South Utah authorities arrest alleged 'mountain man'
Wednesday , April 03, 2013 - 4:03 PM
MANTI -- For six years Troy James Knapp eluded authorities, moving from cabin to cabin across the Utah mountains, taking food and weapons and leaving notes to brag about it.
It all ended Tuesday as lawmen made what they called a surprisingly easy capture outside a remote cabin after the suspect fired off a few harmless shots.
"He was laughing with our guys. He said, `Boy, you really snuck up on me,'" said Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis. "He threw his rifle down in the snow and said, `You got me.'"
The 45-year-old survivalist is suspected of burglarizing dozens of Utah cabins and leaving taunting notes for owners - "get off my mountain" - and for sheriffs across several counties - "gonna put you in the ground!" Now he faces multiple felonies in at least four counties, including for shooting at a police helicopter and officers on the ground.
The self-styled "Mountain Man" looked sullen as he was walked into Sanpete County jail late Tuesday, already in jail garb from a quick stop at another county jail. Sanpete County prosecutor Brody Keisel said Knapp will have his first court appearance in Manti within days on a number of felony charges.
Knapp has an impressive memory and was eager to recite his travels and numerous cabin break-ins, bragging that authorities knew only the half of it and showing maps, Curtis said. He does not yet have an attorney.
Authorities believe Knapp had lingered around the snowy mountains outside Ferron, about 125 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, since last fall. He took shelter at cabins in the middle of the Manti-LaSal National Forest.
"It is a relief to know that he has been caught," said Eugene Bartholomew, the owner of a cabin broken into recently at Ferron Reservior under the windswept Wasatch Plateau, where the snow is still piled four feet deep in places. "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.
No one was hit before Knapp was captured after his brief effort to flee on snowshoes from dozens of officers who converged on snowmobiles and a snowcat, Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson said.
Armed with a rifle and a handgun, authorities said, Knapp was wearing camouflage clothes and sporting a graying red beard.
At first, lawmen didn't know exactly where to look for Knapp. They got a Good Friday tip from a pair of hunters who had a chance encounter in the area with Knapp, who introduced himself as a "mountain man," Curtis said.
Authorities from several counties spent the weekend planning a stealthy search for Knapp. A surveillance party led by Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk quietly approached Ferron Reservoir by snowshoe at 1 a.m. Monday, other authorities said.
"They could hear him chopping wood," Curtis said.
Nine hours later, with the help of the helicopter, they flushed the suspect out of a cabin where he was barricaded. Knapp tried to take off in the woods.
"He walked into a line of guys with guns and realized he was done," U.S. Forest Service officer Scott Watson said. "We were so happy it turned out the way it did."
Knapp had been photographed by motion-triggered cameras on snowshoes with a stolen rifle slung over his shoulder as recently as last fall in Sanpete County. Iron, Kane and Garfield counties have all issued arrest warrants for him on burglary and weapons charges.
He had been living off the comfort of cabins in winter and retreating to makeshift summer camps deep in the forest with stolen guns and supplies, detectives have said.
Knapp's motives have never been clear, but he told authorities he didn't like being around people. He has been tied to cabin burglaries across a region from the mountains around Zion National Park 180 miles north to Sanpete County.
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.
By 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.