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The Four Corners Fugitive Search- the Largest Manhunt in Western History

(The following article is copyrighted- do not use without permission of the author. Please email us for more information.)

The following is a summary of the events that transpired between Ignacio, Colorado and Bluff, Utah beginning on 27 May, 1998 and finally ending on 05 June, 2007. It is a work in progress. Some day I will finish my account of my own research, and my on the ground search. In the meantime, one non-fiction book has been written on the subject- FBI Diary: Home Grown Terror by Peter Klimset.

Introduction- My Interest in the Largest Manhunt in Western History

I first learned of the events of late May, 1998 in the Four Corners region upon returning home to Boulder, Colorado after a long week of mountain biking in Moab. Somewhat surprisingly, I had heard nothing of the manhunt while riding and camping in the Moab area. But then I was in Moab to escape by mountain bike into the backcountry of Utah, and not to pay attention to what was happening in the world. Upon learning about the manhunt I followed it closely for months and, being familiar with the area, started thinking about Bluff, Montezuma Creek, Mexican Hat, the San Juan River, and the roads and canyons that were mentioned in the news. I followed the news reports, like much of the country and even the world, until they were replaced with more important news and the reports began to die out.

My interest was renewed when Alan Lamont Pilon’s body was found on Tincup Mesa in late 1999. I revisited all the news reports online, began collecting the articles that I did not have, eventually bought and read Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger, which was based on the events, and began thinking more and more about what could have happened to the third fugitive.


The fugitives as the people of the Four Corners, and the world, came to recognise them in the summer of 1998. These are the photos that first appeared on the wanted posters that were hung around the Four Corners Region.

Another year or so passed. I checked the internet from time to time expecting to find a report about the discovery of McVean’s body. There was still no sign of him. By this time I was spending a lot more time in the region, mostly on Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch, to the west of where the fugitives disappeared. I was spending as much as eight to ten weeks a year in the area hiking, backpacking, biking, camping, driving backroads, and searching for ruins and rock art in the labyrinths of canyons. As I hiked I found myself thinking more and more about the fugitives, about why they stole the truck, about what their plans might have been, about the time they spent in the desert very near where I was and most importantly where McVean could have gone. I decided that since I was already in the area so often, I might as well visit Cross Canyon and take a look around, perhaps do some hiking in the area. There are plenty of ruins to be seen in the region, so my visits could be twofold.

On my first visit to the Cross Canyon area I located West Cross Canyon Pond, the truck abandonment location, and the tree where Pilon’s body was found. I had done a very thorough map reconnaissance of the area and was very familiar with the roads, canyons, well pads, water sources and so on. Armed with this information I began hiking in the area. I focused first on water- running water, standing water, water courses such as intermittent streams in canyon bottoms, and larger streams as well. My logic was that during the monsoon rains and flash floods that occurred at the end of every summer, McVean’s gear, or more, might be washed down towards the canyon bottoms.

view to east from location of tree where Pilon's body was found by Navajo hunters.
View to the east from the tree where Pilon's body was found by Navajo hunters on 31 October, 1999. This location is on top of Tincup Mesa; the mesa drops off hundreds of feet to the canyon bottom in the foreground of the photo. Road cutting through center of photo is Cross Canyon Road. The patch of green just above the road and to the right of the frame is the truck abandonment location at West Cross Canyon Pond. Note Sleeping Ute Mountain in the background.

I also began searching out possible cache locations and looking for caves, natural rock shelters and cliff dwellings that might not be easily seen, but that were big enough for hiding out in, or at least for hiding food or equipment.

I decided to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI for information about the investigation. There were complications with this request due to the fact that the case was still open, with McVean not yet apprehended, and ultimately, I believe, because of the confusion over which law enforcement agency had jurisdiction over the case. After numerous submissions and revisions of my paperwork, the search essentially turned up nothing. The FBI indicated that they found references in their database to the investigation, but were unable to find the actual information. Next I called the Cortez, Colorado Police department to inquire about the investigation at the source. I was connected to Lt. Jim Shethar, who was still in charge of the case in Colorado. I was never able to meet with Lt. Shethar, who had indicated that he would be more than happy to allow me to review the evidence. I also had plans to contact San Juan county sheriff Mike Lacy in Blanding, Utah for information and to learn about his experience of the case, but was unable to make this meeting happen either.

Back to Top
Page 1- Introduction-
Page 2- The Crime- The Sequence of Events
Page 3- Disappearance
Page 4- The High Desert of the Colorado Plateau
Page 5- The Area Mapped by the Fugitives

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