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Posted: 8/30/2004 6:13:22 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 8/30/2004 6:19:39 PM EDT by tc6969]
I hope this is not a duplicate thread, but this is sure an interesting story...



Edited to makey linky hot
Link Posted: 8/30/2004 6:36:22 PM EDT
That is a heck of a story.



The mystery of the Ballarat Bandit did not end when he fired a bullet into his brain as authorities surrounded him near Death Valley in July.

For months, officers had scoured the desert for the man who committed dozens of burglaries to stock well-fortified campsites in remote areas.

They tracked him from Death Valley to Nye County to northern-most Nevada and back again.

They hunted him from helicopter and horseback, with SWAT teams and search dogs, in the bitter cold and blistering heat.

To a man, they were convinced his capture would end the mystery, that his fingerprints would match those of a notorious fugitive or maybe an ex-Green Beret.

But more than a month after he took his own life, the Ballarat Bandit remains a corpse with no name.

"He was good. That is what everybody agrees on. He was goal-oriented and nothing was going to stand in the way of him doing what he wanted," said Nye County sheriff's Deputy Ken Guthridge. "You could write this guy up as the survivalist James Bond of Nye County, or you could write him up as a homeless guy who stole food and didn't want to get caught."

At the heart of the Ballarat Bandit mystery is the disparity between the relatively petty crimes he committed and the derring-do he exhibited.

He specialized in burglarizing uninhabited buildings in remote areas, where he could spend hours choosing exactly what he wanted to steal. He favored practical items, ranging from batteries and guns to garlic paste and vegetable flakes. When he stole cooking pans, he made sure to take the matching lids.

His exploits while committing these crimes are the stuff of legend.

In January, when Death Valley rangers closed to within 50 feet of him, he escaped by running five miles over hilly, rugged terrain.

In March, he hiked 60 miles through snow-covered hills after authorities located his Nye County campsite.

And that same month, he stole a tractor battery and a child's red wagon from the hay ranch of Donald Jackson, about 50 miles east of Tonopah. Fifteen miles of wagon tracks led authorities to a disabled Subaru that the bandit had tried to jump-start with the tractor battery.

"I think the guy was crazy," Jackson said.

The nature of his crimes raises the question of why authorities found it necessary to mount so extensive a manhunt.

In response, officials say that while the bandit took pains to avoid confrontations, they feared what would happen if he ever encountered a solitary deputy or citizen.

They note that he stockpiled rifles and ammunition at his remote campsites, which were typically constructed so that there was only one way in and one way out.

Many of these campsites were near such military installations as the Tonopah Test Range, the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, Calif., and the government's secret installation along Groom Dry Lake, widely known as Area 51.

The FBI joined the manhunt after police searching one of his campsites found topographical maps and federal government maps intended for use by pilots.

"We don't want to speculate on what he was doing because it's anybody's guess," said Todd Palmer, spokesman for the FBI in Las Vegas. "Until all the facts are gathered, it's hard to determine what his intent was."

The first known sighting of the man who would become known as the Ballarat Bandit was in August 2003.

Visitors to Death Valley National Park reported seeing a man and a dog walking in the desert near the Panamint Mountain Range. Park rangers found the dog, but not the man.

He wouldn't be heard from again until January, when dozens of burglaries were reported to police.

The nearby canyons, accessible only by foot or all-terrain vehicle, are dotted with small mines. Visitors work the mines on weekends, and many have small cabins they keep stocked with canned and dry foods. The thief who targeted these cabins stole food, all-terrain vehicles, gasoline, winter clothing and containers to hold water.

Since 30 of the burglaries occurred near the ghost town of Ballarat, authorities nicknamed the thief the Ballarat Bandit. He was not the first odd character attracted to the desolate area. In the late 1960s, the Manson family camped at the nearby Briggs Mine.

The first break in the Ballarat Bandit case came in January, when four off-duty police officers camping in the area spoke with the bandit as he passed by on an ATV.

The man struck the officers as odd, so they followed him to his campsite. From a distance, they snapped the only known photograph taken of the bandit before his death. It shows him seated beside the stolen ATV, which is loaded with a rifle and supplies.

The officers forwarded their concerns and their photograph to local agencies in California. These agencies studied the photo, recognized a landmark and were able to pinpoint the location of the campsite.

A SWAT team was dispatched from Inyo County, and San Bernardino County sent a helicopter. Meanwhile, rangers from the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management closed in on the remote campsite.

But the bandit was gone when they arrived. While searching the area, deputies realized they weren't dealing with a common thief or a hermit in search of food and clothes.

Nearby, a second campsite was stocked with food and firearms. Authorities knew someone with a military background would use such a camp as a fallback position where he could hide if authorities discovered the first campsite.

"He would bounce from camp to camp, and that's what made it hard to catch him," Detective Jeff Hollowell of the Inyo County sheriff's office said. "The terrain is so rough he could have been 100 feet from us and we wouldn't have known."

Just weeks later, two rangers located the bandit near the Panamint Mountain Range in Death Valley.

The rangers drew within 50 feet of the suspect before he commenced a five-mile run into the mountains. The well-conditioned rangers, whose workout regimen includes jogging and backpacking through the mountains, couldn't keep up with the fleet-footed bandit.

"I believe the guy had some sort of paramilitary training," Hollowell said. "He had too many survival skills for the average Joe who leaves the city and says, `I am going to live in the country.' "

Now fully aware that federal and local law enforcement officials were determined to find him, the bandit soon left Death Valley in a stolen four-wheel-drive Subaru.

Seth Dee, a geologist from Oregon, had left the car overnight on a remote stretch of road while he hiked into the surrounding mountains. The Eugene resident left his wallet, credit cards and a spare set of keys in the vehicle.

Months later, when authorities returned the car to him, Dee found a piece of paper tucked inside the owner's manual. On it, a skilled hand had precisely duplicated Dee's name, over and over. Dee believes the bandit intended to steal his identity.

"It was full of my signature. He had it down, and there is no question he could have used it," Dee said. "It was pretty haunting to see that."

In the days after the car was stolen, authorities tracked the bandit by monitoring the use of Dee's credit cards.

He headed north to Tonopah and then southeast to Alamo before he disappeared again.

About a week later, on March 8, the Nye County sheriff's office got a call from Jackson, who operates a hay ranch in an isolated area near Warm Springs, located 50 miles east of Tonopah.

Jackson told authorities his ranch had been burglarized while he was away for three days. The thief took gasoline, frozen food, a tractor battery and a little red wagon that belonged to Jackson's 4-year-old daughter.

Since his ranch is remote, Jackson was baffled to see wagon tracks leading away from his property. It meant the thief left on foot.

He conveyed his disbelief to his father-in-law, Joe Fallini, who lives nearby. Fallini responded that he had seen wagon tracks on a dirt road leading into the rolling hills north of Highway 6.

"I said, `No way. That is 10 miles away. That can't be,' " Jackson recalled. "Then, we went up there and I saw it (tracks) and said, `Son of a bitch. That guy went all that way with that wagon.' "

Jackson and Fallini followed the tracks for several miles along the dirt road. Ultimately, they decided it would be wiser to cease their pursuit and summon authorities.

Two Nye County deputies found Dee's stolen Subaru and the bandit's campsite about eight miles up the dirt road, hidden in a valley surrounded by hills.

They didn't find the bandit, however.

In the car, the deputies discovered 12 stolen rifles, two pistols and boxes of ammunition for a variety of firearms. It appeared to authorities the bandit had tried unsuccessfully to start the disabled Subaru using the purloined tractor battery.

Certain their quarry was on foot in desolate country, authorities decided to seize the opportunity.

At dawn the next morning, Nye County sheriff's deputies and a state game warden were deployed on the ground while a Las Vegas police helicopter crew searched from the air.

Deputies, accompanied by search dogs, soon found a set of footprints that took them northeast, between two 9,000-foot peaks. The regular intervals between the footprints indicated the bandit never stopped to rest while ascending the mountain range.

At that time, temperatures in that area were in the 20s at night and in the 40s during the day.

"How he eluded us, we may never know," said Lt. Mike Dolfin with the Nye County sheriff's office in Tonopah. "You stick a normal person out where he was at that time of year, they are going to have trouble. But this guy was like the Energizer Bunny."

Back at the campsite, deputies searched without success for a clue that might lead them to the bandit's identity.

"He never left any fingerprints," Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo said. "Even while he ate he had gloves on because he didn't even leave fingerprints on the cans of food."

The bandit resurfaced less than a week later, when he tried to hot-wire a pickup belonging to the owner of the Black Rock gas station. The station owner scared him off and called the Nye County sheriff's office.

Black Rock is located about 60 miles east of the hide-out where deputies discovered the disabled Subaru. Authorities believe the bandit traveled that distance on foot with no sustenance other than water.

"Who goes that hard to avoid a slap on the wrist from law enforcement for some burglaries?" Guthridge asked. "He was wearing Reeboks. This would have been a good commercial for that shoe."

Nye County deputies hoped to launch a comprehensive search near Black Rock, but Las Vegas police and the FBI were unable to send a helicopter crew that day.

The next day, the bandit struck again.

A two-wheel-drive Toyota was reported stolen from an oil company in Eagle Springs, about 15 miles east of Black Rock.

Over the next three days, an FBI helicopter equipped with sophisticated night-vision equipment, a police plane, a team of law enforcement officers and a police canine unit searched a maze of canyons and valleys across northern Nye County.

On March 12, the second day of the search, Las Vegas attorney Steve Morris reported a burglary at his 70-acre cattle ranch, located inside the search area at a remote location northeast of Tonopah.

Morris said the bandit slipped through a window pane that was just 10 inches by 14 inches.

As with his earlier burglaries, the bandit didn't tear apart the ranch house. Morris said the intruder stole only food and merchandise that would help him survive outdoors.

The stolen items included spices, cooking oils and a brand new shotgun that he took out of the box and assembled. He also stole a four-wheel-drive Ford pickup, leaving behind the stolen Toyota.

Morris is convinced the bandit slept in his bed that evening and departed the next morning.

"He wasn't a drinker, or at least he didn't like English ales, because I had a bunch of them and he didn't touch them," Morris said. "He did take a pull off some brandy but he didn't take the bottle."

In subsequent days, the Nye County search continued. But the bandit was gone, driving north in the stolen pickup.

By April 2, some passers-by stopped to help him pull the Ford out of the mud north of Reno.

Authorities believe he spent much of the next three months in the wilderness of northern-most Nevada, near the borders of California and Oregon.

Several ranchers told authorities they encountered the bandit while they were running cattle in the area. In the conversations, he denounced the BLM and its role in policing public land in Nevada.

A cowboy running cattle on June 21 spotted a man camping in a remote portion of the region. Sheriff's deputies and BLM rangers located the campsite two days later, but there was no sign of the bandit.

While inspecting the camp, a BLM ranger found a truck stuck in the mud, shot full of bullet holes. It was the stolen Ford.

Starting June 25, Washoe County deputies received a rash of burglary reports from ranchers whose cabins had been burglarized.

"We decided we had to stay on top of this guy," Sgt. Russ Pedersen with the Washoe County sheriff's search and rescue team said. "He had been down south for a long time, and we didn't want him up here that long."

While searching for the bandit on horseback, Pedersen and other officers on July 11 found a dead cow near New Year Lake, about 150 miles north of Reno and less than 10 miles from the California border. It had been butchered about four days earlier.

On July 25, almost one year after the first sighting of the Ballarat Bandit, a park ranger saw an emaciated man walking south on Highway 127 between Death Valley and Baker. He was holding a gasoline can.

The man matched the general description of the Ballarat Bandit, and the excited ranger called for other officers to converge on the area.

Numerous units responded, and a helicopter crew spotted a man hiding beneath a tarp in the desert not far from the road.

Authorities closed in, and the man ran up a rocky hillside. As police ordered him to surrender, he shot himself in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.

The only identification found on the bandit was the driver's license he stole five months earlier from Dee, the geologist.

"What was his driving motivation? What was he looking for? Who was he? We still don't know," said DeMeo, the Nye County sheriff.

Authorities searched the area and found a yellow pickup that had been stolen in July near the Northern Nevada town of Winnemucca.

Morris isn't certain, but he believes the bandit may have shot himself with a rifle stolen from his ranch.

The San Bernardino County coroner's office subsequently processed the bandit's fingerprints through regional and FBI databases. They have yet to find a match.

It is not uncommon for a John Doe to remain unidentified after one month, but authorities say it is surprising in the bandit's case.

They are certain he was fingerprinted before, either while serving in the military or following an earlier arrest. His decision to kill himself rather than surrender suggests to authorities that he had previously served time.

"His willingness to take his own life is indicative of someone who didn't want to spend his life in prison," said David Van Norman, supervising deputy coroner in San Bernardino County.

Van Norman said if a corpse is not identified within the first three weeks, the likelihood of identifying that person in the following six months is only about 10 percent.

While they await news of the bandit's identity, officials wonder what led him to launch a one-man crime spree in the Mojave Desert.

"If I had to take a guess, he was wanted for something bigger," said Pedersen, of the Washoe County sheriff's office. "That's why he took his life: because he thought we knew who he was. But we didn't and we still don't."

In detailing the case of the Ballarat Bandit, the Review-Journal relied upon numerous police reports and interviews with investigators with the Nye County sheriff's office, Washoe County sheriff's office, the Inyo County (Calif.) sheriff's office, the San Bernardino County (Calif.) coroner's office and the FBI in Nevada.

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Link Posted: 8/30/2004 6:45:09 PM EDT
That was one tough son of a bitch.
Link Posted: 8/30/2004 7:56:46 PM EDT
Almost makes you want to pull for the guy since he never hurt anybody (that we know of) and wasn't one of those assholes who just breaks stuff to break it.

Tough is right.
Link Posted: 8/30/2004 8:30:46 PM EDT
Hardcore is an understatement.

"His willingness to take his own life is indicative of someone who didn't want to spend his life in prison," said David Van Norman, supervising deputy coroner in San Bernardino County....

"If I had to take a guess, he was wanted for something bigger," said Pedersen, of the Washoe County sheriff's office. "That's why he took his life: because he thought we knew who he was. But we didn't and we still don't."

After that whole ordeal, they are still thinking of this guy like an average street criminal.

Can I get $500 on "cornered wild animal" please?
Link Posted: 8/31/2004 4:44:52 PM EDT
I would of liked to question him myself,I bet he knew where some big mule deer were.
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