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Utah's Mountain Man, fugitive and survivalist, in custody at last

April 03, 2013|By John M. Glionna
  • Sanpete Sheriff's Officers escort Troy James Knapp, 45, to the Sanpete County Jail on Tuesday in Manti, Utah.
Sanpete Sheriff's Officers escort Troy James Knapp, 45, to the Sanpete… (Rick Bowmer / AP )

For years, he has menaced the isolated cabins that dot the mountains of southern Utah. Residents thought of him as some sort of Bogey Man, an off-kilter survivalist who broke into dozens of unattended homesteads, leaving behind handwritten threats and bullet holes.

He became know as the Mountain Man, whose wilderness skills were compared to those of explorer Davy Crockett. And now he’s behind bars.

Authorities arrested Troy James Knapp this week in an isolated mountain region in central Utah, ending a five-year-long manhunt that frustrated sheriffs in three counties.

A release Wednesday by the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office described Tuesday’s arrest.

“Emery Sheriff’s Office had been tracking Knapp for a number of days. An observation team located Knapp and more teams converged. Knapp fired a number of shots at officers in a helicopter with a rifle and took aim at an officer on the ground,” the release said. “One round was fired at Knapp who tried to retreat. His route led him to more officers who were able to convince Knapp it was in his best interest to surrender.”

Knapp now faces 18 charges in Iron, Kane and Garfield counties. Detectives called him a ticking time bomb.

“For years, Knapp is believed to have broken into summer cabins during the winter, living off whatever supplies were inside, and then living in remote mountainous areas during the summer,” said a release announcing the arrest on the Iron County Sheriff’s Department website.

“Last October, more than 40 officers from Sevier, Sanpete, Iron and Box Elder counties as well as the Joint Criminal Apprehension Team searched an area of Sevier County where Knapp was last seen, but could not find the elusive fugitive.”

Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower told the Spectrum newspaper in St. George that he breathed a sigh of relief with the arrest. 

“I'm excited as hell,” Gower said. “We're absolutely stoked about this. It's been a long time coming.”

Knapp is suspected of leaving some cabins riddled with bullet holes, defacing religious icons and writing taunting notes.

“Hey Sheriff … Gonna put you in the ground!” he wrote in one note, according to court records. And another: “Pack up and leave. Get off my mountain.”

Last year, sheriff’s detective identified Knapp through a photograph and fingerprints left at one break-in. But for years, all authorities had to work with were grainy camera images of Knapp, photographed by motion-triggered camera on snowshoes with a stolen rifle slung over a shoulder.
Knapp has been living off the comfort of those cabins in winter then retreating to makeshift summer camps deep in the forest with stolen guns and supplies, authorities said.

Authorities say Knapp's motives have never been clear but speculated that he was fed up with civilization.

At one point in recent months, a release on the Iron County sheriff’s website described images taken of Knapp in the woods.

"At first, his eyes light up the infrared surveillance video as he cautiously looks around,” the website dispatch said at the time. “He puts a pair of binoculars to his eyes, apparently looking for an alarm system. Still acting nervous, and with a rifle visible on a sling over his shoulder, Knapp waves his arms, trying to check for a motion sensor, before moving out of the frame and breaking into the cabin.

“Shoelaces, ammunition, guns, food [and] clothing that he thinks he can use are some of the things he has a tendency to take,” said Eric Zeeman with the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office, according to the website.

Records indicate Knapp came to Utah as a fugitive when he apparently left California in violation of his parole for a burglary conviction. He had been charged with theft in 2000 in California, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison, according to records.

Authorities lost track off Knapp around 2003.

Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Wingert told the Associated Press in February 2012, “He just dropped off the face of the Earth.”

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