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5 notorious 'mountain men' and their crimes

By Stephanie Grimes | Posted - Apr 12th, 2013 @ 11:09am

SALT LAKE CITY — In the past week, two mountain men have emerged from the woods to be tried on suspicion of various crimes.

History is fraught with people who escaped civilization, (allegedly, in some cases) committing crimes along the way. Here are five of them.

The Cookie Bandit

Joseph Henry Burgess, 62, was killed in a July 2009 shootout with New Mexico police. Burgess was suspected of being the famed New Mexico "Cookie Bandit." He apparently lived in the wild for a decade, breaking into cabins in the Jemez Mountains near Albuquerque to steal canned goods, cookies and items to help him survive in the wilderness.

Deputies were staking out a mountain cabin when Burgess happened to break in. Burgess opened fire, killing an officer before being fatally shot by another officer, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Burgess was suspected of being involved in two of the Bay Area's most mysterious unsolved killings: the 2004 shootings of a young Midwest couple who were camping on a beach in Jenner, a couple hours north of San Francisco.

The case caught the eye of detectives because it was similar to another case in which Burgess was suspected: the 1972 killings of two campers on a beach in Vancouver Island, British Columbia. His fingerprints had been matched to the 1972 killings. The 2004 murders remain unsolved.

The Mad Trapper of Rat River

The Mad Trapper of Rat River, also known as Albert Johnson, was an early 20th-century fugitive whose actions sparked a massive manhunt in Northern Canada. A 150-mile foot chase by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police lasted more than a month and ended with Johnson being fatally wounded in a shootout.

Johnson moved to the Northwest Territories in 1931 and built a small, one-room cabin on the banks of the Rat River. After natives complained that Johnson had been tampering with their traps and hanging them on the trees. When authorities showed up at his cabin in December with a search warrant and forced the door, Johnson shot an officer through the door and a firefight ensued.

Snow forced the end of the fight, and when authorities returned to the cabin in January, Johnson was nowhere to be found. Authorities tracked Johnson into February, where they finally found him making camp on a riverbank. A firefight broke out and Johnson was shot and killed.

The 1980s "Mountain Man"

Don Nichols was convicted in the 1984 abduction of Kari Swenson, a world-class athlete, to keep as a wife for his son.

Nichols and his son, Dan Nichols, were known for spending long periods of time in the mountains, living off the land.

Nichols and his son, Dan Nichols, were known for spending long periods of time in the mountains, living off the land. They lived for a year prior to the abduction poaching game and growing hidden gardens in multiple camps.

Nichols ambushed Swenson in July 1984 and forced her into the woods, where they kept her chained to a tree most of the time, according to the Associated Press. When would-be rescuers found the camp, Dan Nichols accidentally shot Swenson and an armed standoff ensued, at which point Don Nichols shot and killed Alan Goldstein.

The Nichols left Swenson severely wounded and escaped into the woods, avoiding capture until December 1984. Dan Nichols was sentenced to 20 years and was paroled in 1991. Don Nichols was sentenced to 85 years and comes up for parole on April 27.

The North Pond Hermit

Christopher Knight, the North Pond Hermit, survived in the central Maine wilderness for 27 years. He built a hut in the woods and re-entered civilization only to steal supplies from other camps.

Police captured Hughes breaking into a camp's dining hall in the early hours of Thursday morning. After his capture, he told police he has committed more than 1000 burglaries, taking only what he needed to survive. He said his only contact with another human being in three decades was in the mid-1990s, when he encountered a hiker on a trail.


Knight said he had no real explanation for disappearing into the woods, beyond being interested in hermits, according to the Morning Sentinel. Police were surprised to find him clean-shaven, with a clean haircut and clean clothing. They said he was carrying a wad of bills, some dating to the 1990s and some moldy, "in case he ever needed to go to a store someday."

Knight is being held in the Kennebec County Jail on suspicion of burglary and theft.

The Mountain Man

Utah's own mountain man made national headlines April 2 after being arrested following a shootout with police.

Knapp, 45, had allegedly been terrorizing Utah cabin owners for more than seven years before police got a tip from two hunters that Knapp had been spotted. Officers from about a dozen agencies participated in the ensuing manhunt, during which Knapp fired 10–15 shots at a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter before trying to escape into the wilderness.

Knapp was out-forced and eventually surrendered. He is suspected of breaking into dozens of cabins in southern and central Utah for at least seven years. he faces a total of 18 criminal charges in Iron, Kane and Garfield counties.

Top story image: Joseph Henry Burgess. Credit: Sonoma County police

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