Published April 10, 2013
SALT LAKE CITY – At first, many locals took to calling Troy James Knapp the mountain man. Even victims of his many cabin break-ins marveled over his ability to slip back into the woods and evade authorities over six years.
But on Wednesday, as the trim 45-year-old whom police characterize as a reclusive survivalist made his first court appearance by grainy video feed from Sanpete County jail, a prosecutor sought to dispel Knapp's image as some sort of folk hero.
"He wants to be viewed as a gentle drifter in the forest, a romantic figure," Brody Keisel, the county attorney, told The Associated Press. "I'm convinced he's a criminal. When I grew up, a mountain man was different. This guy was going from cabin to cabin and enjoying the night in a queen-sized bed."
Knapp appeared by video for only 10 minutes inside 6th District Court in the rural town of Manti, answering "yes" to Judge Marvin Bagley about his identity and whether he understood the latest of 29 burglary-related felony and misdemeanor charges filed against him across four Utah counties. The charges could keep him behind bars for life.
Authorities said Knapp, whose identity was revealed a year ago from cabin surveillance photos and fingerprints, has been regaling detectives with stories about his long wilderness run and how he managed to evade them.
"He says, `You don't know all about the burglaries,"' Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis said.
Knapp also has been telling authorities where he stored stolen weapons and camping gear, according to investigators.
"He's trying to help us get property back to folks," Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson said.
In Sanpete County, Knapp faces initial charges of three cabin burglaries, theft of a hatchet, GPS device and other items and criminal mischief for broken windows.
The judge assigned a public defender after finding Knapp had no money to afford a lawyer.
The fugitive who authorities say had a fondness for whisky and a dislike of people had only to face a closed-circuit camera Tuesday. He wasn't immediately required to enter a plea. His next procedural court hearing was set for April 17.
A police helicopter flushed Knapp from a cabin last week at a mountain reservoir in Manti-LaSal National Forest. Detectives had been on his trail for three days and nights, following his tracks and guessing his destination. Deputies copied his silent mode of transportation, snowshoes.
Knapp shot at the police helicopter before he was captured, police said.
Keisel said he planned to file additional charges related to that shooting and a more recent string of cabin burglaries and thefts.
Knapp was arrested April 2 with stolen guns and other property, according to authorities. He has a criminal background that would prohibit him from possessing weapons, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives has joined the investigation, considering possible federal firearms violations.
Knapp spent his last three nights in a framed log cabin with a commanding view of forest roads leading to Ferron Reservoir, according to authorities.
Eugene Bartholomew, who owns the cabin, spoke of Knapp with something of reverence, even as he said the suspect left his place "a mess" and with a pungent odor. Bartholomew said Knapp drained a bottle of whisky during his stay, and the cabin owner plans to display the empty container on his mantle.
"I'm trying to get his autograph," said Bartholomew, who plans to name his cabin "Mountain Man Retreat." `'I want it on a picture of him for my wall."