Dead or Alive: Alleged city of Cortez cop killer not seen since 1998
Cortez, Colorado- It has been seven long years since three local thugs from the Four Comers area of Colorado gunned down City of Cortez Patrolman Dale Claxton on May 29, 1998. Four Corners - the point where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet has become somewhat of a tourist area for many, but for others it is a sad reminder of a day that took the life of a caring and community minded man.
Claxton who had only three years on the job was shot "too many times to count" as recalled by Lt.Jim Shether of the City of Cortez PD. Officer Claxton had apparently radioed his dispatcher that he was following a water truck that had apparently been stolen from another county in the area and was intending to monitor the vehicle while awaiting back up. However before that back up arrived, the water truck apparently pulled over on its own. At least one of the suspects exited the vehicle and opened fire with an SKS 7.62mm rifle Assault Rifle with a 30 round magazine. Shether described the scene as one of absolute carnage as the magazine was emptied into the car and the officer.
The three suspects who made up the Four Corners Group appeared to be nothing more than weekend warriors and good old boys who talked more they acted. However that all changed when best friends Alan Pilon, Jason Wayne McVean and Robert Mathew Mason decided to take it to the big leagues. After the execution of Officer Claxton, the three men fled in the water truck heading toward Utah and its endless wilderness not known for its warmth and hospitable surroundings. However as vicious and wanton as the three men were, they did realize that any chance at escape required another vehicle, which they quickly obtained at the point of a gun.
The three now driving a flatbed truck continued their rampage while still heading toward the state line and what they thought would be freedom. However the three men met responding officers from numerous jurisdictions in the Four Corners area. One by one the vehicles and officers were disabled as the three continued a run towards freedom. A Colorado State Trooper vehicle and a Cortez police vehicle were two of the first to meet up with the Four Corners men and were quickly disabled by the group as they were fired upon as they neared the flat deck.
Unbeknownst to a Montezuma Country sheriff's deputy Tod Martin, who was looking for a stolen water truck, a flatbed truck pulled up behind him. Without warning, the young deputy was fired upon having no idea that the flat bed truck following him carried the three suspects in Claxton's murder. The officer was seriously wounded when he was hit in the head, but Detective Tod Martin also almost had his arm shot off in addition to being hit in the leg. Martin survived and now works for the Colorado State Patrol.
The three continued on towards Utah. One by one, the three left a path of carnage and destruction that eventually led to one of the biggest manhunts is that areas history. The whole shooting spree took less than 20 minutes leaving one officer dead, two seriously injured, 4 disabled police cars and 5 others hit by automatic weapons fire. Days had passed and it appeared that the Four Corners men had made good their escape. During the lull in violence, Claxton's burial had taken place, which was attended by thousands of people wishing to pay their respects to the officer.
On June 4, 1998, just east of Bluff, Utah another shooting incident took place when San Juan County Deputy Kelly Bradford was shot twice checking out a report of shots fired at a social worker in a secluded area of the San Juan River. Kelly survived the wounds and is still working for the county. Later that same day, one of the suspects Robert Mathew Mason was found with an apparent self-inflicted bullet wound to the head, however there was no sign of McVean and Pilon. It was some 16-months later that on October 31, 1999; the remains of Alan Lamont Pilon were located. To this day, there have been no signs or sightings of McVean. Cortez Officer Lt. Jim Shether who is the one remaining officer on this still open file believes that although there is a strong possibility that McVean is dead, " I am not satisfied until I see his body, so he remains at large and wanted".
On August 31, 2004 the "Officer Dale D. Claxton Memorial Building." in Durango, Colorado was dedicated in the memory of the fallen officer. The driving force behind this initiative was senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. In a press release from the Senators office dated August 30, 2004 Campbell said" This tribute dwarfs in comparison to the ultimate sacrifice that Officer Claxton made: however it will be a daily reminder of the man who lost his life protecting ours. It is my great honor to join his family and fellow officers in remembering the life and service of Officer Claxton". A final word from Lt. Shether was this…Dale was "A good man, just a nice guy…a nice guy"
We will never forget the sacrifice that one of our brothers made, and until the third body of his killers are found, justice will not be served.