Alleged killer dodges manhunt by hiding in cabins, vacation homes
Suspected killer Aaron Bassler has managed to stay one step ahead of law enforcement by breaking into vacation homes and hunting cabins dotting the tangled Northern California wilderness, a development underscored by a new photo released that shows him holding an assault rifle and forcing his way into a window.
That's according to Mendocino Sheriff's Capt. Kurt Smallcomb, who urged area residents to remain on high alert until Bassler is captured. "Folks have to remain vigilant if they live in the rural areas where the search perimeter is," he told the The Times on Tuesday. "If they see anything, if they notice someone who may be trespassing or matches the description, then [calling] 911 is their best bet."
A manhunt for Bassler, 35, has been underway in the Fort Bragg area since the Aug. 27 killing of City Councilman Jere Melo, a former mayor.
At first the killing seemed to be drug related. Merlo and a colleague were in the woods tracking a water line that they believed was irrigating a marijuana field. Now, however, authorities believe they crossed paths with Bassler, who opened fire. Bassler faces murder and attempted murder charges in that incident.
During the search for Bassler, authorities say they have discovered evidence possibly linking Bassler to the Aug. 11 shooting death of conservationist Matthew Coleman.
Bassler's father said he believes his son suffers from schizophrenia and paranoid delusions, and has a documented history of bizarre behavior. Jim Bassler said he has tried numerous times get his son help, citing fears for his son's safety as well as the public's. He recently told The Times that his son's symptoms emerged at age 19 -- when he also began drinking and using drugs -- and took shape as "paranoia and really strongly held delusions, but if you confronted him you got nowhere."
Authorities have come close in their search for Bassler, but new evidence released this week suggests that he dodged law enforcement in part by breaking into vacation homes and hunting cabins for shelter and sustenance. Law enforcement officials have been using security cameras to try to catch a glimpse of him.
The roughly 400-square-mile search area stretches from the Humboldt County line south to Highway 20, and west from Fort Bragg to Willits. Smallcomb would not say precisely where the image was captured, and described its timing only as "recent."
Asked to describe the current status of the search, Smallcomb said, "Every day is a good day .... We have no reason to believe he is out of the search area." He added, "I will be very happy when everyone comes home safe ... and we can allow this to play out in the courts."
-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch
Photo: Authorities believe this is Aaron Bassler breaking into a vacation home in the Fort Bragg area. Credit: Mendocino County Sheriff's Department