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The murder of Dale Claxton and the stunningly violent chase through Cortez launched what was at the time the largest manhunt in the history of the Southwest. Since the fugitives had crossed the border from Colorado to Utah, the FBI got involved. At its height, the dragnet mobilized 500 people from 51 different agencies. They ranged from SWAT teams riding helicopters to Navajo trackers on horseback.

Yet in the end, the search was a colossal exercise in futility.

Like other aficionados of the Southwest, I had been fascinated from the start by the story of the fugitives. I had even toyed with the idea of writing about it, but hesitated because there seemed to be too many loose ends—the men's whereabouts, their motivation. Then, last summer, in a serendipitous and purely accidental find, the eerie saga of the Four Corners Fugitives reached an ambiguous resolution, nine years after the Claxton killing. Last fall, I headed out to Cortez myself to investigate one of the case's unanswered questions, only to wind up at the center of its enduring mystery—with a hand-drawn map to the final clues.

Back in 1998, after the fugitives had vanished into the intricacies of Cross Canyon, it had taken the authorities several days to identify them. They turned out to be locals. Alan "Monte" Pilon, 30, was from Dove Creek, a sleepy hamlet just a few miles north of where the men had ditched the flatbed. Robert Mason and Jason McVean, both 26, lived in Durango. All three took occasional construction jobs, although McVean had considerable expertise as a welder and electronics geek. Mason, fittingly enough, was a skilled mason. The authorities were stunned to discover that none of the three had a criminal record more serious than the odd DUI conviction.

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  • Also, why did the fugitives steal a water truck? I think they did so that the law would come after t…
  • The article states that the police and the FBI thought the fugitives were planning something big, su…
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  • I was trying to pass through Bluff right after the murder and what a scene it was. Cop cars, choppe…
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