Elusive 'Mountain Man' was paranoid, detailed, police say
'I got out ... quick,' chopper pilot says after shots were fired at him
Sam Penrod, Deseret News
MANTI — While searching for the notorious Mountain Man from a helicopter, pilot Luke Bowman didn't hang around once shots were fired in his direction.
"I didn't get exactly what he was aiming at. At that point, I didn't wait around. I got out of the way as quick as I could," the Department of Public Safety captain said Wednesday.
"Then they reported more shots being fired. The sheriff (on the ground) said he was firing at the helicopter."
That gunman, police say, was Troy Knapp.
After nearly seven years of allegedly breaking into summer cabins over much of central and southern Utah, the 45-year-old survivalist was finally taken into custody Tuesday near Ferron Reservoir after more than 40 county, state and federal officers surrounded him.
Investigators have learned a lot about Knapp since his arrest because they say he has been very chatty. Knapp was not only elusive, but paranoid, they say. And he also has a good memory.
"He was real forthcoming in talking about where he had been, and what he was doing and why he was going around and basically, just justified why he was breaking into cabins," said Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis.
"He said (cabin owners) had it, and he needed it. They had excess because they had these cabins and they were leaving these things behind in them and so it was obvious to him they didn't need him, so he took them."
Officers had been working on an operation to corner Knapp after a father and son hunting for shed antlers ran into him on Friday. The final confrontation went down about 10 a.m. Tuesday after Knapp allegedly fired multiple shots at Bowman's DPS helicopter.
Originally, the helicopter was being used to try and locate Knapp. Based on snowshoe prints visible from the air, Bowman said he and two SWAT team members in the helicopter with him had narrowed Knapp's location down to three of 10 cabins. The helicopter was flying about 300 feet off the ground but was still 800 to 1,000 feet away from the cabins when a sheriff on the ground reported that a shot had been fired.
"We didn't know exactly where (the shots) had come from. At that point we moved away from the cabins," Bowman told the Deseret News.
He said he tried to make the helicopter "an unpredictable target" by continuously changing speed and altitude.
"Then he (Knapp) came out onto the deck of the cabin. One of the sheriffs got visual on him at that point, said it looked like he was getting ready to leave. As he left the cabin, we got visual on him, providing information to the ground crew so they knew where he was going, because they can't see him at this point."
That's when Bowman said he saw Knapp raise his rifle to his shoulder.
"I never really felt threatened by the shooting because we were able to vary our altitude and our air speed, and we were unpredictable enough that it was very unlikely he would actually hit the helicopter," Bowman said. "At that point it's more concerning for crews on the ground, in my opinion, because maybe if he's willing to shoot at us, he's willing to shoot at them. And they had to get a lot closer proximity than we did."
Knapp took off running. He got about 30 yards down the driveway when he was confronted by deputies. At that point, Bowman said no one was sure what he would do. On board the helicopter was a SWAT team sniper who was trained in shooting from a chopper. The helicopter was moving into position where the sniper could shoot if necessary, but he never had to.
As deputies on the ground began to move in on Knapp, he pointed his rifle directly at Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk, according to Curtis. Knapp did not fire, but Funk felt his life was in imminent danger and fired a shot himself. Knapp was not hit, and he ran off again.
He tried to avoid one group of officers. But as his attention was diverted to those deputies, another group came up behind him. At that point, Curtis said, Knapp threw down his rifle and surrendered.
"I was talking to some of my deputies who were among the first group on him, and (Knapp) was telling them, 'Good job, you got me,'" Curtis said. "They said he was an interesting person to talk to."
In subsequent interviews with Knapp, they learned that he had a good memory of what he had been doing while on the run.
"He had a lot of detail. He could remember where he had been and which paths he had took to get into those cabins and where he was going, and that was really interesting," Curtis said Wednesday.
Investigators also learned that Knapp had very paranoid tendencies.
"What he told our officers is he would go to the door (after breaking into a cabin) and he'd keep listening. He'd get up every once in a while and go to the door and listen for engines," he said.
It was that paranoia, however, that possibly helped Knapp avoid being caught in Theresa Abrams' cabin last year. Abrams lives in North Las Vegas but has a cabin in Hatch, Garfield County. Authorities believe Knapp lived in her cabin for about five weeks in April and May of last year.
"Food was stolen, clothes were stolen, the fingerprints were his all over everything — coffee mugs, dishes, plates. He wrote all over books we had, he had pulled out music we hadn't listened to in years and put it in the CD player. He had been watching TV, he had been sleeping on our bed. He pulled an old heater out from downstairs and placed it upstairs where he ate his dinners at the dining room table," she said.
Abrams said she and her husband arrived at their cabin late one night, found food was out and the back door open.
"We apparently walked in on him and scared him off that particular night, and that's when the sheriff came up the next day," she said.
No Limbaugh fan
The intruder got into Abramses' cabin by breaking a small hole in a window and unlocking the latch, she said. The book he wrote in was Rush Limbaugh's "I Told You So."
"Obviously the guy didn't like Rush Limbaugh because he drew pictures on Rush Limbaugh and wrote things like, 'I'm a scumbag,' 'I'm a dirt bag,' things like that, stupid 6-year-old humor," Abrams said.
Abrams said she and her husband were never afraid of going to their cabin. She half-jokingly said they were just angry that they weren't the ones who caught him.
Other cabin owners, including Oscar Hulet, admitted they had been a little more on edge.
"Knowing that he had looked though every door, every closet. … The ladies didn't want to go to the cabin without a handgun," he said.
Curtis spoke with one cabin owner in the Duck Creek area who was very nervous while Knapp was still on the run.
"He said, 'I didn't feel like I could go out on my porch at night because he might be watching me through his rifle scope.' I told him I didn't think he would come to your cabin if you were there, he'd avoid you. He said it didn't matter. It was knowing that he was out there and had been in the cabins near mine that made him nervous," the sheriff said.
In some cabins, Knapp actually put dishes away after using them. In other places, he ransacked the cabins, according to Curtis.
Ron Bartholomew, who owns a cabin in the area where Knapp was arrested, was particularly surprised Tuesday when he saw photos of deputies arresting the man.
"It's our cabin he's been into, because he's got my jacket on," he said, adding that he was anxious to check on the condition of the cabin and see if anything else had been taken.
Curtis estimated Knapp broke into 15 to 18 cabins in Sevier County alone. In Garfield County, he is suspected in as many as 30 break-ins with dozens more in Iron, Kane, Sanpete and Emery counties. Curtis said Knapp told his investigators he had broken into many more than they were aware of.
"He said. 'If you bring my maps in, I'll show you where things are and where I've been. He actually had maps of the state of where he'd been," the sheriff said.
Knapp also kept an AM radio with him that he used to try and keep track of what law enforcement officials were saying about him.
Kane County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Tracy Glover said once Knapp's identity was discovered about a year ago, it was clear that Knapp left the Kane County area.
"He got quite a bit of pressure once we figured out his identity down in our area," he said. "We think he left here about a year ago and started moving north. We could kind of follow him through Beaver County and Piute County into Sevier County."
Investigators also believe there are many undiscovered remote campsites where Knapp lived during the summers. Curtis expects there may be "lots" of weapons at these campsites. Knapp told deputies he would point out on a map where the campsites are located.
Knapp was being held Wednesday in the Sanpete County Jail. He is currently facing 18 criminal charges in Iron, Kane and Garfield counties. He is also expected to charged with additional crimes for events that happened Tuesday. Charges could be filed in Sanpete County as well as possible federal charges for allegedly stealing firearms.
"It definitely is something we'll remember for a long time. It's not very often we get shot at in the helicopter," Bowman said. "To actually have a suspect point a gun at us is a little bit out of the norm. But again, I never felt threatened, just because of our distance."
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