denver & the west
Bones, weapons likely fugitive's from '98 slaying
By Electa Draper
Denver Post Staff Writer
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated:06/07/2007 02:30:15 AM MDT
Several ribs, bits of hand and skull, and a few arm and leg bones found in
southeastern Utah are likely those of the final fugitive sought for
killing Cortez police officer Dale Claxton, who died in a hail of gunfire
nine years ago.
Jason McVean, a 26-year-old Durango man, disappeared along with two
accomplices on May 29, 1998. The two others already have been found dead
miles apart in the desert, apparently of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Claxton was struck 19 times with an automatic weapon after stopping the
three camouflage-clad men riding in a stolen water truck.
His death launched the biggest manhunt in the region's history, involving
500 officers from 64 agencies. At the end, three deputies in two states
had been shot and seriously injured after encountering the fleeing
Four Corners lawmen say a cowboy found the bones, five pipe bombs, an
AK-47 rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition, mostly buried below a crumbling
wall of Cross Canyon, on Tuesday.
The body of 26-year-old Robert Mason of Durango was found by authorities
near Bluff, Utah, on June 4, 1998, just below a cliff where he shot and
critically wounded San Juan County Deputy Kelly Bradford. Authorities said
Mason died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, although his
family and some medical authorities disputed the suicide theory.
A band of Navajo deer hunters found the skeleton of 30-year-old Alan Pilon
of Dove Creek on Halloween 1999 in Cross Canyon just inside Utah. He died
of a gunshot wound to the head, which authorities also concluded was
self-inflicted, within 2 miles of where the fleeing men ditched a getaway
truck and set off on foot.
It was never known what the three friends, who shared an interest in
survivalism and love of illegal pot hunting, were up to in the stolen
water truck. Authorities speculated they might have been en route to
robbing the Ute Mountain Casino at Towaoc.
The mystery will endure, said San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy, but it
nevertheless was time for a last chapter to be written.
"Last night it was just like Christmas," Lacy said. "I couldn't sleep I
was so relieved ... and tickled."
Dolores County Sheriff Jerry Martin said he and many other investigators
always have believed, based on two eyewitness descriptions, that McVean
was the one who fired at Claxton, while the others waited in the truck.
A local cowboy, who asked that his name not be released, was riding his
horse in Cross Canyon in Utah when he looked at the same tattered bits of
cloth he'd noticed on a ride last year and, this time, decided to unearth
whatever it was.
The body was less than 2 miles as the crow flies from where the men fled
their truck and a little more than 2 miles west of where Pilon's remains
"He thought he saw a saddle blanket," Lacy said. "It was a bulletproof vest."
The cowboy then found a backpack made of camouflage material. When he dug
up several pipe bombs, he decided to call the sheriff. The pipe bombs are
like the ones found near Mason's body, Lacy said.
People walk up and down that wash all the time, but it is thick with tall
tamarisk and other brush, Lacy said.
The serial number of the recovered AK-47 should be legible after the gun
is cleaned, Lacy said. McVean was known to possess a small arsenal.
Martin said he believes the three men had a suicide pact, but the skull
found is so broken that it might be impossible to determine whether he was
shot in the head.
"We have no clue to the cause of death," Lacy said.
But one theory is that a gunshot might have triggered the landslide that
obscured Mc Vean's fate for so long.
A watch was found, Lacy said. It had stopped on May 30, at the same hour
but one day after Claxton's death. Searchers also found camouflage
netting, a water canteen and other survival gear, Martin said.
Lane said the news, while it stirred up old memories and feelings of loss,
"I'm glad it's over," Lane said. "We'll never know why, but at least it's
Claxton's widow, Sue, could not be reached for comment. Her son, Corbin
Claxton, joined the Cortez Police Department about three weeks ago.
Staff writer Electa Draper can be reached at 303-954-1276 or