|Posted on February 22, 2012 at 8:30 PM|
An ‘armed and dangerous’ mountain recluse allegedly responsible for more than two dozen cabin burglaries in the wilderness has finally been identified by police after eluding them for half a decade.
Troy James Knapp, 44, has only just been identified three years after his fingerprints were lifted from holiday homes near Zion National Park in the Utah wilderness - and now police have to catch him.
Authorities have compared Knapp to Davy Crockett, the 19th century Tennessean survival expert known as 'King of the Wild Frontier', and he remains somewhere in 1,000 sq miles of wilderness.
Knapp is a virtual ghost in the woods, stocked with stolen gear, food and guns. Authorities have so far revealed little about him or how he ended up wandering the mountains of southern Utah.
Knapp has family members in Moscow, Idaho, but they have not commented. Just last week, Iron County detectives said investigators hadn't made a definite identification but were getting close.
However, court records indicate charges were filed against Knapp in neighbouring Kane County about three weeks ago on January 27 as the key suspect in the serial burglaries.
Knapp's fingerprints from one cabin in 2009 were allegedly matched last month to a 2000 theft arrest in California. He was convicted previous on charges of assault with a weapon and burglaries.
‘This guy is probably about as true a survivalist as Davy Crockett,’ U.S. Marshal Michael Wingert said, addingKnapp ‘dropped off everybody's radar in 2003 and nobody has heard from him since’.
‘He just dropped off the face of the earth,’ Supervisory Deputy Wingert added, speculating Knapp was ‘fed up with civilisation.’ He faces counts of burglary and a weapons charge.
The Iron County Sheriff's Office said public tips and forensic evidence linked Knapp to the crimes. ‘This suspect is known to be armed and could be possibly dangerous if cornered,’ a spokesman said.
The spokesman added that his identification was the result of ‘good old-fashioned investigative work, along with tips provided by the public.’ ‘We believe Mr Knapp is our guy,’ Mr Wingert said.
Iron County Sheriff's Detective Jody Edwards said last week investigators were scouring for clues but getting close after they got the first pictures of the suspect from a CCTV camera outside a cabin.
The photos taken in December showed a sandy-haired man in camouflage on snowshoes, a rifle slung over his shoulder. Detective Edwards has been working on the case since 2007.
Knapp has allegedly eluded capture for five years, breaking into cabins in winter, living off hot food, alcohol and coffee before stealing provisions and vanishing away with guns and supplies.
Cabin owners are panicked. Many said theywere carrying their own guns and had grown to wonder who might be sleeping in their beds during winter.
‘He could stand in the trees and pop you off and no one would know who killed you,’ cabin owner Bruce Stucki said last week. When alerted of the latest news, a relieved Mr Stucki said: ‘Wow.’
‘That's wonderful that they know him,’ Mr Stucki added. ‘Now they need to get him in custody.’
From the beginning, the suspect's lore grew, leading to theories that he might have been two separate men on the FBI's Most Wanted List.
It was even suggested he could be a castaway from nearby compounds of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the polygamous sect run by jailed leader Warren Jeffs.
Early on, investigators thought his unattended summer camps they came across during their search were left behind by ‘doomsday’ believers preparing for some sort of apocalypse.
This was because of the remote locations and supplies like dozens of guns, radios, batteries, dehydrated food and camping gear. They now have a name, but the man remains in the mist.
‘He's scaring the daylights out of cabin owners. Now everyone's packing guns,’ said Jud Hendrickson, 62, a local mortgage adviser. ‘We feel like we're being subject to terrorism by this guy.’