1998 Arizona Manhunt Finally Over

Published: Jun. 13, 2007 at 11:55 AM MST|Updated: Feb. 26, 2009 at 8:54 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Posted by Bud Foster KOLD News 13 Anchor

Human remains found in southeastern Utah are those of a man accused of killing a Colorado police officer while the victim sat buckled in his car, a slaying that sparked an intense manhunt for three people in 1998.

The partial skeleton discovered last week by a cowboy near the Utah-Colorado line was Jason McVean, 26, of Durango, Colo., authorities said Tuesday.

The Utah state medical examiner matched a partial jawbone with McVean's dental records, said Trent Pederson, an FBI spokesman in Salt Lake City. The medical examiner was not releasing the cause of death, he said.

The confirmation ends a nine-year-old mystery about McVean's whereabouts. His partners, Alan "Monte" Pilon and Robert Matthew Mason, were found dead in the same Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

The camouflage-clad trio had stolen a water truck in Ignacio, Colo., on May 28, 1998 and were driving through Cortez when Officer Dale Claxton crossed their path, pulling his patrol car behind them and calling for backup.

Before help arrived, however, the truck stopped and the killers jumped out and opened fire. Claxton, 45, never even unbuckled his seat belt as he was shot 29 times. The discovery of McVean's remains doesn't answer any questions for Claxton's boss, Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane. "There's only three people who know what happened and they're all dead," he said.

The shooting sparked a summer manhunt across the region by police officers from more than 50 departments. McVean's body was found in Cross Canyon, about 25 miles east of Blanding, Utah, near Hovenweep National Monument. Pilon's body was found by deer hunters in the same area in October 1999.

Mason, his body strapped with pipe bombs, was found dead in a dirt bunker near the banks of the San Juan River, a few days after Claxton's killing. He shot and twice wounded a San Juan County sheriff's deputy who was investigating a report of a sniper.

Found with McVean's remains on June 5: a bulletproof vest, camouflage backpack, pipe bombs, an AK-47, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and a business card belonging to Pilon. FBI agents are sifting through the cache to determine if it holds any clues to the men's plans or why they stole the water truck.

At the time, some people believed they were anti-government survivalists or eco-terrorists. "We've all read all the different possibilities, but I think a lot of it is just speculation," Pederson said. "I'm not sure we'll ever know - not that it would ever justify an officer's death."

Lane doubts those remnants will reveal anything. Similar gear surrounded the remains of Pilon, 30, who was from Dove Creek, Colo., and Mason, 26, of Durango, Colo. "I've been through all that stuff and I don't think there's anything in there . . . and so, no answers, as much as we'd like to know," the police chief said. McVean's remains will be returned to relatives when investigators close the case, Pederson said.