Breaking news out of Australia offers a fascinating glimpse of how your folk hero sausage gets made.
The "folk hero" in question is Australia's most wanted man. He was finally apprehended just a few hours ago following what was frequently described as an "embarrassing," seven year, multimillion dollar search.
And, wouldn't you know it, he was roughing it in the bush the whole time.
Police had been pursuing Malcolm Naden since 2005. He was wanted for questioning over the murder of a 24-year-old woman (his cousin) in June of that year, the disappearance of a 24-year-old woman (dating one of his cousins) in January, and an incident of aggravated indecent assault against a 15-year-old girl in 2004.
He also allegedly shot a police officer while on the lam in December of 2011.
However, despite the horrible allegations against Naden, it soon became apparent that the longer his Keystone Cops-esque police chase dragged on, the more the public's perception of him shifted from "mentally-ill murderer" to "fuzz-dodging folk hero."
This quote, from a February article in The Australian examining the development of Naden's outlaw mythology, exemplifies up the changing tide of public opinion:
"I tell you what, the man seems to have a lot more friends than the police," laughs Alex Lordanich, a 73-year-old retiree whose property abuts the forest that is said to harbour Naden near Nowendoc. "Everybody knows that wherever he goes he leaves the place tidy, whereas wherever the police go they make a mess. He seems like one of those folk heroes. Honestly, if he came here I would offer him some food."
The bit about Naden tidying up his workspace like an allegedly murderous cobbler's elf stems from what was, until his capture today, his closest brush with police: cops happened upon him in a secluded cabin last December, but failed to capture him after he fled out a back door.
Based on the scene inside the cabin, police determined that Naden had been living a low-key bachelor lifestyle, shaving, cutting his hair, drinking beer ("Foster's" in Australian) and surfing the internet for pornography, since arriving there the day before.
The cabin's owner was reportedly impressed that Naden had even washed up after preparing himself a meal, adding "the cops made more of a mess than he did". The owner has since stated his original remarks were misquoted.
The story of Naden's porn-and-beer vacation was but the latest addition to his rapidly developing desperado legend, which opens, as all Australian legends must, in the bush.
Or, anyway, a zoo's wildlife reserve.
In December 2005, police shut down the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Naden's hometown of Dubbo after an employee spotted a figure skulking around the zoo's bushlands. A search revealed evidence that suggested Naden had been living in the roof cavity of a zoo building for several weeks, but failed to turn up the man himself.
In the years since that story broke, the tale has been altered so that Naden was living, not in a roof, but the zoo's lion enclosure, subsisting off kangaroos he had butchered for meat using "bush skills" he learned in childhood.
Naden is Aboriginal. His family maintain that he never learned any childhood "bush skills," as he grew up in a suburb.
By time the reward for Naden's capture was upped to $100,000 (it had increased to $250,000 before his capture today), then-New South Wales Police Minister Michael Daley felt compelled to make a statement reminding people:
"[Naden] is not a Ned Kelly-like folk hero. He is an alleged murderer and child molester, and he should face a jury of his peers."
It should be noted that some regard 19th century Irish Australian bushman Ned Kelly not as a Ned Kelly-like folk hero, but a murderous outlaw, as well.
Naden, 38, was reportedly seized without a struggle (assuming you don't consider a near-seven year manhunt a struggle). His search now holds the record for Australia's longest police manhunt.
For the record: managing to evade police for several years doesn't make you a folk hero. It just makes you good at managing to at evade police.
[Image via Getty]