Canada

Notorious U.S. fugitive identified as P.E.I. man

More than a year after his death, a fugitive who evaded authorities in Nevada and California for months has finally been identified as a man from Prince Edward Island.

More than a year after his death, a fugitive who evaded authorities in Nevada and California for months has finally been identified as a man from Prince Edward Island.

RCMP used fingerprints supplied by U.S. authorities to identify the so-called "Ballarat Bandit" as George Robert Johnston, formerly of Charlottetown and the small rural community of Eldon, P.E.I.

Johnston, 50, killed himself in California's Death Valley in July 2004 when police cornered him.

His death marked the end of a crime spree that started in late 2002 with thefts from the sparsely populated community of Ballarat, Calif., and eventually prompted concerns over national security.

In 2004, law enforcement officials discovered weapons stockpiled in camps that the unidentified bandit had used and then abandoned, said Tony DeMateo, a sheriff in Nevada.

"He was in a very secure area. He was near a lot of military assets [and] that was the one-year anniversary of the war in Iraq," DeMateo said.

"He was near an area which is extremely top secret. We didn't know what we were dealing with, if it was a terrorist."

After Johnston killed himself, U.S. authorities spent 18 months trying to figure out who he was. Finally, they turned to RCMP, who matched his fingerprints.

During the months they spent chasing him down, some police officers developed a grudging respect for the elusive fugitive.

"Anybody that can run 60 miles across the desert in an overnight period, I would have loved to shake his hand and go, 'I don't know how you did it, but I'm amazed,' " said William Becht, who is also with the Nevada Sheriff's Department.

"You've got to admire his determination."

In P.E.I., Johnston was imprisoned in 1997 for growing marijuana. He was paroled in 1999 and later left Canada after an argument with his wife, according to the Associated Press.

Relatives on the Island had no comment this week on the news that he had been identified as the Ballarat Bandit.

Johnston was buried in an unmarked grave in San Bernardino, Calif.