The short, wild life of Genghis Muskox began in Minneapolis restaurant kitchens, traversed the globe and ended in death in Alaska, a land as epic as his name.
The irony of the fact that her son was killed by a possibly mentally disturbed veteran of the Iraq War is not lost on his mother, Susan Muskat, who protested the war with Women Against Military Madness.
Muskat, a founder of Birchwood Cafe who now co-owns Moose and Sadies restaurant in the North Loop, got the call from Alaska last month. Something bad had happened, but they couldn’t tell her over the phone. A few hours later, a Minneapolis homicide cop came to tell Muskat that her son was dead. He was 27.
The man who killed Genghis, Paul Vermillion, has claimed self-defense. Muskat is worried that the “survival of the fittest” attitude in Alaska might hurt her chance for justice. The word of a vet, even one alleged to have emotional problems, might be enough.
Earlier this week Muskat first learned some of the grisly details of the homicide in Cooper Landing, 100 miles south of Anchorage, during a conference call: Genghis was originally attacked with an ice ax, then shot multiple times with two guns.
“They said he suffered extraordinary trauma from multiple weapons,” said Muskat.
When Vermillion called police from the scene, he told them he had “executed the threat,” according to a story in Alaskan media.
Yet, it’s likely that Vermillion will make his $1 million bail and be released this week. In Alaska, Muskat said, they do not hold suspects without bail for any crime, and the judge set bail before even hearing the family’s impact statement.
Until trial, Muskat waits. She has been told by a lawyer to “let go of the idea you are going to get justice from the criminal justice system.”
Instead, she wanted to talk about her son, whose character will likely be attacked in coming months, and about war’s impact on young people.
“Part of this story is that our government sends these kids off to war and doesn’t take care of them when they come back,” said Muskat. “I blame the government for part of this. I felt some compassion for [Vermillion] at first, but the more I’ve learned about what happened, my compassion has dwindled.”
Genghis’ last name was even an adventure, a combination of his mother’s last name, Muskat and his father’s, John Cox.
He left home and lived on his own at age 16, found high school worthless, but got his GED. He worked in kitchens at Barbette, Bryant-Lake Bowl and the Modern Cafe while seeking adventure through travel.
“He did live his life on his own terms,” said Muskat. “One friend said that he packed a lot in, like maybe he knew he wouldn’t live a long life.
“He chafed at authority,” she said. “Sometimes it worked out for him, sometimes it didn’t. He got into trouble. He could be cocky. He had hundreds of friends, but he had enemies too. He was not perfect, but none of us are.”
Muskat acknowledged that her son drank alcohol frequently, and was likely drinking with Vermillion the night he died. He didn’t back down from arguments, but wasn’t violent, she said.
Genghis had learned outdoor skills: He made his own bows and arrows, tanned hides and took up fishing. He once kayaked from Minnesota to New Orleans by himself on the Mississippi River.
Genghis lived for a while on a sailboat in San Francisco, but the aura of Alaska kept bringing him back.
Tommy Dixon has known Genghis since they were teens.
“He was a really outgoing, loving guy,” Dixon said. “He knew who he was. He was smart, self-educated, but he didn’t fit society’s norms. He was not violent. He touched more people in his short life than most people ever do.”
“The relationship with Paul was part and parcel of his nature,” said Muskat. “He had compassion for people with problems.”
When they walked his dog, Coffee Bean, through the park, “all the homeless people knew his name,” his mother said.
Before his death, Genghis told his girlfriend that Vermillion once threatened him with a gun. They had been hanging around, when Vermillion suddenly “flipped” and pointed a rifle at Genghis, who left immediately and avoided Vermillion for a while. In the small town, they eventually resumed a friendship, and even spent Thanksgiving together.
Then after 1 a.m. on Dec. 5, Vermillion killed Genghis in the veterans home on Kenai Lake with at least two shots to the head.
When Genghis was born, and family members learned that his parents had crafted a last name from both of theirs, Muskat’s sister sent a small replica of a musk ox from Alaska, where she was living.
“It seems he was destined to end up there,” said Muskat. “It seemed like it was meant to be. The idea of the Last Frontier really appealed to him.”