Body in Desert Believed to Be Suspect in Police Killing
Navajo hunters found a decomposing body in the Utah desert that is believed to be one of two survivalists sought in the killing of a police officer last year, authorities said Monday. The killing prompted a major manhunt across the Four Corners area in 1998.
With the body were found military clothing, a bulletproof vest, a Kevlar helmet and two pipe bombs, said Russell Johnson, assistant police chief in Cortez, Colo.
The two survivalists, Alan Lamont Pilon and Jason Wayne McVean, were wanted in the May 29, 1998, killing of Cortez police officer Dale Claxton. At the height of a nine-day manhunt, more than 500 searchers joined the effort from 51 agencies, including the FBI, police departments and sheriff’s offices. Horses and helicopters aided the search in rough terrain.
Johnson said a group of hunters found the body Sunday night in southeastern Utah near Cross Canyon. Johnson said the body was well hidden and had been there a long time, “say, since this thing probably started.”
San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy said hunters made their find about 11 p.m. Sunday on the last day of deer hunting season.
Jane Quimby, spokeswoman for the FBI, said a case agent from Denver was being sent to help with the investigation, along with FBI agents from Salt Lake City.
“The clothing and items lead us to believe it was one of the suspects involved in the murder of the officer in Cortez, Colo.,” she said.
Authorities are now trying to confirm the identity of the body and determine the cause of death. A positive identification based on dental records could take three days or more.
The search for the two men spanned six states. Reported sightings in Wyoming and Kansas later turned out to be false.
Pilon, 32, McVean, 28, and a third man are suspected of shooting Claxton during a routine traffic stop on a bridge southeast of Cortez. Three men driving a stolen water truck opened fire with automatic weapons, hitting Claxton and his cruiser 26 times before he could even unbuckle his seat belt. In the ensuing chase and shootout, two Montezuma County sheriff’s deputies were wounded.
Initial searches of the suspects’ homes turned up literature attacking the Internal Revenue Service.
The third suspect, Robert Mason, 26, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound days later, about 55 miles away, near Bluff, Utah, after he wounded a San Juan County deputy.