VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 13   |   MARCH 30 – APRIL 5, 2011


Spur Cross phantom


spur crossYears ago, after Laura Cox was Mayor, she told me about the beginning of a novel she was writing. She wrote about a returning Vietnam veteran who accessed a hidden cave in Spur Cross Ranch using vines growing on a steep ridge and became a hermit there.

I regularly fly my airlight in that region, photographing animals from the air. While examining pictures I noticed a cave on the steep wall of a precipice. Were those human feet hanging out of the cave? I didn’t have enough resolution to know so I hiked up there but couldn’t see the cave.

I returned to the air and took closer photos and saw movement too. There was a ledge obscuring the mouth of the cave from the top of the ridge.

Aha! Was Laura prescient or was this a coincidence?

Not trusting the vines, I got a couple hundred feet of climbing rope, rappelled down the perpendicular slope and swung into the cave. The inhabitant leaped in total surprise.

After a grim discussion I managed to convince the “caveman” I would do him no harm and keep his secret.

Maybe the extended loneliness caused the tumble of words to pour out.

Let’s call him Steve. He went to Vietnam early and was captured in six months. He was a well trained Special Forces lieutenant but nothing could have prepared him for the creative torture he had to endure. Fearing insanity, he decided to escape or die trying.

At the first opportunity he did escape, while killing three Viet Cong with his bare hands.

His anger still burned and “gooks” were for killing is his mind. He vied for single man missions and he liked to kill, close and personal. He would creep up to sentries or Viet Cong soldiers, usually at night, clap his hand over their mouth and knife them.

Legends grew about the phantom killer and his knife handle could barely contain the notches he made in the wooden handle.

One night he volunteered to ambush a key sentry protecting a Viet Cong camp. He crept up, muzzled the sentry and ripped the sentry’s belly open. When the sentry dropped, cries from her unborn child pierced the silence.

Steve wasn’t prepared for this and raced to American lines while calling the other Special Forces men to invade the camp.

The event affected him deeply and he became even more solitary until it was noticed, evaluated and he received a section 8 discharge.

His ears still ring with the baby’s wailing even though the event happened nearly forty years ago and tears cascaded down his face as he told the story.

I have visited Steve for over a year now and we have become friends. I understand his pain but only he can resolve it. He has refused all entreaties to come and live at our house, but I keep trying.

So say a prayer for an American hero who cares too deeply and has given so much.