A criminal rampage in this desolate wilderness east of Bakersfield has left one man dead and two Kern County sheriff’s deputies wounded, triggering a manhunt that started last week.
Under the blazing sun, investigators scoured the rugged terrain dotted with Joshua trees and tall weeds, searching for a still-unidentified gunman believed to be camouflaged in olive-green apparel.
The rampage began July 28, when investigators say three men were kidnapped at a cabin near Twin Oaks. On Thursday, in another cabin 10 miles away, a retired dentist was found dead. And over the weekend, two deputies were wounded during an exchange of gunfire. From cabins, trailers and homes, the man is believed to have stolen handguns and shotguns.
“This is an individual we consider armed and extremely dangerous,” sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt said. “This is a person suspected of several violent crimes. He has shown he is not hesitant to engage law enforcement.”
Officials in this stretch near the southern edge of the Sierra asked residents to lock their doors and remain inside as more than 100 law enforcement professionals fanned out in groups, sporting night-vision equipment to enable a round-the-clock dragnet. A helicopter from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and SWAT members from Los Angeles County have been deployed to help track down the man.
Little is known of the suspected gunman, said Kern County Senior Deputy Brandon Rutledge, except for one fact: “He knows how to survive.”
Authorities believe the man’s violence began when he held a 19-year-old man and two 20-year-old men captive inside the cabin near Twin Oaks. One of the victims owned the cabin, where authorities believe the gunman had been squatting.
About 7 p.m., the men arrived to find the gunman, who approached them and asked why they had stepped on his property. After they informed him of the actual ownership, he brandished a handgun, ordered them inside and threatened to kill them, Pruitt said.
The three men escaped about an hour later when the gunman stepped outside. The men ran, eventually encountering the father of one of the men. He drove them to one of the only shops around, the Twin Oaks General Store.
Nancy Carter said she was working that night. The father rushed in, asking for change so he could call police on the pay phone, she said. The young men she recalled, “looked tired, like they had been running off of adrenaline.”
Of the gunman who held them captive, Carter recalled their unusual description: “The guy said he came from the sky.”
“There is weirdness in the air,” she said Monday, adding that residents living up in the creeks and canyons are on edge. “The people that are more remote — they are worried.”
Deputies searched the cabin where the gunman held the men hostage. He is believed to have stolen the men’s off-road vehicle and fled. That vehicle was found the next day about two miles from the cabin.
On Thursday, a dentist was found fatally shot in his cabin in Weldon, about 10 miles east of Twin Oaks.
David Louis Markiewitz’s family had not heard from him, so they drove to the cabin — where they found his body. The retired dentist, who lived in Tehachapi, was 64.
SWAT deputies searched the area Friday but came up empty. Officials suspect the gunman hiked over the Piute Mountains, possibly using the Pacific Crest Trail, to arrive in Weldon.
The manhunt continued Saturday, when about 8:30 p.m., the gunman fired at SWAT deputies on a remote property near Kelso Valley Road and Jawbone Canyon Road, Pruitt said.
Deputies Michael Booker and Jose Perez were wounded. Booker was shot in both arms and Perez was grazed by a bullet. SWAT deputies returned fire, but it was unclear if the man was struck, Pruitt said.
The manhunt is now confined to a five-mile radius from the intersection of Jawbone Canyon and Kelso Valley roads, sheriff’s officials said.
Abandoned mines, caves and twisting dirt roads make up the landscape, offering a multitude of places to take cover.
“He can hide anywhere,” said Mark Cobin, 42, whose shop in Cantil rents all-terrain vehicles for visitors to explore the sparsely populated land.
Late Monday, officials released a sketch of the man based on interviews with the kidnap victims.
He is described as white with blue eyes, 30 to 35 years old, and wearing glasses and a brown corduroy cap. He has long, brown hair and was “dirty in appearance,” officials said.
Those in Twin Oaks are more accustomed to cattle roaming over their land, not an armed villain.
“Everybody is feeling creeped out,” said Carter, the general store clerk. But she couldn’t help but remark on the suspect’s brazenness: “He is giving them a real run for their money.”
For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.
Panzar reported from Weldon and Rocha from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.