Kern County authorities say homeless man is suspected killer, target of 2-week-old manhunt

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A homeless man with a long criminal history was identified Tuesday as the target of a two-week-old manhunt for a gunman thought to have killed a retiree, taken people hostage and wounded Kern County sheriff's deputies.

Benjamin Peter Ashley, 34, had been arrested several times in Central and Southern California, Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a news conference.

"We believe he's homeless," Youngblood said. "We believe he's traveled throughout Southern California and Merced and Yosemite. ... We're confident this guy is very mobile, and he's a survivor."

Ashley is believed to be in rugged, mountainous high desert 30 miles east of Bakersfield. Dozens of deputies and officers from various agencies have been searching the 5-square-mile area, which is dotted with unoccupied homes and trailers, outbuildings, abandoned mines and caves and other hiding places.

Two SWAT team members were shot and wounded by a shotgun-wielding man on Aug. 1 as they searched a mobile home in Kelso Valley. One deputy was shot in both arms, and the other was grazed.

The attacker is believed to be the same man who took three men hostage in a Twin Oaks-area cabin on July 28 before they managed to escape.

Two days later, David Markiewitz, a 64-year-old retired dentist, was found dead in another cabin in Jawbone Canyon, about 10 miles away.

Investigators have found fingerprints and DNA evidence that may link Ashley to the crimes, Youngblood said.

Authorities also have urged residents to keep their doors locked out of concern that Ashley might try to break into cabins to steal.

"We're two weeks into this investigation. Clearly he's had food and water," Youngblood said. "We have to prevent him from doing any other harm to anyone else."