SALT LAKE CITY — Troy James Knapp is a wanted man, a mountain recluse authorities say is responsible for more than two dozen cabin burglaries in the remote southern Utah wilderness. He’s considered armed and dangerous, a ticking time bomb.
After more than five years on the loose, a virtual ghost in the woods, authorities say they have finally identified their suspect. Now they just have to catch him.
They’ve tracked him across hundreds of square miles of wilderness near Zion National Park but have always been one step behind, discovering his unattended summer camps stocked with guns and supplies, but nothing else. He has managed to avoid being seen all but twice before retreating into the forest.
Now that authorities believe they know who he is, they’re honing in on everyone who knows him. According to court records, detectives are tracking telephone calls to his family members in Moscow, Idaho, trying to determine if he is using a cellphone.
Investigators say family members have had little contact with Knapp, an ex-convict they believe is still roaming somewhere across roughly 1,000 square miles of wilderness.
He is believed to have set off on a solitary life some nine years ago after his release from a California prison.
His family, originally from Michigan, has offered little help — “the ones that will acknowledge having anything to do with him,” Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Wingert told The Associated Press. “He’s just kind of out there on his own. I don’t know if he’s fed up with civilization.”
A recent court order allows marshals and sheriff’s detectives to track calls made to and by a couple in their 60s — Bruce and Barbara Knapp of Moscow, Idaho — who are relatives of the 44-year-old fugitive.
The Knapps haven’t returned repeated telephone calls from the AP. No one answered the door at their home Wednesday.
Detectives in Utah’s Iron and Kane counties announced late Tuesday that Troy Knapp was their long-sought suspect in dozens of cabin burglaries, aided by recent surveillance photos captured of him outside one cabin and fingerprints lifted from another that authorities say finally were matched to him in January.
A Kane County arrest warrant charges Knapp with three burglaries and a weapons charge.
Knapp has a lengthy criminal record that includes assault with a dangerous weapon, Kane County prosecutor Robert Van Dyke said Wednesday. He did not elaborate.
As a teenager, Knapp was convicted in Michigan of breaking and entering, passing bad checks and unlawful flight from authorities, according to court records in Kalamazoo County.
The Utah arrest warrant says Knapp was charged with theft in 2000 in California. Court records indicate he pleaded guilty to burglary and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Utah authorities are calling Knapp armed and “possibly dangerous if cornered.” He is using remote cabins for sustenance and warmth during winter — “burning up all their firewood, eating all their food,” Iron County Detective Jody Edwards has said.
In summer, the suspect retreats to makeshift camps deep in the forest.
“This guy is probably about as true a survivalist as Davy Crockett,” Wingert said.
Knapp “dropped off everybody’s radar in 2003 and nobody has heard from him since,” he added. “He just dropped off the face of the earth.”
“That’s wonderful that they know him,” cabin owner Bruce Stucki said Tuesday. “Now they need to get him in custody.”
While there have been no violent confrontations, detectives have called him a time bomb. Over the years, he has left some cabins tidy and clean, while others he has practically destroyed, even defecating in a pan on the floor in one home.
Lately, he has been leaving the cabins in disarray and riddled with bullets after defacing religious icons, and a recent note left behind in one cabin warned, “Get off my mountain.”
In a Jan. 27 court filing, Kane County authorities said Knapp had left behind even more threatening notes aimed at law enforcement.
“Hey Sheriff … Gonna put you in the ground!” one note said.
From the beginning, the suspect’s lore grew, leading to theories that he might have been two separate men on the FBI’s most-wanted list or possibly a castaway from the nearby compounds of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the polygamous sect run by jailed leader Warren Jeffs.
They now have a name, but the man remains in the mist.
“He’s scaring the daylights out of cabin owners. Now everyone’s packing guns,” said Jud Hendrickson, a 62-year-old mortgage adviser from nearby St. George who keeps a trailer in the area. “We feel like we’re being subject to terrorism by this guy.”