Authorities today identified the charred body of fugitive tax evader Gordon W. Kahl as the gunman who died Friday night in a fierce shootout with police in this remote Ozark farm community.
State medical examiner Fahmy Malak said today that Kahl, who had vowed never to be taken alive, died from a single gunshot to the head moments before a tear gas barrage set fire to the concrete house he was using as a fortress. The fire detonated thousands of rounds of ammunition and dynamite, which could be heard and felt in the rolling hills for miles.
Kahl's body was taken to Little Rock where the medical examiner conducted an autopsy.
"I'm quite certain that's the man," Malak told reporters at a news conference. However, he said that he was waiting for Kahl's dental records to arrive from North Dakota.
A local sheriff, Gene Matthews, 38, who had been wounded once before in a shootout with drug dealers, was fatally shot as he stalked Kahl inside the house. Matthews fired back, killing the militant protester with one shot to the head.
Matthews died of loss of blood at a local hospital about three hours later, about 10 p.m. EDT, Malak said.
Matthews led several state and federal law officers into the house. Kahl, who was behind a refrigerator, shot Matthews with a rifle. Matthews shot Kahl almost simultaneously, the other officials said. Kahl's round ripped through Matthews' left arm and into his chest through a gap between the flaps of his bulletproof vest.
Matthews then ran outside, fell to the ground and crawled to the side of the house where he told other officers, "I got him. I got him."
Malak said that he identified Kahl from his general description, surgery scars, an old bullet fragment in his left hip and an oral description of Kahl's dental work provided by a daughter.
The gun battle ended the bloody saga of the 63-year-old Kahl, the retired farmer who espoused the anti-tax, survivalist beliefs of Posse Comitatus, a paramilitary group that opposes all federal authority. He had eluded a nationwide manhunt for four months, since fleeing after being indicted, with his son and an associate, in the murder of two U.S. marshals who tried to arrest him in North Dakota for a parole violation.
For several days a police plane circled over the woods and pastures around Kahl's hideout in the home of Leonard and Norma Ginter, fellow tax protesters. The Ginters, held without bond at an undisclosed jail, were charged with murder in connection with Matthews' death.
FBI agents, who tracked Kahl to this rugged outback near Smithville that contains pockets of sympathizers, closed in Friday after a resident confirmed where the fugitive was hiding.
More than 40 federal, state and local police surrounded the farmhouse after Leonard Ginter, who had a cocked pistol on his car seat, was stopped about 200 yards from the house and asked if Kahl was inside, police said. He said "no" and yelled for his wife to come out. They were arrested.
After Kahl shot Matthews, a fellow officer fired four rounds from a shotgun into the house, and police launched a fusilade of automatic-weapons fire and tear-gas bombs to flush Kahl out.
Gas grenades were dropped down an air vent, setting the fire. Moments later, Kahl's cache of ammunition erupted, exploding into the rainy night for almost two hours and keeping firemen and police at bay.
Cattle farmer Danny Bristow, 28, a Vietnam veteran who lives up the road about a mile, grabbed his shotgun and ordered his family to hit the deck. "At first I thought it was a marijuana raid because this area is a big marijuana growing area," he said, adding that he had feared that armed dope growers might flee toward his house.
"It sounded like the Fourth of July," his daughter, Sharonda, 7, said.
At the bunker-style farmhouse, still smoldering and hot as an oven, police today searched for evidence as neighbors hunted for mementos. C.L. Dixon, 65, a gray-haired lumber merchant who sold the Ginters building materials, shook his head at the charred rubble.
"I asked him Ginter why he was building a concrete house, and he said, 'The end of time is coming; the Bible is being fulfilled. But Russia is going to take over this country first.' Sounded peculiar to me," Dixon said.
"Most people in this county don't believe the way they did," said Steve Jones, a local bank president and friend of Matthews, spitting tobacco juice through the window of his pickup. "They believe you should go to work, pay your bills, pay your taxes, go home and leave everyone else alone."
One local farmer who asked not to be named said that he overheard officers relate how gasoline was poured on the house to fuel the fire. Police deny that charge.
"The fire was not intentionally set to burn him out," said Bob Johnson, Lawrence county's chief deputy on the scene. "We gave him a number of chances to surrender. It was war."
Pockmarked by bullets that bounced off its cinderblock walls, it was built into a hillside and painted blue. Only a ceramic Virgin Mary in the yard was unscathed.
Kahl had been arrested numerous times in his former hometown of Crane, Tex., for driving without a licence and refusing to register his car. He had been convicted in 1977 of evading income taxes and given a five-year suspended sentence. He had been charged with violating parole after disappearing four years later.
When federal marshals stopped Kahl after a tax protest meeting in Medina, N.D., to arrest him for breaking parole, five marshals were shot. Two, Kenneth Muir of Fargo and Robert Cheshire of Bismarck, died.