|Memories of Tragedy and Trial|
By: M. Shaw
District Conservation Officer Gary Loveland of the Idaho Fish and Game Department termed the Dallas trial "a media circus" and after twenty years the media continues to portray Dallas as a folk hero and legend. Those who perceived Dallas as a hero failed to examine his behavior during his cowboy and mountain man/trapper days.
The behaviors Claude Dallas exhibited in those "close to the land" days lead to the murders of Officers Pogue and Elms. Jack Olsen, for his book "Give a Boy a Gun" interviewed cowboys and others Dallas had known for years before the murders. His cowboy "hero" days were fraught with cruelty to animals and poaching activities. All those Olsen interviewed had stories about Dallas' poaching.... always poaching. Not the stuff cowboy heroes are made of.
According to Olsen's informants Dallas was noted for having sledge hammered a stallion; punched cows in the nose when he lost his temper; knocked out a Labrador retriever; and had to be physically pulled off a cow he was beating with a 2 x 4 before he killed it. Olsen found that trappers were afraid of Dallas, that he enjoyed killing, was known for removing traps of other trappers and illegally baited traps that killed everything indiscriminately, including eagles. After taking wildlife Dallas would discard it, waste it. Dallas, according to Olsen, was infamous amongst trappers in numerous states for illegally poaching bobcats, cougars, sheep, mustangs and deer.
Movie scripts and an adoring ballad by Ian Tyson to pen contend, "Dallas lived by the laws of nature; not the laws of man" never noting that conservation laws are written to aid the laws of nature in preserving wildlife and its habitat against the excesses of man and blatant human greed. Dallas was known to trap out a whole area and move on. His killing was that of an indiscriminant predator, observing no law of nature or of man.
In the winter of 1980 Dallas had set up his trapping camp in Bull Basin, Idaho, three miles from the Nevada border using a "home" address in nearby Paradise Hill, Nevada. The Bureau of Land Management had leased Bull Basin to the Carlin's 45 Ranch as wintering ground for their cattle. To set up his winter trapping camp, "Dallas had moved the 45 ranch cattle out of their leased ground and shut the gates thus denying the 45's cattle access to water.
You don't do that in Idaho," stated Tim Nettleton, now retired from the Owyhee County Sheriff's Department. "Dallas thought the laws didn't apply to him and he always blamed someone else when things went wrong. His father raised him in Ohio and taught him to shoot geese for sale. He kept doing that long after market hunting was illegal."
According to Nettleton, "Ten days before the murders, Eddy Carlin checked Dallas out. He noted two illegal bobcat hides in Dallas' camp as well as poached deer. Carlin mentioned to Dallas that Idaho Fish and Game would check the area out. While ranchers might have a blind eye for one deer for food hunted out of season they do not have a blind eye to a lot of killing. Dallas had retorted, "I'll be ready for them."*
Eddy Carlin's meeting with Dallas had made him uneasy. According to Jerry Thiessen, retired State Game Manager, "Dallas had advised Carlin that he settles his business with a gun. Dallas was polite but his intimidating tactics to scared the heck out of anybody."
Don and Eddy Carlin of the 45 ranch had also noted other trappers illegally poaching sage grouse on the 45's leased land. They rode to a nearby Indian reservation to use the telephone and phoned CO Bill Pogue at home. They registered a complaint about the sage grouse poachers, but not Claude Dallas.
COs Bill Pogue and Conley Elms responded to the public complaint. They left their homes at night to drive to the Owyhee Mountains. According to Jerry Thiessen, " they had a few hours sleep in the Fish and Game truck and showed up at the 45 early in the morning" of January 5.
When they were about to leave Carlin's ranch, Eddy Carlin's wife mentioned about the guy at Bull Camp. At that point Eddy could not avoid it and advised the officers about Dallas. Carlin warned them to be careful and that he didn't trust Dallas.
They looked after the sage grouse poachers first and met Claude Dallas by the rim above the camp in the afternoon. They had had a lot of distance to cover in the remote area." "In my opinion," stated Tim Nettleton, when Dallas met Pogue on the rim he made the decision to shoot him." Judge Edward Lodge arrived at the same conclusion in his judgment of Dallas.
Witness, Jim Stevens, testified Claude Dallas had said, "I could have taken them on the rim but they would have killed me up there."* The judge spoke of Dallas' "premeditation"* and "thinking about the situation"* and time to think about what he would do as they had descended to Bull Basin Camp from the rim.
Dallas had attempted to convince the jury at his trial that the officers were a threat to him from the rim. He had testified CO Pogue advised him they were there to investigate a complaint about illegal bobcats. Dallas confessed to having deer meat, but not bobcats. Dallas testified that CO Pogue had gone to the Fish and Game truck and retrieved handcuffs and a backpack for the descent to the camp. Dallas made a specific point about handcuffs being taken out of the truck at the rim, implying CO Bill Pogue was threatening him and was expressing an attitude which implied he intended to do Dallas harm.*
Dallas also testified that at the rim when CO Elms reached inside his Fish and Game coat, Dallas saw Elms' shoulder holster, implying that CO Conley Elms was threatening him too.* "I think," said Tim Nettleton, "that Conley Elms had a sweater over his shoulder holster. His shoulder holster would have been completely concealed."
Pictures of CO Elms revealed that in the winter he wore sweaters over his shoulder holster, under his large Fish and Game coat and law enforcement verified that Elms did not use his gun and kept it covered up. Elms, "a big, kind guy", was known for his negotiating skills with violators rather than his gun. To suggest that he had threatened anyone was completely out character.
At his trial, Dallas testified that CO Pogue requested to see his .22 trap pistol but never requested the gun Dallas claimed "bulged"* under his coat and would have been "clearly visible"* to CO Pogue. "His intent", mentioned Jerry Thiessen," was to imply CO Pogue was wanting a gun fight with him."
This suggestion by Dallas was completely out of Pogue's character as well. CO Pogue was a veteran law enforcement officer. He had been a police officer and the Police Chief of Winnemucca before becoming a Fish and Game officer. The likelihood of a veteran law enforcement officer disregarding officer safety precautions for both himself and his partner by ignoring a "clearly visible" weapon is not likely.
Picking gun fights is not what conservation officers are about. Their purpose as law enforcement officials is to encourage conservation of wildlife, protect wildlife and to have offenders in violation of wildlife laws address their offences. It was apparent to Judge Lodge, in his judgment, that CO Pogue believed Claude Dallas had been disarmed.*
"I believe that there were three guns on Dallas," stated Tim Nettleton. "Pogue checked and unloaded the one on Dallas' hip holster and the one in his shoulder. Dallas reholstered those weapons when he checked the mules after the murders. You better believe we checked out the mule area. The third revolver was hidden in the small of his back."
The two Idaho Fish and Game officers had caught Claude Dallas red-handed in possession of two illegally trapped bobcats and by his own confession, at trial, "three hundred pounds"* of deer meat from deer illegally hunted out of season.
In recreating the crime Tim Nettleton noted, "Conley Elms had entered Dallas' tent to get the bobcat hides. He had the hides in his hands and was coming out of the tent. We figure Pogue looked at the hides that Elms held, giving Dallas a chance to draw the weapon from the small of his back and start shooting at Pogue.
In the time frame of four to six seconds Claude Dallas put two bullets in Pogue and two in Elms with a .357 Ruger Service Six. Elms, not having time to get his weapon, had dropped the hides and ducked when Dallas shot him." When both officers were down and helpless, Claude Dallas walked into his tent, picked up a .22 Marlin, returned and shot both officers in the head behind the ear execution style. This is also the method a trapper uses to kill their quarry.
There was only one witness to Dallas' murderous rampage, Jim Stevens, a man who had brought the mountain man supplies and mail from Nevada. Stevens provided the best evidence of Dallas' guilt of the crime of murder in the first degree. He had asked Claude Dallas why he had killed the officers. Dallas had replied, "I swore I'd never be arrested again. They were gonna handcuff me."* He had also stated to Stevens, "This is murder one for me." Dallas said in further acknowledging he knew what he was guilty of .........murder.
However, these quotes by Stevens appeared to get lost on the jury in his subsequent testimony. It was not lost on Judge Lodge in his sentencing.
Following the murders Dallas fled to avoid prosecution. Nevada bar owner, George Nielson provided him with money and supplies. The media and songwriters had a field day glorifying his cowboy background, his "independent trapper, mountain man" image. It portrayed Dallas as living off the land in the mountains and avoiding law enforcement by sheer guile.
When speaking of Dallas' escape after the Pogue/Elms murders, Tim Nettleton says, "My personal opinion was that Claude Dallas was helped by his family all along. During his escape he went from here to South Dakota, Texas and with his brothers to California." Sheriff Nettleton brought Claude Dallas back to Idaho after his shoot-out with the FBI and capture in Nevada on April 18, 1982.
The legal and media circus began anew. Dallas's lawyers had him moved from Owyhee County Jail to Caldwell, Idaho. They had claimed Dallas would not get a "fair trial" in Owyhee County.
The trial finally began September 15, 1982. Claude Dallas pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder in the first degree. The prosecution claimed Claude Dallas was guilty of murders in the first degree due to the fact that Conley Elms was shot in the back and both officers had been shot in the head, execution style, when they were already down and helpless. His method of killing obviously did not indicate that self-defense was a motive for the crimes.
In order to obtain some of Claude Dallas' background and an idea of the evidence the prosecution had had against him for his trial, I asked Tim Nettleton if Claude Dallas had been involved in the illegal wildlife trade with George Nielson in Nevada. Nettleton laughed and said, "that wouldn't surprise me. He was shooting antelope for illegal Mexicans." Dallas had also poached wildlife in Canada. Evidence of this was collected under search warrant at his home in Paradise Hill, Nevada.
Nettleton says, " Claude and one of his brothers and Jim Nielson had been in Canada and floated the Yukon River. Dallas got out a mile and a half from the border crossing and brought his backpack and weapons (contraband in Canada) around the checkpoint while his brother and Nielsen cleared Customs. Dallas had pictures of heads and horns of sheep he had killed and brought back."
He returned to the United States with his poached sheep, avoiding U.S. Customs the same way. Claude Dallas was not unknown in Canada. At one time during his escape he was rumored to be heading to Alberta. His wanted posters were all over Canadian law enforcement offices. Conservation Officer Daniel Boyco of Alberta remembered a time when, "there wasn't a conservation officer in the province who hadn't burned his face to memory."
"I even had a statement from a rancher," said Tim Nettleton, "that Dallas had tangled with a game warden who cited him for tag trap violations. Dallas paid the fine. Then, Dallas told the rancher, that if the warden (CO Dale Elliot of Nevada) "wasn't your friend, he'd be a dead man now."
At the trial, according to Officer Loveland, "The prosecuting attorney was new. He'd never prosecuted a murder trial before." Rules of Criminal Procedure prevented the presentation of evidence of Dallas' past. The jury was not permitted to know about Dallas' previous criminal record, history of poaching, sharpshooting and quick-draw practices on targets representing humans, his anti-government sentiments, nor the many pictures of poached animals in his possession. The jury was not permitted to know anything about the dark side of Dallas until after they pronounced their verdict.
Then the prosecution could enter it into the court record before the judge delivered his sentence. Therefore, none of the evidence collected under search warrant from Dallas' residence, previous threats to wardens, game citations, previous run-ins with conservation officers, or his reading material, which was noted by CO Gary Loveland as being "Soldier of Fortune and articles about How to Shoot Someone" could be shown to the jury.
According to Gary Loveland, "the defense even claimed Claude Dallas did not have a record." His lawyers even lied to the court. But under the rules of evidence the prosecution still could not introduce his record. It was made to sound as though the murders were Dallas' first offenses.
In spite of his stated motive to avoid arrest Dallas' claimed that CO Bill Pogue had shot first. The key witness, Jim Stevens, had been terrorized by Dallas after the murders and had feared for his own life. Dallas had made him an unwilling accomplice to removing the officer's bodies from the crime scene, and Dallas had attempted to remove evidence by burning the crime scene at the camp.
During his testimony Claude Dallas had repeated several times that CO Bill Pogue had said to him, "You can go easy or you can go hard. Makes no difference to me." * Dallas asked the court to believe his interpretation of "going hard" was that CO Pogue intended to kill him! That line Dallas attributed to Bill Pogue was not one law enforcement officers who worked with CO Pogue had heard him use before, according to Gary Loveland. Its universal interpretation by officers is that Dallas could confess to his crimes - the easy way - or they could go through the process of interrogation, arrest and trial - the hard way.
Claude Dallas took the hard way. He did not want the conservation officers entering his trapping tent. It was his home, he claimed. As we have already seen, it was the location of the illegal bobcat hides. He demanded to see a search warrant for a tent he'd placed on the leased land. It was obvious Dallas did not co-operate with the conservation officers. The facts are incontrovertible. He was in violation of wildlife laws no matter how he explained his possession of the bobcat hides, taken illegally in Idaho or transported illegally from Nevada.
"He had to go to town, " stated Jerry Thiessen, "He was a non-resident caught inside the state boundary at a time before states had agreements as they do today." "Dallas was in violation of Idaho Game laws and he'd have to go to town to address it, " stated Gary Loveland. "Dallas was resisting going to town. All law enforcement uses phrases to attempt to convince an offender to try to settle down."
Another interpretation of the "You can go easy" is that the choice of how Dallas was to go to town to settle it was up to him. He could go peacefully with the officers or he could be arrested, handcuffed and taken by the officers.
Claude Dallas' testimony lost all credibility when he said he did not know where he'd buried the officer's guns. If true Dallas had destroyed evidence that could have corroborated his story by providing proof that Pogue had fired his weapon. Given his keen memory of other places and events his forgetting the burial place of such important evidence is highly suspicious.
"The trial turned into a media circus," stated Gary Loveland. Dallas' friends came forward to testify to his character. "With the media there the judge wanted to make very sure Dallas got a "fair" trial. The court allowed Bill Pogue's character to be put on trial. The judge was liberal in letting the defense introduce witnesses to supposed events that didn't happen. Although Pogue dealt with people fairly and politely anyone with an axe to grind with him showed up to testify.
The incidents testified to never happened. They just filled the court with misinformation. One witness even testified to a run in with Bill Pogue and I was the officer that person had spoken to not Pogue. Bill Pogue was an excellent officer, a very professional officer who remained so when confronting people who were in violation."
Contributing to the outside influences on the jury's decision had been Claude Dallas himself. He had arrived in court as a celebrity of sorts, a folk hero manufactured by the media. The Dallas fan club, according to Jerry Thiessen, had been at his trial. The fan club consisted of women who did not know Claude Dallas personally but were called the "Dallas Cheerleaders." Thiessen says of Dallas,
"The guy had charisma - the way he carried himself - one could almost disbelieve anything others said against him. Dallas had a psychological effect. He flirted with the jury. He flirted with his fan club. Dallas had an aura about him. He was a damned fine actor who had an excellent attorney who knew how to tilt perspective enough to bring out the heart throb reaction." He continued, "
The circumstances of the whole trial were different and cruel in that setting especially when Bill was put on trial as a bully game warden. It was all fabricated. He was always polite and to the point. He was a well-respected conservation officer and a leader. He was dedicated and never watched the clock when it came to wildlife he cared about. He drove all night when he heard about the sage grouse being poached. He was an ornithologist and drew pictures of birds. He had a kind heart and a real soft spot for children. He just wasn't prepared for.................He spent his life doing things that were important to do."
Unfortunately, CO Bill Pogue and CO Conley Elms had attempted to enforce wildlife law on a man who had no concept of conservation and appeared to think all wildlife was there for his killing. It was CO Gary Loveland's opinion that Claude Dallas was convicted on two counts of manslaughter and not murder one because, "The jury didn't do their job." This appeared to be verified by Judge Lodge.
Retired State Game Manager Jerry Thiessen concluded that the cost of two separate trials for Claude Dallas, one for each murder, had prevented the charges of murder one from being heard separately by the court. Economics had taken a toll on justice. "The way they brought the charges to court had the charges of both murders linked. In my view, there is no way that, if they'd heard two separate trials of murder one, that Conley Elms' murder would have been determined to be manslaughter. His arms were full of illegal bobcat hides. He was fired on. He was not threatening.
By virtue of hearing both charges together, both charges were reduced to manslaughter verdicts." Claude Dallas was sentenced to 30 years in the Idaho State Penitentiary. His parole is subject to the discretion of the Idaho Parole Board after he served ten years minimum for the killing of each officer. An appeal to the Supreme Court of Idaho affirmed the lower court's ruling.
When Claude Dallas escaped Idaho State Penitentiary, he again claimed law enforcement was trying to kill him, and was sent to a Kansas Corrections facility. On April 26, 2001, Claude Lafayette Dallas Jr. will have a parole hearing before the Idaho State Parole Commission. Tim Nettleton reminded me, "Parole is a priviledge based on good behavior. One has to earn the right." According to Tom Woodward's article in the Idaho Statesman, March 18, Dallas has committed, "18 disciplinary violations since 1997."
Remorse is also a condition of early release. Claude Dallas has never shown remorse for the killings of two Idaho Fish and Game officers. Public opinion runs high that Claude Dallas should not be released and that he has not served enough time on his thirty-year sentence.
As Jerry Thiessen says, "There really is no restitution for murders which makes it damned sad and a damned shame. You can't fix the injustice of murder or the mistreatment of the good names of two officers who lost their lives, who were upstanding citizens with love of family and appreciation for values and ethics which can be endorsed by all of us."
When defendants have rights over and above the rights of victims and their families there is no equality under the law.
In tribute to CO Bill Pogue and CO Conley Elms who were killed in the line of duty, January 5, 1981.
Sources: * all small quotes from court testimony noted, comes from Jack Olsen's book, "Give a Boy a Gun".
Special thanks to:
Sheriff Tim Nettleton, retired