Montana forest still holds mystery of vanished militia organizer


    Montana forest still holds mystery of vanished militia organizer and notorious gunman David Burgert.

    The Lolo National Forest still holds a mystery after a fugitive with plans to assassinate law enforcement officials vanished without a trace.

    You'll hear more than one story on whatever happened to notorious gunman David Burgert.

    "Some people believe he died out there, others believe he made it over to Highway 12 in Idaho," said Patricia Larkin, who manages the Jack Saloon outside Lolo.

    Investigators say a number of scenarios could have played out after a shootout with Missoula County deputies in June of 2011.

    "Maybe one of our deputies did hit him," said Captain Anthony Rio of the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.

    "I certainly don't believe that Mr. Burgert is currently alive," said Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry.

    "People have found stashes of things in the forest," said Larkin.

    "Maybe he got with his girlfriend, they got into a car that we didn't even know about, and they drove out to I-90. That's another theory. To me it's as plausible as him taking his own life," said Rio.

    Nobody has seen or heard from Burgert since he opened fire on Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy Will Newsom and a trainee six years ago.

    "He started firing a handgun at Deputy Newsom as Deputy Newsom was coming up the hill. Both of our deputies engaged him. He was trying to get around to the backside of his vehicle, where he had stored several hunting rifles," said Rio.

    A strange police chase before the shootout started when people saw guns in Burgert's vehicle.

    "He came by here very, very slowly. There were people on the back porch. There were employees taking the trash out. He waved and smiled at everybody while he went by. He wasn't going fast," said Larkin.

    "They followed him right up to this spot on Wagon Mountain Road. Instead of having a shootout down there, he chose this spot up here," said Rio.

    Deputies believe Burgert picked his vantage point carefully -- the perfect spot for an ambush, drawing deputies up one side of a mountainside, with a quick, downhill escape route on the other.

    "Straight downhill. He knew the area. This drainage runs right back down to Petty Creek Road," said Rio.

    The possibility of a gunman hiding outside Lolo had community members arming themselves.

    "People were carrying guns and had shoot-on-sight orders," said Larkin.

    Burgert's confrontations with Montana law enforcement date back to 2002 in Flathead County, where he formed the Project 7 anti-government militia.

    "They did have a list of people they felt needed to be assassinated -- mainly local government officials, the sheriff, judges, prosecuting attorneys. I was on that list. They did have a large cache of weapons and ammunition, bomb-making materials, booby-trap materials," said Curry.

    While out on bond in Flathead County, Burgert went as far as to stage his own death.

    "He went down to the river and left a fishing pole and made it to look like he had fallen in the river and drowned," said Curry.

    Police said disguises may have been one of Burgert's tactics. He visited the Merle Norman Cosmetics and Wigs in Missoula before the shootout near Lolo.

    "He wanted information on wigs. I took him over to the wigs and explained what's available. He was curious about different lengths. He said he was looking for his girlfriend and she didn't want to come in," said store manager Sandy Rasmussen.

    Some say it's likely Burgert shot himself. Four cadaver dogs zeroed in on human remains on a ridge near the shootout, but questions remain there too. Investigators say metal detectors never turned up a gun, bullets or even the zipper of a jacket in the area.

    "Over the years, we have seen people pop up after 20 or 25 years. So, really, that's what we are looking for; some sort of break in this. If he is out there, that someone will recognize him. We'll get some sort of tip that we will be able to follow up on and then bring him to justice," said Rio.

    Investigators say tips continue to come in across the U.S. and Canada, but none have led officers to Burgert.

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