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Suspected cop killer Frein continues to elude manhunt

Timothy M. Phelps McClatchy-Tribune

CANADENSIS, Pa. – He is a self-trained sniper, survivalist, cop hater, and, according to police, a cold-blooded killer who watched his victim die with clinical interest.

For six weeks Eric Frein has dodged one of the largest manhunts in Pennsylvania history, hiding in a small section of the Pocono Mountains he knows intimately and eating ramen noodles and cans of tuna that police say he cached for the ultimate war game.

Two hundred uniformed Pennsylvania State Police and hundreds of others from the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Connecticut State Police and local law enforcement have descended upon this small, rustic hunting town.

Though heavily armed and aided by police dogs and thermal imaging helicopters, search teams always seem to remain just one step behind, flushing Frein from campsites or rushing to reported sightings only to have him slip away again. One state police official speculated that Frein, viewing himself as a modern-day Rambo, may be intentionally taunting them.

The police strategy is to use their dragnet to systematically eliminate any possible hiding places. But they move carefully in these dense woods, believing that the man they are chasing – who calls himself “Little Wolf” in military-simulation war games – is also targeting them.

Frein, 31, is charged in the Sept. 12 shooting death of State Trooper Bryon Dickson, 38, who was ambushed outside a State Police barracks in Pike County, near the borders of New York and New Jersey.

Despite considerable budget and resources, the mostly out-of-town cops have been outwitted so far by Frein, who spent years learning how to live in the woods undetected. Police suspect he prepared for life as a fugitive by stockpiling supplies, possibly in an underground bunker.

The search has left some residents and hunters shaking their heads, frustrated by the sudden invasion of swarms of police, who are camped out at a former school just down the road. One local said he had been stopped seven times by police while walking to work. Business at most stores is down because hunters have been temporarily banned from the woods.

In one recent incident in the town of Swiftwater – the current focal point of the search – police demolished the front of a barn after apparently seeing body heat on their thermal imaging equipment. It turned out to be a family of raccoons, residents say.

“They are really not going to catch him until he is ready to be caught,” said Jeremiah Hornbaker, who hired Frein five years ago to advise him on historical accuracy for a World War I documentary film. “He is a very intelligent individual.”

While some have questioned how Frein could elude such a huge dragnet for so long, local hunters and veterans of similar manhunts say it is not surprising.

Paul Yanega, 58, who lives a mile from Frein’s home, said that when he has his camouflage suit on while deer hunting, people walk right past without spotting him. And there are special clothes and sprays that mask a hunter’s scent, he added.

With winter coming, Frein could keep warm by living in caves in the mountains, Yanega speculated, while the falling leaves would make it nearly impossible to track him. Complicating search efforts is the terrain, consisting mostly of gently rolling hills, but with a thick undergrowth of raspberry brambles, rhododendrons and other bushes that cut visibility.

Hornbaker, the documentary maker, insisted that the police portrait of Frein as an evil killer “was not the man I knew.”

But authorities say the most chilling account of Frein’s mental state comes from Frein himself, who appears to describe the attack against Dickson in a handwritten note found at an abandoned campsite.

“I got a shot around 11 p.m. and took it,” police say he wrote. “He dropped, I was surprised at how quick. I took a follow up shot on his head and neck area. He was still and quiet after that. … Another cop approached the one I just shot. As he went to kneel, I took a shot at him and then (he) jumped in the door. His legs were visible and still.”

The description closely matches the sniper attack on Dickson and the attempt by fellow trooper Alex Douglass to help him. Douglass survived but was seriously wounded.

There were few clues in Frein’s childhood that would suggest he would end up on the FBI’s “10 most wanted” list. He grew up in a bucolic setting in the Poconos of northeastern Pennsylvania, in a house that looks toward a state forest dense with oak, pine and hemlock trees.

He was a member of his high school rifle team, where he was known as a crack shot. He dropped out of college, working at the local supermarket and for a couple of summers at a Boy Scout camp.

His passion was military history and the minute details of Eastern European military uniforms and weapons.

In 2006, Frein spent three months in jail for stealing more than $3,800 worth of World War II military uniform reproductions two years earlier.

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