With His Mind Slipping, a Killer Took to the Forest

The story of a 35-day hunt for a fugitive in the California woods
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2016 1:05 PM CDT
Updated Jun 11, 2016 3:25 PM CDT
With His Mind Slipping, a Killer Took to the Forest
Aaron Bassler   (Mendocino County Sheriff)

One logger summed up the hunt this way: "So what you're saying is, in 400 square miles, you're not trying to find a rabbit. You're trying to find the rabbit—and the rabbit has an assault rifle." Such was the task faced by authorities in 2011 in the dense forest near Fort Bragg, Calif., as they sought a mentally ill fugitive accused of two murders. The California Sunday Magazine takes a look back at the 36-day hunt for 35-year-old Aaron Bassler, one that finally ended with police fatally shooting him in the forest. The story, however, isn't just a retelling of the enormously difficult effort to track Bassler in the woods. It also raises a fundamental question: "When a mind begins to unravel, who has the right—and the responsibility—to step in?"

Though his family doesn't think Bassler was officially diagnosed, he exhibited classic symptoms of schizophrenia and had frequent scrapes with the law. Once, after being arrested for tossing a package containing a black jumpsuit onto the property of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, Bassler told a friend he believed Martians were helping China with the technology needed to mount a US invasion. Another baffling nugget: During the manhunt, police found 18 playing cards among his belongings, each one, inexplicably, the eight of spades. Bassler's case, however, always seemed to slip into the "bureaucratic void," as the story puts it—at least until police say he eventually shot two men in separate incidents in the forest. Click for the full story. (Read more fugitive stories.)

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