An escapee whom his pursuers nicknamed "Rambo" eluded hundreds of officers through the forests of Northern Arizona and enjoyed leaving behind notes and messages to his pursuers. A massive manhunt took many twists and turns throughout Northern Arizona in 1992. The man authorities were looking for was the elusive and cunning Danny Ray Horning.
Our story begins on September 20, 1990 just outside of Stockton, California when Mark Lawson was fishing in the San Joaquin River. Lawson fished out a bag that contained a human leg. Over the next few days, authorities fished out bags of other body parts including two arms held together at the wrists with duct tape.
The body belonged to Sammy McCullough who was a fish farmer and reported marijuana dealer who kept large amounts of cash at his home.
The evidence in the case pointed to Danny Ray Horning, a man who was released from prison in June of 1990.
Horning made his way to Winslow Arizona on March 22, 1991 armed with a 9mm handgun. He robbed a bank, taking $25,000. As he was leaving the bank with a hostage, he was confronted by a police officer who captured him. Horning said, "He would have blown the cop away if he had the opportunity."
Horning was convicted of this crime and during his prison time admitted to the murder in California saying, "He killed a drug dealer, no big loss." Since Horning was already sentenced to four life terms for the bank robbery, California didn't have him extradited for the murder of McCullough.
On May 12, 1992, Horning walked out of the state prison in Florence dressed in a lab coat. He evaded the dogs and helicopters and made it all the way to the forests around Winslow, an area he explored as a youth.
"Rambo" on the run:
Horning was compared to the fictional character "John Rambo" who like Horning used his military skills to survive in the forest and elude his pursuers. Horning who spent 11 months in the Army Reconnaissance walked in circles and figure eights in an effort to mislead the bloodhounds searching for him. He survived by eating cacti and other plants.
As Horning slipped roadblocks and evaded the posse, he would occasionally break into unoccupied cabins, stealing food and supplies. He would also leave behind notes and audio recordings. In his notes and recordings he thanked the cabin owners and taunted his pursuers by writing, "Thanks for the use of your home! You can tell the cops to send my backpack to my folks house and stop following me."
Close, but no cigar:
On June 25, Horning kidnapped a Flagstaff couple in the parking lot of a western wear store and forced them to drive him to the Grand Canyon. During the drive Horning told his captives that he wanted to kidnap a family with small children and force authorities to pay him a $1 million ransom and release his brother from jail.
After spending the night in a lodge, Horning made an audio tape with his ransom demands saying he "would just blow away half the hostages and go on from there." Horning then tried to make good on his threat by trying to kidnap a family. However, one of the family members escaped and alerted a park ranger. The park ranger spotted the group and Horning forced the couple to drive into the forest as he fired shots at the ranger through the back window of the truck. He left the couple handcuffed in the truck with a note, apologizing for his actions, as he set off again on foot.
On June 29, Horning tried to carjack another couple, but while the couple escaped, Horning got himself another set of wheels.
The Grand Canyon escape:
Horning made his way into the Grand Canyon National Park on foot and with law enforcement closing in, he decided it was time to leave the canyon. He planned his escape for Independence Day 1992 when he entered the rental car of two female tourists from England. He threatened to shoot the gas tank of the car if they didn't assist in getting him past the roadblocks at all the canyon exits. Horning and the ladies drove out of the park undetected. He left the two unharmed, but tied to a tree as he stole their car.
While traveling south on Interstate 17 near Flagstaff, Horning passed a highway patrol officer, shooting at him as he drove by at 100 miles per hour. The officer returned fire and Horning crashed the car and once again was forced to escape on foot.
"It was really a fun chase."
In two days Horning made his way down to the Sedona area when on July 6 Sedona resident Jo Ann Campbell spotted Horning drinking out of her outside water faucet. She said, "When he stood up I knew it was him." She contacted authorities who once again brought in the bloodhounds to track Horning. This time Horning's luck ran out, as his two month evasion of authorities ended and he was captured telling Coconino Sheriff Joe Richards, "It was really a fun chase" and that he enjoyed it.
Horning's chattiness didn't end there, when his charges were read to him by Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Coker, Horning asked him,"Can you repeat all that? I might have missed one your dotted 'I's' or crossed 'T's'."
Horning was given a $2 million bond, to which Horning responded by saying, "Can I have 24 hours on the streets to come up with $2 million?"
Horning was eventually extradited to California where he was tried and convicted for the murder of Sammy McCullough. He now sits on California's death row.