A journalist speculates on the true, if blurry story behind one of America’s largest manhunts.
In May 1998, three young survivalist types—ringleader Jason McVean, Alan “Monte” Pilon and Robert Mason—unleashed hell in the small town of Cortez, Colo. After stealing a water truck, the three fugitives gunned down police officer Dale Claxton in cold blood. These heavily armed men commenced on a shooting spree that injured several other cops before they disappeared into the desert in Utah. All three were later found dead—one nearly a decade later. Schultz does an admirable job of stitching together the slim threads of their lives and their anti-government, militialike mindset. It often seems, though, as if the author is bending particulars to suit his narrative. There are some explicit accusations pointed at law enforcement officers—Schultz strongly implies that Pilon’s suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound was rigged, and every slim thread is pulled surrounding the late discovery of McVean’s remains. It’s unfortunate that Schultz seems determined to mythologize the crime spree in the context of “frontier justice,” with numerous comparisons made to history. “The gunshots heard on a bridge in Cortez…that May morning in 1998 were echoes of our Wild West past, the sound of the gunshots first fired by Billy the Kid, Kid Curry, and Killer Miller, bouncing through the decades of legend and myth,” Schultz writes. There are some fascinating sidebars about the contributions of Native-American trackers, but shoehorning in an unsubstantiated motive cribbed from Edward Abbey’s classic The Monkey Wrench Gang may be the last straw.
A flawed but stylistic story that uses the elements of a terrible crime to fuel a meditation on Western culture.