The Hitchhiker
Park Predators

If you want to listen to all eleven episodes of Park Predators plus a bonus episode right now, the only place to do that is stitcher premium. If you go to stitcher premium dot com and use the promo code predators, you'll get a free month of stitcher premium, which lets you access all of the Park Predators episodes right now. Ad free. That's stitcher premium. Dot com promo code. Predators, high park enthusiasts. I'm your host, Dale Ambre.

And today our story takes place all the way in Montana in Glacier National Park. This park is huge and it's home to more than a million acres of glacier carved mountains and valleys. Its boundary is so big, the park includes land in the western United States of Montana and it reaches all the way into Canada. Now, as you probably guessed, it's best known for, well, it's glaciers. These huge, slow moving chunks of ice have shaped the land for more than seven thousand years.

Decades after decades and centuries after centuries. And it's at one point in time. In July 1983, that an unnamed man whose body was found at the bottom of a glaciers cliff would become a mystery that intrigued law enforcement and would lead them to a predator whose crimes stretch from Canada to Mexico over the span of three decades. This is park predators.

On July 14th, 1983, a woman in Shusha, New York, named and got a phone call and this conversation would change her in her family's life. On the other end of that line was a park ranger news from Glacier National Park in Montana. This ranger asked and if she has a 1968 Volkswagen van registered in her name now and wondering what this out of the blue call is all about, answers the Ranger saying yes. Her and her brother, Frederick Pon Greece are both registered as the owners of the van.

But she tells the Ranger that her brother is the one using it. He recently set off on a cross-country trip to Washington State. Then there's a pause on the other end of the line, and that's when and learns the worst possible news. The ranger tells her that her brother is dead and his van is missing. He says that visitors who were sightseeing in an area called Crystal Point in Glacier National Park had found Fred's body at the bottom of a cliff.

These tourists had been taking pictures on the overlooks edge when they looked down and made the gruesome discovery. Authorities believed that Fred was found so quickly because the area where he'd fallen was close to the parking lot of a popular trailhead known as the Loop. The ranger explains to end that for several hours they'd been unable to identify her brother's body because he didn't have any I.D. on him. The only thing they'd found after searching his clothing was a registration card for their Volkswagen van.

And her and Fred's father, Otto and her husband David, are all in disbelief, in shock. They tell police that on July 12th, 31 year old Fred packed up and left for a road trip out west. He was fresh off of a stint from the United States Coast Guard and wanted to head to the Pacific Northwest to start a new job. According to reporting by Randy Mind Tour, Fred had been discharged from the Coast Guard on June 30th and left Washington, D.C., and his band.

At the time, he told his family he was looking forward to a few weeks of exploring. And he kept a detailed itinerary of where he was going. He wanted to see a lot of states and a lot of different sites, and he wanted to keep track of them along the way. Right after they hear the news that he's dead, Fred's family is immediately suspicious about the circumstances surrounding his death. His dad told authorities that his son was meticulous about tracking and documenting his travel plans.

He would never be careless while hiking. And his dad found it strange that the boat's wagon van was still missing. If Fred had fallen where he was in the park, he wouldn't have been far from the parking lot. So the van should still be parked there. His dad said that Fred loved that van and he would never just walk off and leave it unlocked and he wouldn't leave the belongings inside vulnerable to a thief.

Investigators are starting to maybe believe this theory, too. And the closer they look at Fred's death, the more they think that he wasn't alone when he died. He had been murdered. The park ranger who had to break the bad news to Fred's family is the one that responded to the call in the park. His name is Jerry Bell. And Jerry estimated that Fred had fallen one hundred and eighty six feet onto solid rock. When Jerry stood over Fred, he took a closer look at his body and he noticed that wounds in his torso were severe.

Some even looked out of place. Jerry told a local newspaper that four wounds in Fred's abdomen didn't look consistent with falling. But he wasn't sure what could have caused them. Jerry also noted that heavy rains the night before had washed away a lot of soil and rock around Fred's body, meaning that any clues that were there were now gone. With all of this information into account, this case wasn't adding up to Jerry, and his biggest priority became finding Fred's fan.

He put out a bulletin for people to be on the lookout and reported if they saw it. And right after that is when tips started coming in with really disturbing implications. A tow truck driver called in to tell Rangers that a few hours earlier, around two o'clock in the morning, he'd been dispatched to help a motorist who had called in saying they wrecked their car on the side of the road and that road was near Glacier National Park. This trucker says he met the stranded motorists in a town near Roen in Montana, which is actually about 70 miles outside of the park.

The record says he pulled up to a muddy ditch where he saw a van bogged down. Then he sees a man with a black dog approach him. The guy tells the trucker that he needs help getting this false wagon van out of the ditch, but he couldn't pay him. Instead, the motorist offers to trade the truckers services for a camera he had in the back of the van. The trucker agrees and tows the van. But once he reports this tip to law enforcement, they get that camera that he bartered for and they want to retrieve photos from it.

They hoped it would show that the camera actually belonged to Fred and that maybe he had been in Glacier National Park with somebody else that same day. Another tip comes in around nine o'clock in the morning and someone reports they found a bloody pair of trousers along a stretch of highway near the town of Hamilton, Montana. Now, this location is about 170 miles south of Glacier National Park. Inside the bloody pants was a wallet and more bloodstains. This wallet had an I.D. for a man named Scott Steel.

Now, this finding didn't really ring alarm bells right away for the Rangers because there was actually a little bit of delay and time before they even found out about it. And pretty much on a regular basis, a lot of weird things show up along highways, pieces of clothing and all sorts of debris. So something like this didn't stand out right away. But as soon as Gerry Bell and other investigators found out about this tip, they knew it could be related to Fred's death.

As they start looking into this information, they make sure that Fred's body gets to the Montana state medical examiner and that doctor takes another look. They discovered that after studying more thoroughly photos of Fred's body, some of his wounds were more consistent with him being stabbed rather than injuries. You just get from falling down a cliff. The exact suspicion that Gerry Bell had had from his first assessment on scene of Fred's body was right.

The state medical examiner changed the official ruling of Fred's manner of death. They were now certain that he had died before his body fell down that cliff. They were able to determine that by looking at how little amount of blood had flowed out of the puncture wounds in his torso. If his body had flown over the cliff and been slammed to the ground or even in a scenario where it rolled down and had gotten punctured on the way, there would have been more evidence of a lot of blood coming from his torso wounds.

But that wasn't there, right. As they're figuring out this information. Another witness comes forward. Now, this witness is the owner of Shady Grove Campground in Cut Bank, Montana. This person tells investigators that he saw Fred and another man at his campsite on July 13th. This witness says that Fred and his guests checked in the night of July 12th and the next morning they caused a disturbance in the campground. The owner says that Fred's passenger's dog was running loose and frightening other people staying at the campground.

The owner got so upset with the men that he actually armed himself with a shotgun when he approached them. This interaction took a darker turn when all of this sudden the owner says Fred's passenger pulled a knife from his side and sort of lunged at the owner to warn him to back off. After a few minutes, things eventually calmed down and the owner offered to let Fred stay, but told the other guy he had to go. The owner says Fred apologized, but he wasn't going to leave his passenger behind.

And eventually the two men just left the campground with the dog, all in the Volkswagen van. Investigators uncover that around seven, 30 in the morning shortly after departing that campground. Fred had made a call to the cut bank sheriff's office. He was reporting the campground owner who had confronted him in his passenger with a shotgun. Later that same day, the sheriff's office again receives a second call from Fred. But what he was specifically calling about is unknown.

The deputy either didn't take a report or maybe they called it last long enough. I don't know at this point. Authorities working Fred's case strongly believed that Scott Steele was the man riding with Fred and he'd stayed with him at the Shady Grove campground. They believed that Scott was the person who might have killed Fred and then stolen his van. Gerry Bell in the FBI run a records check on Scott, and they discovered that on July 11th he'd crossed into the United States from Canada.

With him was his black Labrador retriever. While searching through Scott's belongings at the border, agents there noticed that his I.D. had said he was from California. Now, what's so unfortunate about Scott getting through the border so easily is that authorities in Canada realized a few days too late that Scott had crossed back into the U.S. but he was wanted in connection with a robbery in Alberta a few days before police in Alberta had received a report from people who said they met Scott in a bar.

And this group invited Scott back to their house, but later found their wallet and truck had been ransacked and the vehicle had been stolen not far from that incident.

Another victim had come forward to Canadian authorities and they reported that they'd been robbed after they picked Scott up and his dog. While Scott was hitchhiking after gathering this information, detectives in Fred's case believed that their victim befriended Scott. And it was only a short amount of time before he realized that Scott was a wanted fugitive out of Canada. Who knows, maybe Scott was just giving off really bad vibes. Or maybe as they rode along together, Scott started talking about how he'd just come from Canada with seemingly no belongings.

And just as dog, that kind of drifter life may have set off red flags in Fred's mind. But then again, he did pick him up willingly on the side of the road that first day, so he couldn't have been too scared of him in the beginning. If at some point on July 13th, Fred did start to suspect Scott was dangerous. That would explain the second phone call that police knew he'd made to the cut bank sheriff's office. Later in the day before his death, Fred's family believed that maybe their son had found out the truth about Scott and he'd made that second phone call to report him because it's unknown why he placed that call will probably never know what Fred wanted to tell police.

But growing more certain that Scott was their man. Authorities tracked him to California and according to the Billings Gazette. That's where investigators caught the break they needed. They discovered Fred's van in downtown Los Angeles. Some people had tried to break into it, but police had gotten there just in time to preserve evidence, which that's really, really rare. Inside the van, they found a crumpled piece of paper with a phone number written on it. They also found bloodstains on the seat belts, the front visor, the back seat and in the trunk area, the number on the piece of paper turned out to be Scott Steele's sister.

Authorities called her in when she picked up. She told the FBI that Scott wasn't with her. He'd gone somewhere north of where she lived. She said he returned from Montana on July 15th, but then within just a few days, he left again to hitchhike. She was very cooperative with investigators because at the time her and her roommate were training to be police officers. So they were happy to help in any way possible. She invited the investigators to come to her home and she even showed them to a room where Scott had left some items with those items.

Agents found several of Fred's belongings, but there was no sign of where Scott was or where he might be headed to next. It would be almost eight months before police would get their next lead. But on May 29, 1984, police in St. George, Utah, came across Scott. He was hitchhiking on the side of the road with his black dog. And here's where the information about this gets pretty slim. Basically, what I was able to find out is that the police in Utah saw Scott hitchhiking and they confronted him and maybe he tried to be uncooperative, but because they had an active warrant out on him.

He just eventually surrendered. I couldn't find any reporting that said whether Scott caused a scene or there was any kind of pursuit. But once they got him in custody, federal authorities charged Scott with killing Fred. And in August 1984, he went to trial for first degree murder, stealing his victim's car and transporting it across state lines. According to the Missoulian, Scott's defense attorneys argued the prosecution's case was mostly circumstantial and they suggested that Scott could have stolen the van and all of Fred's belongings while his victim was just away in the park.

They didn't deny that Fred had picked up their client about 60 miles east of the park on July 12th, but said being a hitchhiker on the run from Canadian authorities didn't make their client a murderer. They stated that Fred was just another victim of a crime of opportunity, the type of crime that Scott was known to commit. It was possible, they said, that Fred had later fallen on his own down that cliff, making their client look like a murderer.

But really, he was. They also pointed out the fact that up until this point, Scott hadn't murdered anyone else in his path of robbery, assault and burglary up in Canada. Some of their points were valid. For instance, there was little physical evidence to suggest that Scott had actually stabbed Fred and then thrown him over that cliff. And if you wanted to say he did. The big question still remained, where was the knife? Still, after only four days of testimony?

Jurors convicted Scott of Freds murder and the judge in that case sentenced him to life in prison.

Prior to sentencing, this judge threw out the death penalty, ensuring that the maximum sentence Scott would receive would be life in prison. Now, prosecutors in this case were happy because they noted in court that if Scott had continued to wander the United States, he would have likely killed again, either out of desperation or because he thought he couldn't get caught. One key piece of physical evidence the prosecution was able to prove amidst their fairly circumstantial case were those bloody trousers found on the side of the Montana Highway.

Those pants had both Scott's blood type and Fred's blood type on them that at least prove that both men had worn or were around those trousers and bled on them. After his conviction in April 1985, Scott's defense attorneys made an appeal. They cited evidence in the case, did not support a first degree murder conviction. One of their big arguments for a new trial was that in the initial trial, that campground owner from Shady Grove campground who had first run into Fred and Scott together, he had testified that he saw Scott pull out a knife to fight back against him.

It was later revealed that that witness was now unsure if he even had seen a knife, but he just knew that Scott was being aggressive. His attorneys also argued that prosecutors had prejudiced the jury against their client by repeatedly emphasizing that Scott was known to carry a knife. They also argued that at one point the jury could have been prejudiced because Scott had been walked by them wearing only his shackles and his Department of Corrections jumpsuit. In the end, the appellate court denied all of these motions and ultimately ruled to uphold Scott's conviction.

Despite this denial, Scott was ultimately paroled after only spending 16 years in prison. And I guess in the state of Montana, you can be convicted of first degree murder and only spend 16 years of it actually behind bars. I didn't know this until researching this story, that there's been legislation passed in that state that. Advocates for violent offenders who display good behavior to be resentenced with less prison time. It doesn't really make sense to a lot of us, but in the end, it is what it is.

However, in classic early release form, this newfound freedom would not mean the end of Scott's criminal activity. In February 2009, he would make headlines yet again and find himself back in the clutches of law enforcement. But this time he was nowhere near Glacier National Park or the western United States. In late 2003, while on parole living in Twin Falls, Idaho, Scott decided he was going to change his life. One day he just stopped checking in with his probation officer and no one had seen him for weeks, which turned into months.

And eventually, Scott dropped off the radar for six years. As soon as authorities became aware that Scott had absconded his parole. U.S. Marshals added him to their list of most wanted fugitives and put out a nationwide arrest warrant for him. They also alerted international authorities, suspecting that once again, Scott would make a run for one of the U.S. borders headed either to Canada or Mexico. According to the Times news in Twin Falls, Scott at the time was dating a woman named Catherine Earle.

Around the same time, he skipped checking in for his parole. Catherine also vanished. A warrant went out for her arrest, for her prior convictions of committing larceny. But she was never seen with Scott. I couldn't find much else on if she was ever apprehended. But for years, neither she nor Scott popped up. It wasn't until February 2009 when officials in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, got word that Scott might be hiding out in that area and he'd be using a new name.

At this point, U.S. Marshals felt they were close to finding him. Mexican immigration authorities found Scott and arrested him and he was extradited back to Los Angeles and rebooked for going in Miami. He was later sent back to prison. But just like before, he was eventually paroled in November 2017, just five months after being taken off of parole, Scott was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he threatened a female bartender with a knife. Witnesses in that case told Idaho police near Twin Falls that Scott had threatened the woman while she was working.

Now, the time he'd been dating this woman's mother. And after a small spat at the bar, she asked him to leave. Scott did leave, but then he returned, got upset with the bartender again. And when she asked him to leave a second time, he stabbed a knife into the bar top and demanded to be served. That bartender and a good Samaritan freaked out by Scott's actions. Ask him to leave another time. And this time he does.

But while walking away in anger, Scott mumbles about his prior murder conviction under his breath. After that, the victim in this case said she stopped working night shifts and she was fearful that Scott would return and hurt her. In May 2018, a jury found him guilty of aggravated assault and he was sentenced in July. He told the judge at that sentencing that he didn't want to die in prison. He said that the threat he'd made to the bartender was just a joke and he didn't intend to hurt anybody.

He did call his sense of humor, quote, morbid and knew that he lacked admirable character traits. He explained that after having gone to prison at just 23 years old for murder. That experience had changed him and he'd become institutionalized and unable to fit into normal society. Now, the judge really didn't buy his story, and he told Scott that even if he never intended to hurt anyone, he of all people should have known better than to threaten someone with a knife.

Scott was sentenced to 20 years in prison for that offense, 10 of which he must serve. Now, an extremely eerie coincidence. There was another murder in almost the same exact area of Glacier National Park where the man died in almost the same exact way. And get this. The discoveries of these two deaths were 30 years apart. To the day, according to the National Park Service. These are the only two known murders in Glacier National Park in modern history.

And we're going to tell you that story on a future episode of Park Predators.

Park Predators is an audio chuck original podcast.

The series was executive produced by Ashley Flowers, research and writing by Delia Ambre with riding assistance by Ashley Flowers Sound designed by David Flowers with production assistance from Melissa Costilla.

You can find all of our source material for this episode on our Web site, Paak Predators dot com. So what do you think, Chuck? Do you approve?