A man wanted in connection with a woman’s death in Anaconda on Tuesday was caught by Butte police Wednesday morning after he rolled his car during a high-speed chase and took off on foot.
An officer fired shots at 52-year-old Troy Douglas Johnson after the crash around 3 a.m. because he appeared to be pointing a gun, and when police caught him four hours later, they say he lunged at them with a knife.
“In my opinion, I think he probably wanted to end it in a hail of gunfire and realistically, he damn near got his wish,” said Butte-Silver Bow Sheriff Ed Lester.
Anaconda police got a call from a friend of Shelley Schafer, 64, around 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, went to her home in the 700 block of East Park Street and found Schafer dead from being struck in the head with an object, said Anaconda-Deer Lodge Police Chief Tim Barkell.
After an initial investigation and talking to witnesses, they put out a statewide bulletin for Johnson, who had apparently moved to Anaconda about two weeks ago, Barkell said. He had been released from state prison in February 2017 after time for partner/family member assault, but was still on probation.
Butte police say they spotted a white 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier around 3 a.m. that they believed Johnson was in and tried to do a traffic stop on Montana Street, south of Front Street.
A female driver got out and so did Johnson, who reached into his waistband as if he had a weapon then jumped behind the wheel and took off at high speed, Lester said. The woman was taken into custody for questioning.
Johnson eventually lost control of the car going around a corner on Hansen Road near Holmes Avenue and rolled it in a residential yard, hitting a tree. As an officer approached, Johnson got out, crouched into a shooting position and pointed what appeared to be a weapon, Lester said.
The officer fired multiple times but Johnson wasn’t hit and took off on foot heading west just as other police arrived at the scene. Police spotted him near a gully off of Little Basin Creek Road around 7 a.m. and after a lengthy foot chase, used a Taser to take him down.
Lester said from what he knew, he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Johnson was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time but he did not know that for sure.
Barkell said Schafer lived alone and was suffering from cancer and a friend called police worried about her. When officers got to her home, they found her lying on the floor deceased.
Her car was missing, along with some jewelry, money and credit cards, he said. Police found her vehicle in Anaconda early Wednesday and they believe video from surveillance cameras at nearby businesses might help the investigation.
Barkell said Schafer lived in an old brick duplex that had a little apartment off to the side that had no running water. Officers found Johnson's driver's license and some other things that led them to believe he was squatting there.
Barkell said Wednesday afternoon that theft appeared to be the motive for the killing. "That's all we've got right now," he said.
Johnson has convictions for partner-family member assault out of Lewis and Clark County as well as a probation violation for failure to notify, according to Montana Department of Corrections records. The assaults occurred in 1998 and 2006, records show, and his last sentence, for the failure to notify conviction, was handed down in November 2013.
He has a scar from a gunshot wound, records show, and numerous tattoos, including the names of females, a spider web, laughing and crying masks and one that says “In Loving Memory of Mom and Dad.”
He is currently listed as being under supervision of Billings probation and parole.
Lester said Butte police knew from the statewide bulletin that Johnson was wanted in connection with the homicide in Anaconda and they knew the color and type of vehicle he might be in.
Police dogs and a Life Flight helicopter assisted in the search for Johnson after he fled on foot, Lester said. He was later spotted walking near the gully and started running again when he saw police.
He not only refused orders to drop a knife, Lester said, he lunged at officers with it before he was taken down with the Taser.
“It looks like he was going to run the string out as far as he possibly could and then end it with police having to shoot him,” the sheriff said.
Lester said he was thankful nobody was hurt during the pursuit and search for Johnson in Butte-Silver Bow.
“It’s just an indication of what can happen when someone gets it in their head that they’re going to run their string out and they are bent on self-destruction and they don’t have regard for anybody’s safety,” he said. “It’s difficult to apprehend folks like that safely.”
As is done in all such cases, the officer who fired the shots at Johnson is on administrative leave while Montana’s Division of Criminal Investigation reviews the incident.