Familiar Story by a Different Name

IGW documents a story that has become legendary in this profession: the Pogue and Elms tragedy. It is our attempt to tell this familiar story in the officers' names, on their behalf, in a way that can be heard around the world.

This photo was shared with us by retired officer Jerry Thiessen -- pictured to the right of the campfire -- in tribute to his friend and colleague Bill Pogue, left. The inscription on the photograph, which Bill gave to Jerry, reads:
If there is a future for wild things, then it is the burden of those who have reached farther than me, to save them for the rest of us. It will be done by those whose convictions were forged in campfires,
Bill

Pogue and Elms: A Tragic Loss
Prepared by Wyoming CO Mike Ehlebracht

January 5, 1981, Claude Dallas killed Idaho Conservation Officers Bill Pogue and Conley Elms. The only eyewitness to the crime, Jim Stevens, was put on a polygraph four times within days of the killings. Each time, he passed. Based on Stevens' story and investigative reports written shortly after the crime, I offer the following account.

January 4, 1981, CO Bill Pogue received what seemed to be a routine complaint from the son of a rancher in southwest Owyhee County. The rancher's son had ridden through Dallas' camp and had seen illegal deer and bobcat hides on stretchers. (He later stated that he felt his life was in danger the whole time he was in the presence of Dallas.) About 11 p.m. that night, Officers Pogue and Elms left the Boise area en route to Owyhee County. January 5, around mid-morning, after contacting a group of trappers and citing them for various violations, the officers approached the area of Dallas' camp and parked their vehicle at the end of the road. The camp was about 3/4 of a mile away along the South Fork of the Owyhee River.

From a distance, the officers determined that Dallas was not at his camp, but they located him some distance above it. When they made contact with Dallas, they told him why they were there. The officers took a .22 caliber pistol from Dallas, removed the shells, and returned it to him. They walked back to the camp where they met Jim Stevens who periodically brought Dallas mail and supplies. They informed Dallas that he was under arrest, but did not handcuff him. The officers could see some of the bobcat hides in the tent and Conley Elms went in to retrieve them. Meanwhile, Dallas asked several times if he was under arrest and Pogue answered him each time, saying he was. As Elms emerged from the tent, Pogue shifted his attention. At that moment, Dallas reached for the .357 Magnum he had under his coat. Pogue apparently saw what was coming and drew his own weapon but never returned fire. He was shot twice in the chest and went down. Dallas then shot Elms two times in the chest, and fired his last two shots into Pogue. He went into the tent, loaded his .22 caliber pistol and shot each officer in the head.
(Jim Stevens later said that he thought he would be next.) Dallas remarked that he had "screwed up" the killings and that it had not gone as he had planned. The two men covered the bodies with sagebrush to hide them from aerial view. As they started to pack out some of Dallas' equipment, according to Stevens' account, Dallas said he was sorry to have to leave his (approximately 80) traps out and waste all those cats.

After loading Pogue's body onto one of the camp's mules, they headed to Stevens' Blazer. Then they loaded Elms' body for the same trip. Elms was a large man weighing nearly 300 pounds, and the small mule went down during the trip out of the canyon. Dallas then drug Elms' body back to the river and dumped it into the South Fork. Most of the clothes came off Elms' body during the dragging process so Dallas gathered them up and burned them along with any other evidence he could find.

Dallas and Stevens drove to Paradise Junction, Nevada, and around 11 p.m., went to a bar owned by a friend of Dallas' named George Nielsen. When they told Nielsen what happened, he and Dallas had a conversation to the effect that killing two conservation officers was on the same level as taking a deer out of season.

Nielsen reportedly provided Dallas with a truck and gas to haul Pogue's body into the desert and dispose of it. When he returned about two hours later, Nielsen took Dallas about 14 miles south of town and dropped him off in the desert.
Eyewitness Jim Stevens went home about 1 a.m. on the 6th, after Nielsen returned. He tried, but could not sleep. He drove back to Paradise Junction and told Nielsen he was going to notify the authorities. He went to his lawyer around noon that day. January 7, after Elms' body was found in the South Fork of the Owyhee River, a warrant for first-degree murder was issued for Claude Dallas.

Dallas was known to be an expert with firearms and to be particularly good at police combat shooting. He purchased an AR-15 assault rifle in Sandpoint, Idaho sometime prior to the killings. When police searched his belongings after the killings, they found a flak vest, gas mask, an entire library on warfare and how to kill, as well as several thousand rounds of fully automatic weapons ammunition.

Dallas and his supporters maintain that he killed the officers in self-defense, but his actions, attitude and comments before, during and after the killings indicate otherwise.

Pogue and Elms Families: Twenty Years Later

More than twenty years ago, Conley and Cheri Elms had applied to adopt a daughter together, but Alia didn't arrive from India until several months after her father's death. She is now in her freshman year of college and wants to study elementary education. Cheri has never remarried.

Jodi Pogue Turner and her sister Linda have been involved in the Idaho Peace Officers Memorial Fund since 1994. The memorial for Idaho's law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty was dedicated in 1998. Her entire family has been very involved in the project, helping raise funds, and Jodi is Vice President. The group will be adding two more names to the memorial at the annual ceremony in May.

Jodi shares an update on her family: "Dad's kids are all grown - he would have eight grandkids now. His youngest daughter, Kate, just had her first baby (Anna). His other grandkids are Jake (21, Military Intelligence in the Army), Jacki (18, just graduating from high school), Adam (age 7), Lisa (also 18, graduating from high school), Andrea (13), Bill (19, freshman year of college), and Sarah (18, graduating from high school). Dee Pogue is still unmarried."

Jodi said she can hardly believe the support the family has received with regard to Dallas' early parole hearing. When she spoke to the parole board in March, they reported receiving an average of 30 letters per DAY asking that parole be denied. By the end of March, estimates neared 1000 letters. She said that from her few requests for support, she's received copies of letters from almost every state. They have come from Forest Service, Fish and Game, USFWS, police officers, and even one from a Military Police officer stationed in Korea, but mostly from COs in the U.S. Calibre Press printed Jodi's request in their newsletter, generating more than 300 letters. She is overwhelmed by the outreach her family has experienced twenty years after the tragedy. She feels she will never be able to thank everyone enough.

Editor's note: Our appreciation goes to Mike Ehlebracht for sharing his abilities and passion in writing a good and fair account of these deaths, to Bill Pogue and Conley Elms' many friends and colleagues who honor them in so many ways twenty years after their deaths, and to Jodi Pogue Turner for her guidance and tenacity in the face of this painful memory.


IGW encourages officers' organizations to link their Websites directly to this story at http://igwmagazine.com/article101. In the interest of reversing a negative trend, we further encourage all references to the story on your Website by the names of the officers, not by their killer. We also recommend visiting the Federal Wildlife Officers Association Website, FWOA.org, to read Ontario writer Mary Shaw's story, "Profile of a Killer - Memories of Tragedy and Trial," which soundly debunks the absurd notion that Claude Dallas could be considered a western hero by any standards.

Pogue and Elms: Chronology of the Case

Prepared by Jodi Pogue Turner
January 5, 1981

Bill Pogue and Conley Elms of Idaho Fish and Game are shot to death at Claude Dallas' camp.

January 7, 1981
Conley Elms' body is found in the South Fork of the Owyhee River. A warrant for first-degree murder is issued for Claude Dallas.

March 12, 1981
Claude Dallas is added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list and a $10,000 reward is offered for his capture.

April 18, 1982
An informant's tip leads the FBI to Paradise Hill, NV, where Dallas is captured after trying to flee.

October 20, 1982
After a month-long trial and 45 hours of deliberation over a seven-day period, the ten-woman, two-man jury finds Dallas guilty of two counts of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm in the commission of a felony. During the trial, Dallas finally reveals the location of Bill Pogue's body.

January 4, 1983
Citing eyewitness testimony and Dallas' lack of remorse, Judge Edward Lodge sentences Dallas to 20 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter and 10 years for firearms violations.

March 30, 1986
Over Easter weekend, Dallas escapes from the Idaho State Penitentiary. A nationwide manhunt is again underway and he again makes the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.

March 8, 1987
FBI agents outside a Riverside, California convenience store capture Dallas.

September 4, 1987
A jury acquits Dallas of escape, citing they agree with Dallas that his life was in danger from guards at the penitentiary who were out to get him for the killings. He is moved to Nebraska then transferred to New Mexico six months later.

April 20, 1988
Dallas requests release from his 20-year term to begin serving his 10-year term for firearms violations. His request is denied. Dallas tells the parole board he "didn't feel a great deal of anything" about his crimes.

July 17, 1989
Dallas is moved to Kansas prison.

April 26, 2001
Early parole hearing scheduled for Dallas.

April , 2001
Dallas denied early parole.