20th Anniversary of Arrest Darrington’s Mountain Man is Here
When the tale of the ex-cop-turned-sheep-herder-turned-convicted-murderer-turned-mountain-man-Bulgarian-hermit broke this month broke 20 years ago on March 2nd, it was definitely among the more bizarre stories to hit the news in the late nineties, especially in our small corner of the Nation.
For years, the local recluse known simply as the “Mountain Man” survived on White Horse mountain, occasionally leaving his mountain cave to good-naturedly raid the cabins and homes of Stillaguamish County Club and Chatham Acres for food and supplies. He was attributed to at least seventy-five different break-ins over the span of ten years.
His real name Mincio Vasilev Donciev, and he is a convicted murderer and ex-policeman. He was originally identified in 1988 when his fingerprints were lifted off items in a burglarized cabin. It was at that time he was traced back to his roots in Europe, and the head-scratching began.
In 1954, in his homeland of Bulgaria, Donciev was convicted of attempted homicide, and served five years in prison. Following in '66, he was then convicted of murder after beating a villager to death for attempting to steal livestock (lambs and sheep) and was sentenced to twenty more years in prison. Donciev escaped in 1970. According to the US State Department, he somehow entered the US legally in 1982 with a valid resident permit. He then cohabitated with a woman in Lake City while working as a mechanic.
His first known interaction with the police was in Seattle when the woman he was living with asked him to leave, and he subsequently tried to “blow up her apartment.” This was within months of first settling in the US. At that time, he pled to a lesser charge involving incendiary devices, but never showed to do his nine months in jail he was sentenced with. Instead, he took to the mountains, and settled just outside of Darrington, high up on the slopes.
Donciev's home invasions started shortly thereafter; it began with cutting out holes in doors to reach inside and undo locks in unoccupied homes, and lead to eventually prying open doors and breaking windows. He was known to take canned foods and sweets, exchange his dirty clothes for fresh ones, and passed up the opportunity for cash or alcohol.
After many years of living with the threat of his invasions, accompanied by the simple fear of running into the six foot, 200 lb hermit, action was taken by frustrated authorities, who sought out a veteran tracker.
Joel Hardin, a retired Border Patrol Agent, was hired by the Snohomish County Sheriff to run him to ground. He, among other trackers, found his favorite routes up and down the mountains after spending a month or so tracking him and developing a profile. They relied on bent grass, depressed snow, and broken twigs to establish his footpaths.
He was strong, capable and confident, navigating the slopes as easily as a sidewalk, and kept a primary residence (a cave) with plenty of small fox-holes along his route to rest and take shelter. Hardin found that he routinely traversed White Horse with seventy-five pound packs of supplies strapped to his back. At the time of his arrest, he was 67 years old.
After placing electronic sensors along some of his preferred routes, investigators lay in wait between Saturday and Sunday, and took him down via canine just before a midnight raid.
At the time of his capture, he was armed with three knives and two handguns, as well as a large, pronged walking stick. While trying to evade capture, he repeatedly struck a police canine, Yukon, who left him in “satisfactory” condition, which included multiple and severe bite wounds to his legs.
He lost a toe to Yukon, and 40% of his left foot. Donciev went on to sue the county - and won - for over $400,000. Yukon was retired at the time of the payout in 2000, amid several headlines detailing a history of physical abuse and several reports of biting civilians.
While in general good health, Donciev was kept under armed guard in Harborview Hospital for two weeks while his legs healed. He had no interest in returning to Bulgaria, and the statute of limitations had long passed for his escape from prison. He was imprisoned for felony firearm violations and multiple home invasions.
Fly Fishing for Sharks by Richard Low