News

THE LION STING

Page 6 of 7

But does the world exist to make money for ranchers? Larry Hendrix thought so. Once over a campfire, he expressed his doubts to Stan Cunningham that anyone really cared if they killed every single lion in the state.

Cunningham shot back, "Larry, you don't spend enough time in Phoenix or Tucson. Ninety percent of the state lives in those two cities, and I guarantee you, most of those people give a shit if you kill any."

Hendrix refused to believe him.

Who can say how long Larry Hendrix may have been illegally killing lions on behalf of ranchers?

Ron Day, the Game and Fish undercover investigator, first heard that Hendrix might be bounty hunting in the Globe area in March 1989, when he received an anonymous tip through the department's Operation Game Thief program. The informer said that Hendrix was living on a ranch, that he had shot eight lions for $300 each, and that in the two years prior, he had shot another 30.

"I just couldn't prove it at the time," Day says.
Then, that fall, Hendrix turned up on the Beeline.
Game warden Carl Lutch was driving down the Beeline Highway into town when he noticed a hunter unloading dogs from a trailer, figured he was lion hunting and stopped to check his tags. It was Hendrix.

"He was real cooperative and friendly," Lutch remembers, and all his papers seemed to be in order.

According to Hendrix's diary and to statements made by the ranchers after he'd been arrested, Hendrix had met with several ranchers in December 1993 to discuss lion problems and what Hendrix could do about them.

Although it is unclear exactly who attended the meeting, the three ranchers named as conspirators in Hendrix's indictment apparently did. Together, they control all of the national forest land between Scottsdale and Four Peaks and from Saguaro Lake to the Mazatzal Mountains, an area that comprises 42,000 acres.

Bill Guilliam had recently obtained grazing rights for one allotment along the Beeline, which he bought from John Whitney III. Whitney and his cousin Kelly Hughes had raised the eyebrows of environmentalists on earlier occasions, Hughes for killing bears illegally, and Whitney for his poor stewardship of the land.

It is on Whitney's land that the Forest Service wants to build the fence. A 1994 environmental assessment of Whitney's allotments done by the Forest Service showed much overgrazing and severe cattle damage to Sycamore Creek. Forest Service plans call for approximately $261,000 in improvements to keep Whitney's cattle out of the riparian area. Whitney will have to pick up part of that tab, but the Forest Service's clemency has angered environmentalists.

"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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Kiefer