From Inside a Tree to Behind Bars

A two-month manhunt ends with the fugitive's arrest in rural Missouri parklands.

ByABC News
May 15, 2007, 12:18 PM

May 15, 2007 — -- A two-month manhunt for an accused murderer ended Saturday with the arrest of a man who dodged justice by hiding inside a hollowed-out tree and beneath a rock outcropping in the most remote woodlands of Missouri.

Police say they arrested 60-year-old Neldon Neal and charged him with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting his wife in front of two witnesses during a domestic dispute on March 13.

While the two witnesses brought Neal's wife to a convenience store in the rural community -- where authorities found her dead on arrival -- authorities say Neal escaped on foot into the nearby Mark Twain National Forest in the south-central part of the state.

The disappearance triggered a multiagency, eight-day manhunt, but neither aerial nor ground searches provided investigators with any leads in the search for Neal, who was known to authorities in the small town of Roby, Mo.

In April, there was a break in the case, with police charging four women with providing the fugitive food and supplies.

From statements provided by those women, police determined that Neal spent about 12 days -- from March 17 until March 29 -- inside a fallen, hollowed-out tree.

At one point, according to Texas County Sheriff Carl Watson, authorities helping with the search were close enough to the tree that Neal could see their badges.

Neal then moved locations, Watson said, likely trekking five miles through the forest to a spot beneath a rock outcropping at the base of a steep incline along a creek. There, the fugitive set up camp.

"This is a very remote area of the Mark Twain National Forest," Watson told ABC News. "He had a couple of tarps set up, a sleeping bag, some food items, clothing."

Acting on a tip Saturday, police successfully lured Neal from his hiding spot.

Watson would not say exactly how they drew Neal, who was armed, from his camp, but they arrested him without incident. They also took Neal's son, who was with the fugitive at the time, into custody, but later released him.

It's unclear whether Neal's son helped the police locate the suspect.