Convicted Killer Claude Dallas Goes Free
By Patrick Orr
24 years after deaths of two F&G officers, the West that Dallas knew has changed, but he remains a polarizing character.
Claude Dallas will walk out of prison Sunday into a different world. The infamous trapper/poacher who killed two Idaho Fish and Game officers in 1981 will find the American West is not such a hospitable place for a man who wants to live off the land. Open spaces are less open. Buckarooing and ranch jobs are scarce. Trapping isn't as lucrative.
He'll likely have to find a different life, and he'll have different rights - prohibited from carrying the weapons that were essential tools of his trade.
Dallas is now 54, a middle-aged man who has spent 22 years in a concrete and steel cell for killing officers Bill Pogue and Conley Elms after they confronted him for poaching game in the remote Owyhee canyonlands.
He'll be released in prison denims, carrying a check with his earnings from working in a prison print shop. The state is keeping the exact time and location of his release secret, but prison officials say he has arranged for someone to pick him up.
So What's Next?
The only person who really knows isn't talking. Dallas has never granted a jailhouse interview and politely declined - in a handwritten note - to talk to The Idaho Statesman about his release.
Friends of Dallas around the Paradise Valley/Paradise Hill area
- a remote northern Nevada ranching community and the closest thing
he had to a home base - are tightlipped. Most won't return phone
calls or hang up when reporters call. Those who will talk say they
have no idea what Dallas will do with his life.
Hero Or Psychopath: A Fierce Division
Mention the name Claude Dallas, and opinions come fast and furious. To many, Dallas is an unrepentant poacher and killer who couldn't live by society's rules. He is especially reviled by game wardens and the families of Pogue and Elms, who have declined to comment publicly since Dallas' parole hearing in 2001 but earlier called him a "snake," "a murdering bastard" and a "psychopath" who should never again be allowed to breathe free air.
To others, he was a hero who defended himself and a fading way of life when he shot Elms and Pogue. Fish and Game officials admit they're not happy about Dallas being released, but said they don't care to speculate about his fate.
"We look at it like this. We are taking this opportunity to
remember Pogue and Elms," said Jon Heggen, chief of enforcement
for Idaho Fish and Game. "Dallas has no legacy The legacy
rests with the families of Pogue and Elms, and the legacy rests
with all Fish and Game employees, and the legacy rests with the
critters Pogue and Elms protected. That is the real story here."
Bill Mauk, the Boise attorney who represented Dallas during his murder trial, thinks Dallas will leave Idaho for good after his release."Those who are most impassioned by this case tend to be in Idaho," Mauk said. "For the most part, his network connections were not in Idaho - they were in Nevada. I don't see any reason why he would stay here."
His Foremost Desire Is To Do Whatever He Does Quietly'
Mauk, who has recently exchanged letters with Dallas, said his former client is excited to be getting out of prison but didn't disclose his plans. Dallas' mother is still alive "back east," and he has a brother he might try to meet with, Mauk said."His foremost desire is to do whatever he does quietly, and not be the subject of public attention," he said. "He's like anyone coming out of prison for a long time - the most immediate thing he will be confronted with are basic issues like food, housing, transportation, clothing, a stable income."
Mauk said it would be difficult for Dallas to go back to his "mountain man" lifestyle, citing his age and health after two decades of relative inactivity in prison."It would be very difficult for anyone to live the lifestyle Claude lived in this age," he said. "Maybe in some of the more rural parts of Montana, Idaho, or Alaska..." Complicating matters will be his notoriety, which Dallas never wanted in the first place, Mauk said.
Dallas had devoted friends who supported and helped him while he evaded the law for 15 months after the killings. His story sparked a TV movie, a song and at least two books. The cult of personality grew during his 1982 murder trial, where national media shared the courtroom with a group of women who dubbed themselves the "Dallas Cheerleaders.""What has happened over the course of time is Claude Dallas has been unable to be the spokesperson for himself, so others have redefined what the case is all about," Mauk said. "I think Claude Dallas has the ability to build a life somewhere else, where people don't know who he is."
Old friend Jim Stevens, who runs a greenhouse in Paul, was visiting Dallas' camp the day Pogue and Elms dropped in. He was the only witness to their. deaths. Stevens said all he knows is that Dallas will enjoy his freedom and may try to reconnect with family."I hope he has a good life ... I wish him all the luck in the world," said Stevens, who has exchanged birthday cards with Dallas for years and would welcome a visit. "I assume he'll go back to California (where he was arrested in 1987 after escaping from prison) or something."
Old Ways Of Earning Cash Now Harder To Come By
For several years before the shootings Dallas often lived by himself in the northern Nevada wilderness, trapping and shooting animals for subsistence and income, without regard for game regulations.
Hanceford Clayton of Idaho Falls, vice president of the Idaho Trappers Association said Dallas would have a hard time making a living the way he used to, because the high price of gas and low prices for fur make it difficult to get by.
"Very few people make their living at trapping now it's like hunting. It's a hobby," Clayton said. "I just about break even on gas and the traps people steal."
But Diane Clark of Leadore, an Idaho representative to the National Trappers Association, said she believes Dallas could sustain himself by trapping, especially if he targets the bobcats near the Idaho/Nevada border. She and her husband, who are retired, make about $10,000 to $12,000 a year on trapping.
"For someone who didn't have lot of financial responsibilities, like Dallas, it would be possible to make a living at it," she said. Dallas spent some time in the 1970s as a cowboy/ranch hand, but opportunities in that field have dwindled, too.
"Right now, there isn't many jobs for cowboys," said Tom Hall, a longtime rancher from Bruneau. "When spring breaks there's a crew, but the jobs are all pretty well taken up.
"Things are done more mechanically now. You gotta be a truck driver. Straight-up cowboys just don't work much any more."
In the '70s, Dallas did a lot of odd jobs to make ends meet, including driving trucks and other ranch work. When he wasn't in the wilderness, he mostly lived in Paradise Hill, a small group of homes and trailers about 20 miles from Paradise Valley, Nee.
He has worked in a variety of prison jobs, most recently in the print shop of a Kansas prison. He worked on the loading dock and later helped operate the printing press, according to Kansas Department of Corrections reports.
Dallas spent most of his Idaho prison term in Nebraska, New Mexico and most recently Kansas after he escaped from the prison outside Boise in 1986. Last month, he was transferred to Orofino in preparation for his release.
Two Juries Believed
He Feared For His Life
His sentence was automatically reduced by a nowdefunct Idaho Department of Correction provision called "good time" that allowed prisoners to get out early. He lost a year of "good time" for escaping from prison, but got no additional penalty because a jury in his escape trial believed his claim that his life was in danger from vengeful prison guards.
Donna Diehl, a juror in his murder trial, said she thinks it's
time for Dallas to be freed.
"He has so many friends in Nevada, and in the wilderness," she said. About to become a free man, Dallas must shape a new life, Mauk said, noting that the man's fans and enemies see him based on their wants, not his. "To an extent, it's a mystery," he said. "Maybe he doesn't know who he is now - human beings cannot define themselves in isolation.
"The Claude Dallas of today is yet to be defined. That can only be defined over the course of time."
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