MANTI, Utah — For six years Troy James Knapp eluded authorities, who say he moved from cabin to cabin across the Utah mountains, taking food and weapons and leaving notes to brag about it.
It all ended Tuesday as authorities made what they say was 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 notes telling owners to “get off my mountain” and warning county sheriffs he was “gonna put you in the ground!”
Iron, Kane and Garfield counties have all issued arrest warrants for Knapp on burglary and weapons charges. More charges are expected, including counts of shooting at a police helicopter and officers on the ground during his capture.
Knapp does not yet have an attorney.
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 lockup. Sanpete County prosecutor Brody Keisel said Knapp will have his first court appearance in Manti within days on a number of felony charges.
Curtis said Knapp has an impressive memory and was eager to recite his travels and break-ins while showing maps and bragging that authorities knew only half the story.
Authorities believe Knapp lingered around the snowy mountains outside Ferron — about 125 miles southeast of Salt Lake City — since last fall and 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 Reservoir under the wind-swept Wasatch Plateau. “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 wounded before Knapp was captured after a brief effort to flee on snowshoes from dozens of officers who converged on snowmobiles and a snowcat, Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson said.
Authorities said Knapp was armed with a rifle and a handgun while wearing camouflage clothes and sporting a graying red beard.
Authorities got a Good Friday tip from a pair of hunters who had a chance encounter in the area with someone who introduced himself as a “mountain man,” Curtis said.
Authorities from several counties spent the weekend planning a search for Knapp. A surveillance party led by Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk quietly approached Ferron Reservoir by snowshoe at 1 a.m. Tuesday.
“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, authorities said.
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.
The motive for the break-ins has never been clear, but Knapp told authorities he didn't like being around people. Authorities said 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.