MANTI, Utah (AP) — Authorities captured an elusive survivalist on Tuesday who is suspected of burglarizing Utah cabins and leaving some covered with threats and bullet holes — ending a saga that began six years ago and grabbed the attention of police and residents around the state.
Troy James Knapp, 45, dubbed the “Mountain Man” by cabin owners, was taken into custody in the snowy mountains outside of Ferron in central Utah after firing several shots at officers and a helicopter, authorities said.
No one was hit before Knapp was captured while trying to flee on snowshoes from dozens of officers who converged on snowmobiles and a snowcat, Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson said. There was nearly 4 feet of snow at the 9,200 feet elevation.
Knapp was armed with several rifles and one handgun, authorities said, adding that he was wearing camouflage clothes and sporting a red beard with some gray.
“He was severely outgunned at the time,” Nielson said. “He ran into a number of officers that were also well armed and he could see that he was out of his league.”
After surrendering, Knapp was cooperative and talkative with police, showing them on a map everywhere he has been and telling them he was relieved to be out of the winter elements. He was captured in an area about 180 miles north of the site where detectives believed he was a year ago.
“He’s done well at this for a number of years, obviously,” Nielson said. “We’re extremely happy and relieved. All of us are safer because he’s in custody at this point.”
Knapp was booked into Sanpete County jail Tuesday evening and does not yet have an attorney.
Authorities have said Knapp was armed and dangerous when he broke into dozens of mountain cabins across remote southern Utah. They said he had been photographed by a motion-triggered camera on snowshoes with a stolen rifle slung over his 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, detectives have said.
“It is a relief to know that he has been caught,” said Eugene Bartholomew, the owner of a cabin broken into recently. “If he slept in the beds that’s fine with me as long as he didn’t tear up the place.”
Bartholomew was planning a trip to inspect his cabin.
After the six-year chase, detectives finally got a break on Good Friday when two hunters had a chance encounter with a man near a mountain lake. The man told the hunters that he was a “mountain man,” and they reported the sighting, authorities said in a written statement.
That triggered a search in which detectives followed tracks and learned two burglaries in the area resembled break-ins in other parts of the state.
On Monday, several police agencies gathered to find and capture the survivalist.
About 40 officers wearing camouflage clothing and riding snowmobiles and a snowcat began the search about 1 a.m. Tuesday. Nine hours later, with the help of the helicopter, they flushed the suspect out of a cabin where he was barricaded, leading to the arrest.
Authorities say Knapp’s motives have never been clear but speculated that he was fed up with civilization.
Sanpete County Attorney Brody Keisel said he’s waiting to receive all law enforcement reports on the case but expects to file a number of felony charges.
Until last weekend, the last known sighting of Knapp was on Oct. 1 by a surveillance camera in Sanpete County. Iron, Kane and Garfield counties have all issued arrest warrants for him on burglary and weapons charges.
In the spring of 2012, the search for Knapp escalated as the summer tourist season approached. Detectives suspected Knapp was roaming the mountains around Zion National Park, following rivers, using pay phones, and even riding park shuttle buses to stock up on food in a nearby town.
Zion rangers were alerted and distributed posters warning cabin owners to be on the lookout.
There were no previous violent confrontations with Knapp, but authorities had feared he was a ticking time bomb.
He 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.
Records indicate Knapp fell off the radar in 2002 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.
In 2007, southern Utah authorities began investigating a string of cabin burglaries they believed were tied to one person. Over the years, detectives found unattended summer camps stocked with dozens of guns and stolen, high-end outdoor gear.
It wasn’t until early 2012 that investigators identified Knapp as the suspect from cabin surveillance photos and videos.