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2 Militants Still at Large After Texas Siege

May 05, 1997|JESSE KATZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FORT DAVIS, Texas — Two armed militants remained at large in the Davis Mountains on Sunday, one of several loose ends from last week's anti-government standoff that continue to keep this tiny West Texas town on edge.

A day after five compatriots surrendered to authorities outside their ramshackle hide-out, Richard Frank Keyes III and Mike Matson, both 21, were still nowhere to be found, despite a dragnet of mounted patrols, bloodhounds and military aircraft equipped with heat-seeking equipment.

One of the camouflaged suspects fled Saturday about noon and the other shortly before 4 p.m., giving them a sizable head start on officers, who were preoccupied with arresting Richard L. McLaren, the separatist who believes this mountain enclave is part of an independent Republic of Texas that he represents.

The terrain here is extremely inhospitable--rugged, dry and isolated, full of snakes, mountain lions and scavenging vultures. Nights are chilly and days are scorching.

Keyes is wanted on charges of kidnapping and organized criminal activity, a result of the weeklong standoff between eight Republic of Texas members and nearly 500 law enforcement officers and support personnel. No charges were pending against Matson, but his brother, Ralph, told Associated Press that Matson "would rather die fighting for somebody's rights than spend the rest of his life in jail."

Efforts to track the pair were hampered by the time and effort expended by officials in defusing the weaponry that Republic of Texas members concealed within their compound. Police have found between 40 and 60 pipe bombs, eight makeshift bunkers possibly containing booby traps and a dozen canisters of gas configured to send a wall of flames raining onto intruders.

"The more we learn, the more we realize just how volatile that situation was," said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike Cox, adding that most officers were still half a mile away from the crime scene. "It's still so dangerous."

McLaren, who is being held without bail and could face life in prison if convicted of organized criminal activity, is widely reviled in this remote town of 1,212. Although officials were adamant about seeking a peaceful end to the siege, many neighbors expressed disappointment that he could still harass them with bogus liens and frivolous lawsuits filed from behind prison bars.

"Yes, the world would have been better off without him," said Sandy Ohlsen, 51, a clerk at a Fort Davis hotel.

Ohlsen and her husband, Dave, were among a small group of residents who were exiled from their homes by the standoff.

Police on Saturday began allowing some people to return to the Davis Mountains Resort subdivision.

But with two armed men on the lam, and an arsenal of explosives left behind, they still were keeping a few of McLaren's closer neighbors at bay.

"We're trying to be patient, but we're hanging on by a string, and it's getting thinner and thinner," Ohlsen said.

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