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Mason's death worked the manhunt into a frenzy. Assuming that McVean and Pilon must have been hiding nearby, the authorities shifted their search from Cross Canyon to the San Juan River basin. They not only shut down all boating traffic on the river, they evacuated the entire town of Bluff, population 350.

Wilderness guide Vaughn Hadenfeldt, a Bluff native, was hosting students from the University of Colorado field school, who were excavating a ruin on Cemetery Hill above town at the time. He got the news of Bradford's shooting at the local convenience store. Dashing home, he yelled to his wife, "Lock the doors!" He loaded some guns of his own, then blurted out, "We've gotta get the kids down from the hill!" By the time he drove his van to the dig, helicopters were circling.

"People were freaking out," Hadenfeldt recalled. "One of my neighbors was waving his gun, screaming, 'They're coming!'"

Jim Hook, who owns Bluff's Recapture Lodge, was another civilian who stayed on. Even as he crammed as many officers as he could into his motel, Hook started an email diary that he sent to friends all over the country. His first entry captured the mood of a town under siege:

There are only about five Bluff people still in town. . . . The air is full of helicopters and spotlights, all the bridges and entrances to town are blocked and guarded. The SWAT teams have set up skirmish lines along the river bottom next to the Lodge and on top of the cliffs and are holding positions until the sun comes up and they can see what has happened.

Inevitably, the various teams of searchers started squabbling with each other. And despite running themselves ragged, none of the officers came up with a single tangible clue as to the whereabouts of Monte Pilon and Jason McVean. After a few days Bluff's citizens returned, but for a full month the manhunt continued to focus on the section of the San Juan River just south of town. The nadir of this mass paranoia came in early July, more than four weeks after Claxton's killing, when several teams attempted to set fire to the underbrush along a six-mile stretch of the river, hoping to burn the fugitives out of their hiding places. The fires fizzled out, managing only to scorch tangles of tamarisk here and there.

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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…
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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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