One Suspect in Cop Shooting Dead, Two Others on the Run
Posted June 4, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT
BLUFF, UT — In a scene reminiscent of the Wild West, authorities said two survivalists suspected of killing a lawman and wounding two others were surrounded today in a canyon in the Utah wilderness.
A third suspect was dead, with pipe bombs attached to his body, apparently after shooting himself.
Scores of law-enforcement officers, including National Guard troops and SWAT teams, converged on southeast Utah, not far from the Four Corners area where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used to hide from posses led by Pinkerton detectives.
The manhunt began May 29 after police officer Dale Claxton, 45, was slain in a barrage of gunfire in Cortez, Colo., 50 miles east of here. Two other officers were wounded in the ensuing shootout.
Based on a tip, authorities identified the suspects as Robert Mason, Alan ``Monte'' Pilon and Jason Wayne McVean, but they found nothing but a pair of tracks until Thursday.
That's when Kelly Bradford, a San Juan County sheriff's deputy, was shot as he checked a report that a camouflage-clad gunman had fired at a social worker. Bradford, 35, was in serious condition at a Colorado hospital.
Bluff, a colorful artists' colony of about 300 people, was evacuated after Bradford was shot.
Found 300 yards away was the camouflage-clad body of Mason, 26, of Durango, Colo.
Authorities did not know if Mason had shot Bradford. Sheriff Mike Lacey said Mason appeared to have shot himself in the head. A bomb squad was called to remove the pipe bombs.
Officers followed tracks until dark Thursday before the ground search for Pilon, 30, of Dove Creek, Colo., and McVean, 26, of Durango was called off for the night.
Helicopters with night-vision equipment searched through the night, but around dawn, authorities said there had been no new developments.
Lacey said the fugitives were believed to be surrounded in a 7-by-2 mile area in a rugged region of heavy brush and woods near the San Juan River. He said a SWAT team was stationed downriver in case the men tried to leave by boat.
Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane said Pilon had a history of anti-government views and owed the Internal Revenue Service $1,500. But the three, who all worked in construction, had no known links to anti-government groups.
``They are outdoor survivalist-type people but have no connection to any militias that we've found,'' Lane said earlier this week. McVean was convicted of criminal trespass several years ago for breaking into cars, while Pilon had a drunken driving conviction.
Claxton was shot last Friday after he stopped a stolen truck.
Investigators suspect the three men may have robbed a casino in Taos, N.M., in January 1997 and might have been planning another casino heist at the time the stolen truck was stopped.
The state social worker who was shot at on Thursday, Steve Wilcox, had been visiting Navajo families when he encountered a man dressed in camouflage clothing and carrying a high-powered rifle.
Wilcox's wife, Janet, said he ``was driving back from having lunch by the river when he saw some boots in the road.'' That's when he saw the man hiding in some bushes ``pointing a rifle at him.''
Wilcox sped away and heard a gunshot and ``saw dust kick up,'' his wife said. He called 911 on his car phone and met Bradford, who put on a protective vest before he was shot.
``He's a pretty young officer and his wife is expecting a baby in a couple of weeks,'' Mrs. Wilcox said of Bradford. ``These men are awful. They don't ask questions. They just come out shooting.''
Police said they found three pipe bombs in Pilon's camper and two more bombs in Mason's pickup truck, which was parked next to the camper near Durango. The bombs were detonated by a bomb squad.
(Copyright 1998 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-06-05-98 1009EDT