Hunter Made Famous by Into the Wild Shot and Killed by Police in Alaska

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 13 2014 4:14 PM

Into the Wild Moose Hunter Shot and Killed by Police in Alaska

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John Krakauer's book was made into a film with the same name in 2007

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Gordon Samel, the moose hunter who unwittingly became a footnote in pop culture history when his 1992 discovery of the body of Christopher McCandless was detailed in John Krakauer's Into the Wild, was shot and killed by police in Wasilla, Alaska, this past Sunday, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Samel—who had lived a somewhat troubled life in the years since playing a minor part in Krakauer's classic non-fiction tale—allegedly fled from Alaska state troopers when they approached his car in response to a suspicion of drunk driving call that matched his vehicle. Police say that following a short chase, Samel drove directly at a police officer who was pursuing him on foot, and in turn, the officer and another trooper opened fired on the vehicle, killing Samel and injuring another passenger. Samel was 52. 

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The avid hunter and native Alaskan had a long history of run-ins with the law—he had been arrested 19 times since 1983—and had most recently been under court orders not to drink following a September arrest for a DUI. He had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and struggled with the illness throughout his life, according to family members. 

On September 6, 1992, Samel was on an ATV-powered moose hunt with three friends when they came upon the iconic old Fairbanks city bus made famous by Krakauer's Into the Wild. A couple had arrived shortly before them, and were unnerved by an SOS note and a pungent smell coming from inside. Samel was the first person to enter, and recounted the moment to Krakauer: "I stood on a stump, reached through a back window, and gave the bag a shake. There was definitely something in it, but whatever it was didn't weigh much. It wasn't until I walked around to the other side and saw a head sticking out that I knew for certain what it was."

The body was that of 24-year-old McCandless, who had died of starvation a little less than three weeks earlier. According to Samel's brother, his involvement in McCandless' story was something that made him proud, in that it may have helped the family somehow, "but it wasn't a turning point for him or anything."

The state of Alaska is currently investigating the shooting, and a report on whether Samel's killing was justified is forthcoming.

A.J. McCarthy is a Slate Video blogger.