Modern history: Jere Melo, Matt Coleman and the man who murdered them 10 years ago • The Mendocino Voice | Mendocino County, CAThe Mendocino Voice
FORT BRAGG, 10/21/21 – Ten years ago today, three Sacramento County SWAT officers established an observation post about a quarter of a mile from Sherwood Road. This position, and a number of others, was chosen based on the suspect’s route between the scenes of several recent burglaries in the area and the help of a bloodhound named Willow. Aaron Bassler had been on the run for over a month. He was suspected of two murders and had previously exchanged gunfire with law enforcement – so when they saw him approaching with his rifle ready, they took the initiative.
“Without giving a verbal warning, Deputy (Matt) Owens shot Bassler,” investigators wrote in District Attorney David Eyster’s report on the shooting. However, Bassler did not immediately fall and lose his grip on the rifle. “Believing there was still a risk, MP Owens fired again, now joined by the (other) two MPs.”
Owens fired a total of six shots. His teammates fired three bullets each. Bassler died before he could retaliate. That’s where it ended, more or less, but it started almost two months earlier, with what was initially reported as a possible bear attack on August 11, 2011. Matt Coleman’s body , 42, was found in Cape Town. Vizcaino area of Westport, wedged in the open door of his vehicle. Investigators ultimately determined that he was shot and used the vehicle as cover in what looked like an escape attempt. Detectives figured out it was a homicide within the first hour of the investigation – but rumors of a fatal dismemberment persisted until Coleman’s death was reported as a homicide in the Fort Bragg Advocate August 18, 2011.
Coleman, a conservation steward at the Mendocino Land Trust, was well known and appreciated. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his death have left the coast on the edge. No suspect was identified at that time. It was not until the fatal shooting of Fort Bragg city councilor and former mayor Jere Melo, more than two weeks later, on August 27, 2011, that the magnitude of the threat became clear; a man with a rifle was killing people in the woods outside of town.
Ian Chaney had gone out with the victim to do security work, investigating a bunker that had been dug into the ground and surrounded by barbed wire on private woodland outside Fort Bragg. It looked like an illicit cannabis operation in first reports, but instead they found opium poppies growing in a terraced garden near the Skunk Train tracks. The following extract comes from the report of the public prosecutor:
“As the men looked south, Chaney heard leaves crack behind and above the men. He whispered to Melo, “I think he’s right behind us. Both men looked north and saw Bassler hiding in the brush about ten feet above and behind the men. Looking directly at Bassler, Melo announced, “Hey, what are you doing over there?” Bassler immediately responded that he was an FBI agent and opened fire with what Chaney believed at the time to be a fully automatic AK-47 assault rifle. Chaney heard three quick hits in quick succession and, after the third hit, Chaney saw Melo “spin like a top,” fall hard and slide a short distance down the hill. Close enough to see the whites of the eyes of his attacker, Chaney, recognized the shooter as Aaron. Dropping to the ground, Chaney took cover against the bunker. Chaney retaliated with his 9mm semi-automatic handgun. Bassler then stood up and began to “unload” his rifle where Chaney was looking for cover. Overwhelmed, Chaney decided to slide down the hill, reporting that he could hear bullets whistling near his head, as the trees around him were hit by bullets in rapid succession. As he rolled down the hill, Chaney also called Melo. At one point, Chaney, while looking back, watched Aaron stand on Melo’s back and look down towards Chaney as Bassler continued to shoot Chaney. Seeing Bassler trying to push him through the brush, Chaney stood up, used trees for cover and ran out of the area, continuing to strike back to hold back the attacker.
Chaney fled to the train tracks and was whisked out of the area with a railwayman on a speeder cart, ready at 9mm in case Bassler shot him again. Chaney contacted law enforcement several times during his escape, including at least two calls to 911. The following is a partial transcript of the recording of the dispatch:
Dispatch MCSO: 9-1-1, what’s your emergency?
Chaney: Ok, listen to me right now. They shoot me …
Dispatch MCSO: Where are you at?
Chaney: I’m in the woods and I think Jere Melo was hit. I’ve had … [several gunshots are heard in the background]
Dispatch MCSO: Where are you at?
Chaney: Damn it. [tones as if buttons are being pushed on Chaney’s cell phone keypad]
Chaney: I’m in the fucking woods. [loud shuffling noise]
Dispatch MCSO: Sir?
Chaney: Are you still here?
Dispatch MCSO: Yeah, where are.… [recording ends].
Investigators found pieces of foil candy wrappers that had been used to smoke marijuana at both crime scenes, and DNA found on the foil linked Bassler to both crimes. A to guarantee was issued for his arrest on suspicion of multiple murders as well as the attempted murder of Ian Chaney. People have started to use terms like “double murderer” and “serial killer” to describe the suspect at the center of the ongoing manhunt. Many possible sightings have been reported, but Bassler was not found in further research.
The next development in the investigation came when someone fell in a camp where Bassler was staying near the railroad tracks on September 10, 2011. He then told investigators that the fugitive was paranoid at first, but the two smoked a joint together as Bassler calmed down. He was informed of his wanted man status, “and it has been suggested that Bassler surrender or flee the area.” The witness said Bassler still had the rifle, as well as a handgun, and when MPs arrived at the vacant Bassler camp, they found a second bunker there.
Almost three weeks later, on September 29, 2011, an Alameda County apprehension team encountered Bassler along a dirt road in the Larkspur area 14 miles east of Fort Bragg. One of them snuck behind Bassler with a pistol and ordered him to get to the ground, but a shootout ensued. Bassler flanked them, circling around to engage from a different angle, and fired two shots at the deputies – one of the shells would have passed between two of their bodies and narrowly missed them both. Bassler disappeared in the treeline that morning, but two days later was ambushed to death by Sacramento County deputies.
“In the past 10 years, there hasn’t been a single day that I haven’t thought about this matter,” former Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman told the Mendocino Voice when was contacted this Thursday. “The pain experienced by the families of the victims was truly excruciating. “
Long before Aaron Bassler murdered Matt Coleman, his sanity was a concern for those who cared about him. James Bassler, Aaron’s father, believed his son was an undiagnosed schizophrenic. Laura Brickey, Aaron’s mother, told investigators her son became paranoid and prone to temper tantrums after a bad LSD trip. Friends said that at the start of the year he had grown more radical and talked about surviving armed encounters with the government. Bassler had multiple contacts with law enforcement before the first murder: with arrests for public drunkenness in September 2010, and drunk driving in March 2011. He was incarcerated each time, but at no time was he. has only been identified as an inmate in need of assistance.
“This whole thing comes down to the need to improve our mental health services for all, especially for those like Aaron Bassler who fall through the cracks of care,” Allman said.
The deep woods of the north coast are a difficult place to catch for anyone who knows his way. Aaron Bassler demonstrated it. This was reaffirmed years later when Shane Miller, 45, murdered his wife and their two young daughters in Shingletown in May 2013 and then disappeared into the rugged terrain of the Lost Coast for over a year despite extensive research efforts. His remains were found on the banks of the Mattole River near Petrolia in August 2014. More recently, a suspect with two prior strikes has repeatedly escaped capture, since allegedly shooting Deputy Thomas Kelly during investigation into a burglary in Elk on May 12. , 2021. Bassler probably wasn’t the first person to go missing here – and he certainly wasn’t the last.