Navajo Nation Police Chief Leonard Butler had hoped to be headed home to Window Rock, Ariz., Friday night with the two Colorado fugitives police have been searching for safely in custody.
Instead, he climbed into his blue four-wheel-drive vehicle, saying he'd be back again Saturday."We were hoping that we would be done today, but it didn't happen," he told a reporter. "Now if you're finished with me, I'm going to bed."
Navajo police, who picked up the lead in the 41-day manhunt last weekend after San Juan County officials called it quits, have been on the trail of the two fugitives 24 hours a day since early Wednesday.
Police believe that Alan "Monte" Pilon and Jason McVean are contained to an area along the San Juan River between four and seven miles west of Montezuma Creek. Officers on an overnight patrol have spotted campfires, seen flashlights, heard the men talking and moving through the bushes in that area, Butler said.
It is possible the men are holed up in a nearby cave but more likely that they are hiding in some sort of self-made bunker, he said.
"We watched one night from about 10 or 11 o'clock to sometime in the early morning," Butler said.
But so far, the right opportunity for capturing the two fugitives hasn't presented itself.
Officers on foot inched through tamarisk bushes and cottonwood and Russian olive trees near the river throughout the day Friday and planned similar overnight operations. Police have also been floating the San Juan with kayaks and canoes for the past few days. An Army tank was also put into service Thursday.
About 40 Navajo Nation officers are involved in the search, and Butler has called in help from the FBI, the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, Utah Highway Patrol and police departments in Duchesne County and Durango, Colo., bringing the total search effort to just under 100 officers.
Pilon, 30, of Dove Creek, Colo., and McVean, 27, of Durango, have been on the run since May 29 when they allegedly shot and killed Dale Claxton, a Cortez, Colo., officer during a traffic stop.
The fugitives and Robert Mason, 26, also of Durango, then led police on a chase across the high desert of the Four Corners region, surfacing again June 4 near Bluff, where Mason allegedly shot and critically wounded a San Juan County deputy sheriff. Mason was found a few hours later, dead from a self-inflicted wound to the head.
Pilon and McVean were next spotted June 28 in Montezuma Creek, trying to steal a water truck from a local business. Since that time the manhunt has been focused on the river bottoms between Montezuma Creek and Bluff.
From all reports, it is likely that the men have been staking out hiding places in the far southeastern corner of Utah for several months, Butler said.
Montezuma Creek residents told police they can recall seeing the same two men camping near the river several times over the winter months, sometimes carting in supplies and at least once, a canoe.
And why not come here? said Vivian Todachinnie, 36, a Navajo who has lived in Montezuma Creek for 20 years.
The police, she said, are never around.
"San Juan County won't come down here because it's the reservation. And in order to get an officer here from the reservation they have to come from Shiprock (N.M.). Sometimes it's two, three, maybe four hours before they respond," Todachinnie said. "Why not go someplace where there are no police?"
That lack of protection has made Todachinnie and her neighbors a little nervous since the fugitives were spotted here. Even more frustrating is the lack of information.
"Nobody's talking to us. We find out what we do from watching the news and talking to the media," she said.
Hopefully, there soon won't be much to talk about. Todachinnie is confident that Navajo police can bring the search to a head because they know the reservation land so well.
Butler seems to be banking on it. He remained confident Friday night that the hunt for Pilon and McVean will be over before the weekend is out.
"I think we're very close," he said.
The objective, he added, is to capture the men without anyone - fugitives or officers - being injured. But with not much to lose, Pilon and McVean could engage officers in a gun battle.
"Of course," Butler said, "we're prepared for that."