Crime spree suspect eludes manhunt in tough California terrain

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KERN COUNTY, Calif. — Life in a rustic California community popular with hikers and off-roaders has been disrupted for more than a week while officials search for a suspect believed responsible for a killing, kidnapping and the shooting of two SWAT team members.

“We’re not used to this and it’s disrupted everybody’s life,” Merle Owens told KERO of the police presence that has descended on his sleepy town.

Residents of Twin Oaks — about 30 miles east of Bakersfield — said Owens, are accustomed to leaving their doors unlocked and their keys in their cars.

That is until authorities said they have “evidence leading them to believe” the same man is responsible for a weeklong crime spree that has left a dentist dead, the SWAT members injured and three young men victims of a kidnapping.

Ray Pruitt, spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday he couldn’t release any specifics about evidence. But his department has released a sketch of the suspect they believe to be a white male, 30-35 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing 160 lbs.

Pruitt said his team believes the suspect is either accustomed to or is trained to thrive in the rugged terrain and 100 degrees-plus temperatures.

“He’s been able to evade police for several days,” Pruitt said. “An average person couldn’t survive in these difficult conditions.”

Pruitt said the violence began when three young men heading to one of their family’s cabins on July 28 encountered a man who had apparently broken in. When one of the young men, described as being ages 19 and 20, told him that his family owned the cabin, the suspect “brandished a shotgun and ordered them inside,” where he held them captive for a little more than an hour, threatening to “kill them several times.”

At one point during the kidnapping, the suspect left the cabin and walked out to the all-terrain vehicle the victims had arrived in, allowing them an opportunity to escape, Pruitt said.

“They ran,” Pruitt said, “And saw [the suspect] leave the area in the off-road vehicle.”

Dentist found dead in cabin

SWAT teams were dispatched to the area and searched for the suspect but did not find him. They did, however, on July 29, manage to locate the stolen all-terrain vehicle about two miles from the cabin. The vehicle had been abandoned, and all but one of the multiple firearms inside were left behind.

A day later, July 30, authorities received a call that a retired dentist had been found dead inside his family’s cabin. Dr. David Markiewitz, 64, had been shot to death inside his house in Jawbone Canyon, which is about 10 miles east of the cabin where the kidnapping had occurred, Pruitt said.

Deputies determined the suspect had removed some food items and weapons from the home.

“We knew then there was a good possibility this was the same suspect,” Pruitt said.

More law enforcement descended on the area and were able to gain ground on the suspect, finding “items he had discarded,” Pruitt said, in an area where there are several buildings.

Also in that area is an unoccupied mobile home.

“As they entered the mobile home,” Pruitt said, “The suspect opened fire on officials, ambush-style.”

One officer was shot twice, once in each arm. The other officer was grazed by a bullet by his ear. The suspect fled on foot.

“We don’t know if the suspect was struck or not,” Pruitt said.

‘We’re going to get him’

Authorities further described the manhunt subject as having long brown hair, blue eyes, and last seen wearing a green bandana, corduroy hat, olive green shirt, and olive green pants. Authorities said he has sun-weathered skin.

Pruitt said there are about 75 members of law enforcement — including U.S. Marshals — looking for the suspect, using vehicles on the ground and in the air to search a 5-square mile area of land.

“We’re not leaving this scene, we’re not leaving this guy, we’re going to get him. It may take us time but we’re going to get him,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt is warning residents to stay vigilant, reminding them that the suspect is “likely armed and “very dangerous.”

At least some community members said they’re prepared to take matters into their own hands should they encounter the suspect. “I’ve got a sign out back that says, ‘Is there life after death? Trespass. Find out,'” Jordan Simone told KERO.

“I’ll kill him,” she said.

Anyone with information should immediately call the Kern County Sheriff’s Office at 661-861-3110 or 1-800-861-3110.