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Riding Route 66

4/10/02


Bushwhacked!

It looks like a local man was lured out to a remote, abandoned gold mine in some rough country south of Oatman on Tuesday, April 2nd, and ambushed. Stanley John Alecksynas, 56, known locally as "Barf", was reported missing that night by his wife.


Thousand-foot high buttes and rough canyons south of Oatman

The Oatman Fire Department was the first responder at about 9:30 p.m., with Chief Vas Naiker and Firefighter Brad Blake aboard the department's four-wheel-drive desert fire engine, CAF661. Barf's wife told them he had arranged to meet someone called "Steve" at the Iowa mine, an old claim they had an interest in. He'd headed out on his quad in the morning, failed to show up at his shop at noon, and was still missing.

The Iowa mine is 2.5 miles off Route 66, high up on a steep, rocky ridge above a dry gulch called Iowa Canyon. It was first located in 1902, and developed with a 200-foot shaft. The ore was rich enough to be mined profitably at times, but the mine hasn't seen much activity since the early days.
 
 

Even in the daylight, it's a spooky place:
 
 


Spray-painted on the rock face near the headframe: "You are being watched. Treaspassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again".
After advising the Sheriff's office of the situation in progress, the engine started up the trail to the mine. Barf's wife rode along, since she was familiar with the area. The jeep trail gets rough as it gets further into the canyon. It was slow going in the dark, the fire engine rocking and bouncing along the trail in low gear.

Brad stood out of the passenger-side window, using the P.A. and a Q-beam searchlight. Vas stopped the rig at dry wash crossings to check the tracks in the trail.

In the last half mile there were tracks of two ATVs - then one turned off the trail and continued up the wash at the bottom of the canyon. The other track headed up the switchbacks climbing the face of the ridge to the mine.

It was a moonless, starry night, pitch dark, with only a pool of light on the trail from the headlights, and the roving spot of the Q-beam sweeping over the flank of the ridge. The engine worked its way up and around the switchbacks. As it rode up and over the top of the trail, Barf's orange quad appeared in the headlights, parked right next to the shaft and headframe. The keys were in the ignition, and some papers and other effects were still secured in the rear basket, undisturbed.

It seemed likely Barf had met with an accident - snakebite, broken ankle or the like. The mine shaft next to the quad was wide open, so Brad shined the Q-beam down into it. About 70 feet down, there was a lattice of broken boards and a fallen ladder. No body.

A shallow tunnel in the hillside below the shaft was entered and checked. Barf's wife said he was in the habit of climbing to the top of the ridge, to a lookout on the right, so that area was checked. The search was quick and limited to avoid tracking up the area before the sheriff's Search and Rescue (SAR) trackers could get to work on it. So with the subject's vehicle located, CAF661 headed back out to the pavement to coordinate a thorough search with incoming units.

Back on 66, a sheriff's sergeant was already on scene. The SAR team arrived in two four-wheel-drive trucks about half past midnight. They conducted interviews and gathered information before heading in for the search.

Knowing where the firefighters had already looked, the SAR trackers made quick work. They located the body at about 1:40 a.m. It looks like Barf was walked away from his quad, to the top of the ridge and off to the left, then shot in the head. The firefighters had searched within 20 feet of the body without seeing it in the dark.

The Posse

So who done it, and why? Barf was well-liked around Oatman. He was a good-natured biker, about 6-foot-3 and lean as a whip, with gray hair and a long gray beard, a black leather jacket and a baseball cap. He and his wife were living on another mining claim a few miles out in the desert, with a hybrid wolf as a pet, and each day he rode his Sportster into town to open his shop, the Oatman Gold Exchange.

But by the looks of it, this was a revenge killing and a statement to survivors. The victim's personal effects were intact. The quad was left where it would quickly lead searchers to the body, when it could easily have been moved miles away.

Oatman has been boiling over with theories and free-for-all speculation. Dark rumors are abounding, featuring ancient biker wars, meth cookers, and shady deals gone awry. There's the tale of a vindictive transvestite trader in stolen mining equipment, just out of jail, and there's loose talk about people selling claims they don't own. Well, this is Oatman - take yer pick of the tales, or believe 'em all, or make up your own. The more original - and sensational - the better.

Meanwhile, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) has to come up with the real facts of the case. But when the Iowa Mine killing occurred, MCSO was already occupied in the pursuit of a suspect on the run in northern California after a shooting in Desert Hills March 30th. Two homicides in four days, in a county which might see six killings a year, has the posse a little spread out.

Even so, lawmen usually take it as a particular insult when a blood feud is imported to their turf, and bushwhackers tend to have a very short life expectancy in the wide open spaces. The sheriff's officers are keeping their mouths clamped on this one - no new information has been released in almost a week.

Hellhounds are most grim and quiet when they're on a hot trail. They'll get to the end of this one, and I bet it'll be interesting - maybe even more interesting than all the gin mill chatter. We'll see.

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joe@gazette9.com

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