AFTER almost seven years on the run in the rugged Australian outback, the country's most wanted fugitive, Malcolm Naden, known as the "bad bush tucker man", has been captured and charged with murder.
The 38-year-old outlaw, whose ability to evade a massive police manhunt and live off his bushcraft skills earned him an almost mythic status in Australia, was captured in a midnight police raid in northern New South Wales. The Government claimed the bounty over his head – A$250,000 (€196,000) – was the largest since the days of Ned Kelly in the 19th century.
Naden, 38, a former abattoir worker, appeared briefly in court with no shoes, a shaved head and a thick bushy beard to face charges over the murder of a 24-year-old, Kristy Scholes, who was found strangled in his locked bedroom in Dubbo in 2005. He also faced two counts of sexual assault against a 15-year-old-girl and the shooting of a police officer who closed in on one of his makeshifts camp last December. He did not apply for bail.
Despite the horrific crimes for which he was wanted, Naden earned a grudging respect for his survival skills. But his years on the run were a constant embarrassment for the state's police and prompted constant reminders that he is "no Robin Hood".
Naden, who was armed when police confronted him on Wednesday night, was found at a holiday house and surrounded by 20 officers and a dog squad. He was reportedly confronted at the front door and then rushed inside to try to escape. During the raid, he was bitten by a dog and received injuries to his face, wrist and ankles.
The NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, who had claimed in December after an officer was shot that Naden would be captured by nightfall, defended the length of the search.
"This man is a master bushman," he said. "He has been in this area for a number of years. He knows it better than the back of his hand. The conditions that we encountered were atrocious, and the terrain was second to none when it came to difficulty."
The capture brought relief to local residents, who believed he was responsible for a number of break-ins.
Lyn Steghs said her home was broken into several times and she had been sleeping with a gun under her pillow.
"We've had the tactical force out there, the dogs, the helicopters," she told ABC Radio. "It was kind of living with a bit of pressure, pressures we shouldn't normally have."
However, another local, Gary Daley, a publican, said Naden's presence had brought in visitors – both tourists and police – and added to beer sales by 15 to 20 per cent.
For at least the past two years, Naden has lived in the dense, forbidding bushland around Barrington Tops – a remote national parkland about 120 miles north of Sydney. He allegedly emerged to steal items from surrounding houses, including rifles, miners' hats, torches, food, beer, sleeping bags and – reportedly – fourteen pairs of binoculars. But these apparent break-ins were neat, with claims that the burglar returned to replace stolen items and washed up after eating.
Naden, known as a quiet recluse, was a martial arts expert and avid reader of the Bible, crime books and survival manuals. He is believed to have lived off wild nuts, berries and peaches as well as prey such as wallabies and wombats.
During his years at large across the state, he was spotted in a pub, seen scrounging for opals and was believed to have lived for a time on the roof of a cabin at an outback zoo, where he lived off rotting fruit and meat left for the animals.