people in our community who don’t have access to books. I love books,’” Faust said he told her.
Brenda Wraley said although her son never attended college, she felt like he got a degree through his reading. Faust called Wraley “Mr. Encyclopedia,” and said Wraley had a near-photographic memory.
“He could read a book and then he could remember everything he read,” Brena Wraley said of her son.
Jeff Wraley is like a lot of people in Homer, Faust said.
“He was an absolutely wonderful human being without a bad bone in his body,” she said. “It’s so sad there are people who are genuinely wonderful souls, extremely intelligent, and nobody knows about them. They live lives of quiet desperation.”
Wraley said she was happy that her son “found a home in Homer.”
“He felt like truly that was his home. People around there loved him and treated him good,” she said. “To think that your child ends up happy in a place he loved, that’s good.”
Wraley is survived by his parents, Robert and Brenda Wraley, and his younger sisters, Beth, Lori and Karen. Funeral services are pending. Faust said it was Wraley’s wish that his body be cremated and his ashes scattered in Kachemak Bay.
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Homer’s mental health clinic, The Center, offers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week crisis services. People can walk in at the clinic from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday at The Center, 3948 Ben Walters Lane, or call 235-7701. After hours, people in crisis can call 911 evenings, weekends and holidays, call South Peninsula Hospital at 235-0247 and walk into the hospital emergency room to access an on-call mental health clinician.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.