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Elusive suspect leaves tracks in Fort Bragg forest

  • Members of law enforcement stand watch for Aaron Bassler, outside the home of his mother, Laura Brickey, on Monday, September 5, 2011, Ft. Bragg, California. Deputies spotted him on Sunday morning near her home, but were unable to apprehend him. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

The slaying suspect being sought in a vast stretch of forest near Fort Bragg is leaving a trail of evidence as he seeks out shelter and food in the woods and tries to avoid capture, authorities said Friday.

Makeshift campsites and break-ins at a handful of remote cabins scattered miles apart all appear to be the work of Aaron Bassler, 35, of Fort Bragg, who is wanted in connection with two fatal shootings three weeks ago near Fort Bragg, a Mendocino County sheriff's official said.

At times the trail has appeared to be only a day or two old. And often it has had the same telltale evidence of Bassler's presence.

Fort Bragg Labor Day Parade

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The similarities include the secluded places he chooses to camp, the way he's known to craft a campfire, or the items stolen from cabins.

"There's certain things that we think are unique to him," said Mendocino County Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Van Patten.

Bassler is wanted in the shooting deaths of Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo and Matthew Coleman, a land manager with the Mendocino Land Trust.

Melo, who worked as a forester, was gunned down Aug. 27 while patroling private timberlands east of town. A companion with him identfied Bassler as the gunman, and authorities since have linked him to the death of Coleman, who was shot Aug. 11 while working on an oceanfront ranch about 20 miles north of Fort Bragg.

Since Melo's death, Bassler has been seen just once, on Sept. 4, when he slipped away from deputies staked out near his mother's home off Sherwood Road about two miles east of Fort Bragg.

As the hunt for him enters its fourth week<NO1><NO>, a team of local, state and federal officers are focusing their daily foot and aerial patrols within a tighter part of the search area, which sprawls across 300 square miles, stretching from Fort Bragg east to Willits and from Westport in the north to Highway 20 in the south.

Authorities believe Bassler is traveling mostly in a 19-mile long corridor between Fort Bragg and Northspur, an west-to-east path that roughly parallels the Skunk Train tourist railroad, which runs from Fort Bragg to Willits.


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