SYDNEY (AP) – Australia’s most wanted man, who eluded capture for seven years by hiding in dense forests, was captured and charged with murder Thursday, ending a frustrating and at times violent hunt, police said.
Malcolm Naden was heavily bearded, barefoot and wearing muddy clothes when New South Wales police found him just after midnight at a remote house near the town of Gloucester, about 260 kilometers (160 miles) north of Sydney. The former slaughterhouse worker has been charged with the 2005 strangling death of a cousin and other violent crimes.
A police dog bit Naden in the raid, which was prompted by a tip. Police found a loaded semiautomatic rifle on the property but said no shots were fired during the arrest.
About 50 officers had been searching for Naden around the clock since December, when police say he shot and wounded an officer during a raid at a campsite.
“Australia’s most wanted man is behind bars,” New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said. He called Naden a “master bushman,” an Australian term for a wilderness survival expert.
“He has been in this area for a number of years. He knows it better than the back of his hand,” Scipione said.
Naden was taken to a hospital under heavy guard for treatment of the leg wound. The 38-year-old said nothing to reporters as he shuffled, feet shackled and face covered, into a police van after being released from the hospital.
He vanished from the home he shared with his grandparents near the rural city of Dubbo in 2005, shortly after his 24-year-old cousin, Kristy Scholes, was strangled in a bedroom of the house. He quickly became a suspect in the killing and officials, aware of his sharp survival skills, believed he was hiding out somewhere in a vast stretch of unforgiving and heavily forested terrain.
Gloucester, where Naden was found, is about 450 kilometers (280 miles) east of Dubbo.
He was charged with murder in connection with Scholes’ death, two counts of aggravated indecent assault related to a 2004 attack on a teen, and shooting with intent to murder in relation to the police officer shooting in December.
Naden is also a suspect in the disappearance of his cousin Lateesha Nolan. Her father, Mick Peet, said a detective called him around 2 a.m. and said, “We’ve got him.”
Peet’s four children, roused from their sleep by the ringing phone, ran into his room and joined him in jumping around “like we won the lottery,” he said.
“It made me go all weak in the knees and I just thought, ‘I hope he’s alive, first up, because I need him alive to answer questions,'” Peet told The Associated Press. “You can always imagine what might have happened to her, but you’d never know until you get the answers.”
Naden’s lawyer, Michael Jones, did not apply for bail. The case was adjourned until April 24.
“He’s in reasonable health but he’s very tired,” Jones said outside court. “He’s got serious bite marks on both legs inflicted by police dogs at the time of his arrest. Other than that, that’s all I can say.”
New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell praised the police for their work.
“While it may have taken longer than everyone hoped … this arrest shows that the New South Wales Police Force always gets their man,” he said.
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