A cowboy from Blanding may have helped bring one of San Juan County's enduring mysteries to a close on June 5, 2007 when he discovered the apparent remains of fugitive Jason Wayne McVean.
The fugitive, who is believed to have murdered a police officer in 1998, may have died soon after the manhunt began in a small dugout less than five miles from where the ground search began.
Last week, more than nine years later, local cowboy Eric Bayles discovered what is believed to be the remains of McVean. While on horseback, Bayles spotted several tattered pieces of clothing.
What he thought was an abandoned saddle blanket turned out to be a bullet-proof vest. When Bayles discovered several pipe bombs in a dusty camouflaged backpack, he called the San Juan County Sheriff's department.
Members of the Sheriff's department discovered numerous articles in the area in and around a small dugout on the bank of the dry creek bed running through Cross Canyon.
In addition to human remains and the evidence of coyotes, 60 to 70 pounds of materials were discovered, including:
â€¢ Pistol grip AK-47.
â€¢ 400-500 rounds of soft point ammunition for the AK-47, many in rusted magazines.
â€¢ Homemade pipe bombs, with fuse materials.
â€¢ Bullet proof vest.
â€¢ Survival equipment, including water purification materials, bandages, and anti-bacterial ointment.
â€¢ Several bottles of water, including some still containing water.
â€¢ Military-style MRE (Meals ready-to-eat).
â€¢ The business card of fellow fugitive Alan Pilon.
â€¢ A wristwatch stopped at a time of 6:30 and a date of 30.
Law enforcement officials also recovered a small number of scattered human remains. They state that coyotes and time had apparently damaged the body over the past nine years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is comparing dental records with teeth and jaw fragments recovered at the scene.
The remains have yet to be definitively identified by the FBI as of the press deadline on June 11. However, San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy and other law enforcement officials state they are "99 percent certain" the remains are McVean.
McVean, along with two accomplices, triggered one of the largest fugitive hunts in United States history after disappearing into the rugged wilderness in San Juan County on May 29, 1998.
McVean is thought to have been the ring leader of the group of fugitives and the trigger man in the murder of Cortez Police Officer Dale Claxton. Claxton was killed during a routine traffic stop on May 29, 1998 after he pulled over a water truck which had been reported stolen in Ignacio, CO the day before.
Claxton was killed instantly when a gunman believed to be McVean poured at least 18 rounds of semi-automatic rifle fire into the police car.
The shooting set off a wild chase through Cortez and into untamed country on the Utah - Colorado border near Hovenweep National Monument. Two other police officers were shot and wounded during the chase. Soon afterwards, law enforcement officials discovered an abandoned vehicle in Cross Canyon and tried to track the fugitives, but the trail went cold.
One week later, on June 4, 1998, San Juan County Sheriff's Deputy Kelly Bradford was shot twice near the swinging bridge east of Bluff. The focus of the manhunt switched to the Bluff area. Later that day, officers found the body of fugitive Robert Mason in a makeshift dugout near the swinging bridge.
Despite dozens of unconfirmed sightings of the fugitives near and far throughout the summer of 1998, it appears as if Mason traveled the farthest and may have lived the longest of the three fugitives.
It wasn't until October, 1999 that a group of deer hunters discovered the remains of fugitive Alan "Monte" Pilon on Tin Cup Mesa. The body of Pilon was discovered under a tree approximately two miles from where the vehicle was abandoned in Cross Canyon. The hunters split the $160,000 reward between them. Officials report that in due time, Bayles will claim the entire reward for discovering McVean.
An autopsy showed that Pilon had suffered a broken ankle. It is assumed he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound soon after the manhunt began.
Law enforcement officials expressed relief that after nine years, the fugitive hunt is finally over. San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy said that he was hopeful all along that McVean's body would eventually be found not far from where he disappeared.
While satisfied that the search is over, law enforcement officials are also frustrated that the question of what drove these men to murder may never be answered.
In late May, nine years after his father was killed in the line of duty, Corbin Claxton became a member of the Cortez Police Department. He was eleven years old when his father was killed.