surrender of cop killer Eric Frein on Thursday after an excruciating
48-day manhunt in the dense woodlands of the Pennsylvania Poconos is not
the end of the story. It is the end of the prologue to a very big question that demands to be asked -- and answered: What prompted this wily
survivalist to shoot dead a particular state trooper and critically
wound another? To suggest that the shootings were random begs
credulity, although the revelation as to why Frein chose these
targets might be embarrassing to a law-enforcement agency that
has limped from scandal to scandal and did not acquit itself
particularly well during the manhunt.
have, of course, said that the death penalty will be sought. But it
would not be surprising if 31-year-old Frein (pronounced Freen) is allowed to plea bargain a
life sentence without the messiness of a trial where the question of why he chose to lurk in the
woods outside the Blooming Grove, Pike County, police barracks on the
night of September 12 with a high-powered rifle, killing Corporal Bryon
Dickson and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass, and not one of many other
potential law-enforcement targets is a question that is sure to be raised.
Early in the manhunt, rumors abounded that Frein's sister had a relationship with Trooper Douglass. A state police spokesman initially denied they had "an inappropriate relationship," an explanation that
ginned up the rumor mill even more. The spokesman later tried to clarify
matters by stating they had not had any kind of a relationship and did not even know one another, but the
impression lingers that despite Frein's well-known hatred of police, he may not have chosen Dickson and Douglass at random.
Indeed, little light has been shed on why Frein, who had a fondness for all things military, dressed in Serbian army uniforms and played Cold War-style war games, hated police. Except for a remark from Frein's father in the wake of the attack that his self-trained backwoods survivalist son "never missed" when he had a weapon in his hands, his parents remained conspicuously silent during the manhunt, although they are said to have cooperated with investigators. It is puzzling why they never were asked to go public and urge their son to surrender, or if they were, did not do so.
his Jeep after fleeing Blooming Grove, which is about 20 miles north of
his parents' house in the village of Canadensis in Monroe County. He is believed to have hiked through nearly
unspoiled forest to an area near Canadensis that provides many hiding places not visible from the
air, let alone on the ground a hundred yards away.
The state police kept overplaying their hand, at least in the first weeks of the manhunt, by repeatedly claiming they had Frein surrounded and taunting the fugitive to surrender, although they did find food caches, an incriminating journal, two pipe bombs and other signs of him. Frein seemingly taunted the state police back as he repeatedly eluded capture despite numerous reported sightings. (Documents filed with the court by the state police indicate he may have used a laptop computer with wireless access to keep up with reports on the manhunt.)
In recent days, Frein continued to elude a dragnet of state police, FBI
and ATF agents, U.S. Marshals Service trackers and regional and local police that has at
times reached 1,000 officers as he trekked into more populated areas.
Unarmed, gaunt and bedraggled, he surrendered to marshals on Thursday afternoon after being
spotted in a field at an abandoned rural airport that previously had been searched. The airport had been part of one of the honeymoon resorts that were a mainstay of the Poconos tourist industry in the decades after World War II.
Frein was turned over to state police, who ceremoniously
slapped slain officer Dickson's handcuffs on him and put him in the
back seat of Dickson's police cruiser for transport back to Blooming Grove. A rifle and pistol were found in a nearby hangar where the fugitive apparently had been hiding.
The search, which cost
nearly $1.5 million a day according to one analysis, exacted a steep toll on the Poconos, which
has not recovered from the Bush Recession. Deer hunting was called off
in several Pike and Monroe townships, schools in the vicinity of the
manhunt were closed, reopened and sometimes closed again, football games, Halloween
parades and other outdoor events were cancelled, and the tourist
industry took a big hit amidst one of the most beautiful displays
of fall foliage in years.
A PERSONAL NOTE
I was driven to Birchwood-Pocono Air Park, the abandoned airport near
Tannersville where Frein was apprehended, by a government insider turned
informant on my first visit to the Poconos in 1986. As an investigative
journalist, I was chasing down reports that the CIA was using the
disused airport, as well as other out-of-the-way airstrips in
Northeastern Pennsylvania, to fly in shipments of cocaine being sold in
New York and Philadelphia to raise money for the Contra rebels in
This was one of the extra-legal aspects of what became
known during the Reagan administraiton as the Iran-Contra Affair.
Despite over a year of digging, my colleagues and I never amassed enough evidence regarding the Poconos angle to justify writing a story. Whether it is established why Frein chose to be at a
particular state police barracks on a particular night as his victims
changed shifts remains to be seen.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK MAKELA/REUTERS
So -- was he avenging his sister or silencing someone who knew too much about his involvement with the clandestine coke shipments and might go public? Or perhaps protecting a secret cabal of gay state troopers? The Shadow knows! We'll just hafta wait & see if there are revenge take-outs of other notable principals in this saga.
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