By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Here's a guy who's been a poor steward, and they're going to spend taxpayers' money on this person so he can keep 450 cows out of there," says grazing activist Jeff Burgess, "when it wouldn't cost anything to tell him to keep the cows off there and say forget it. Sometimes, I think the Forest Service should be suing them instead of investing in them."
The third rancher, Kelly Hughes, had been cited in 1990 for killing two bears and failing to report it. When confronted by Game and Fish officers about the ranchers' meeting, Hughes said he "was happy to pay [Hendrix] a little bit of money" for killing lions because "the damn things eat you out of house and home year after year after year."
If, in fact, mountain lions were taking Hughes' calves, he had not reported the losses to the Game and Fish Department so that he could take care of matters legally.
Still, in the alleged December meeting of the ranchers, Hughes was more gun-shy than the others. He later told investigator Carl Lutch that he wanted all of them to purchase lion hunting tags so that when Hendrix killed a lion they could put a tag on it as if they had hunted it legally. The other ranchers voted him down and told him to keep everything quiet.
In late 1993, enough rumors about Hendrix were flying around the Tonto National Forest that Ron Day and his boss Ray Kohls wanted to start an investigation. In February of the following year, Day and Lutch took up their surveillance, following Hendrix's silver pickup truck, watching him saddle his mules and unload his dogs and head out for the hunt.
They followed him on 19 days and watched him shoot two lions, and on April 11, 1994, they arrested him.
Among Hendrix's belongings was his diary; Day and Lutch followed its descriptions, tracking the tracker, sniffing the air for the unmistakable odor of decomposition. They found six dead cats.
According to the diary, Hendrix had been paid $12,500 by the ranchers, some of it labeled as guide fees. Three lions had been killed on Hughes' land, nine on Whitney's, five on Guilliam's. But the ranchers had been smart enough to pay Hendrix in cash, and to date, the investigators have not found enough of a paper trail to press charges against them.
Larry Hendrix refused to speak to New Times.
Those who know Larry Hendrix feel certain he won't talk to the authorities either. His friends have raised questions as to whether he is guilty of anything other than choosing bad employers. That he openly hunted roads close to the Beeline and that he kept such complete records of his kills in his diaries, they argue, imply that he didn't think he was doing anything wrong.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's the ranchers' place to report it," says Hendrix's friend and fellow lion hunter Bill Workman.
Or perhaps the blatant hunting was a sign of Hendrix's arrogance.
"I can assure you that Larry believes he was absolutely right in what he did," says Stan Cunningham. "He doesn't believe every lion should have to be reported to the government. If he believes he was saving the ranchers money, then he believes he was doing the right thing."
Ron Day's pickup truck lurched and rumbled down a dirt road through Kelly Hughes' grazing allotment. Day wore a baseball cap over his close-cropped hair. He held an empty tomato-paste can on the seat between his legs, and he would occasionally raise it to his lips to spit tobacco juice into it. And all the while he talked about how many ways the ranchers could have legally killed the lions on their ranches.
"One solution could have been to contact hunters and say, 'I've got lion problems up here, can you come up and do some hunting?'" The guides could bring out-of-town hunters with lion tags and shoot all the lions they wanted.
Day pulled to a stop at a creek bottom, jumped down from his truck and ducked under a low canopy of sycamore branches. Alongside the stream, someone had piled deadfall trees into a V that dead-ended at a tree trunk. Polished white cow bones hung from wires on the lower tree branches. This had once been a bear trap; the bruin would be lured in by the fresh meat hanging from the wires and step into a steel trap hidden beneath.
Day drove another mile down the road, parked again, and slid and scrambled down a steep hillside, then ducked under the barbed wire fence that marked Bill Guilliam's allotment. Alder Creek ran at the bottom of the hill; Day followed it, looking for whatever was left of the first lion he and Lutch had seen Hendrix shoot.
He pointed to the juniper on a bluff ten feet straight above where the dogs had treed the lion. Then he shuffled through the leaves and underbrush across the creek to look for bones. All that remained were the vertebrae and a couple of ribs, picked clean but still connected from neck to tail tip, and a mat of lion hair that clung to the dirt floor beneath the trees.
The creek burbled over the river rock; it was a beautiful place to go back to the soil. And certainly another mountain lion was already working the pastures up above.