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Tuesday, March 3, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Mountain Man' Captured In Hills Near Darrington

Seattle Times Snohomish County Bureau

For years, people in the Darrington area have known about an older man who lived alone on Whitehorse Mountain.

He occasionally would come down off the mountain, break into a few homes and go back up. Exactly where he lived, and how he lived, nobody knew.

He was known only as the "Mountain Man."

Now, two months after hiring a retired Border Patrol agent as a tracker, Snohomish County sheriff's deputies say they have their man - a 68-year-old former Bulgarian police officer, murder convict and escapee.

Mincio Vasilev Donciev was arrested after authorities were alerted by U.S. Forest Service sensors that had been deployed to help catch him.

"That's going to make me feel a lot better about taking the grandkids out there," said Marsha Chowning, whose parents bought a cabin in the area in 1948. It has been burglarized many times in the past 10 years, she said.

Donciev is under armed guard at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after his arrest Sunday night by Snohomish County sheriff's deputies.

They were waiting for Donciev after being tipped off by the electronic sensors that he was on his way down the mountain.

Donciev, armed with three knives and two handguns, was severely bitten by a police dog after he resisted arrest, authorities said.

Harborview spokesman Larry Zalin said Donciev was in satisfactory condition with severe bites to both legs.

He tried to hit the police dog, Yukon, several times with a

stick, said sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen.

"That's just like trying to hit a deputy," she said.

She said the sheriff's department was aware of parts of Donciev's background because he had been arrested in King County in the mid-1980s for investigation of possession of incendiary devices.

Late last year, through the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, they also learned he was convicted of attempted murder in Bulgaria in 1954, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1966 and then escaped.

It was not clear yesterday whether Donciev is still wanted in Bulgaria; other details of his background were not immediately available, Jorgensen said.

Although he is accused of committing a string of burglaries in the Darrington area, he was selective about the items he stole, Jorgensen said.

Based on fingerprints and other evidence, he is under investigation in more than 60 break-ins over the past seven years in an area 4 to 5 miles southwest of Darrington, Jorgensen said.

When arrested, Donciev was wearing a long, green raincoat and high-topped rubber boots, clothing that matched items reported stolen in burglaries, Jorgensen said.

About two months ago, the Sheriff's Office hired a professional tracker named Joel Hardin to help locate the suspect. Hardin was able to pinpoint trails he thought the suspect was using. The sheriff's office then placed sensors, borrowed from the U.S. Forest Service, along the trails.

Hardin, who figures he spent about 100 hours tracking the suspect, had mixed emotions about the capture.

"I'm glad he's in custody," he said, "but I would like to have tracked him to his home. This was a real challenge to our tracking skills."

Residents of the Stillaquamish Country Club are relieved that an arrest has been made, especially since the break-ins have been going on since 1991 at several of the club's 64 cabins, Lowell Lambert, club caretaker, said today.

"To his credit, he never took anything he didn't need," said Lambert. "He never wrecked things or trashed things. He was careless sometimes and spilled food, but he would transfer food to his own containers before he would take it."

Lambert said that one time, the thief found a pair of socks in one cabin and apparently liked them because he took them and left his old socks behind.

Lambert's wife, Helen, said he hit cabins randomly, breaking into some repeatedly and leaving others untouched.

Lowell Lambert couldn't figure out why the thief would do that.

"He would keep breaking into some places after people stopped restocking them."

Some residents tried to ward off break-ins by providing things for the thief, Helen Lambert said.

"There was one woman who put food in a box and set it out for him, but he never came because she lived there. He never hit any place if it was occupied," she said.

The thief's circle of influence was a 15-mile area around the country club, and he lived somewhere across the highway from the club, up the mountain, the Lamberts said.

Helen Lambert said he took food, clothing and flashlight batteries. "I always wondered how someone could live outside and make a living this way."

People in the area say they haven't seen the man in years.

The last time anyone can remember seeing him was several years ago while he was on a bus in Darrington and another time at the post office, where he appeared to be belligerent with the clerk, possibly because of language problems.

Allen Liden, who works at an auto repair shop in Darrington, said today the guy ought to be left alone.

"He ain't hurting anybody," Liden said.

Stephen Clutter's phone message number is 425-745-7808. His e-mail address is: sclu-new@seatimes.com

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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