The tripped alarm triggered a call to police. It was last Friday, around 1:30 a.m., just outside Key West, Florida. Deputies from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office pulled onto Shrimp Road, a sweaty strip of broken concrete on Stock Island where a large hangar-like industrial building squatted across from a canal.
As the sheriff’s office detailed in a recent news release, the deputies picking through the property discovered an unlocked storage trailer sitting off to the side of the main building. A man – his short light hair messed up, his face charred red from the sun and dotted with small cuts – was living inside.
He told the Monroe deputies his name was William Wallace Littlejohn. He said he had no identification. No record came back when the deputies punched his name into the system. They were dealing with a mystery man.
Searching through the trailer, the deputies discovered a military contractor ID card in the name William W. Littlejohn. They also found checks written out in the name, as well as a U.S. passport. The deputies, however, felt the documentation was fake. When they ran the details through a U.S. Border Patrol system, Littlejohn turned out to be a man living in Utah.
The individual from the trailer refused to speak to deputies, and he was booked into the local jail as “John Doe,” held on suspicion of giving police a false name.
Palm-shaded and joyfully beer-sloshed, Key West’s debauched reputation as a Tommy Bahama-clad vacation destination runs parallel to another identity as the perfect place to lay low. As the southernmost point in the continental United States, the Florida Keys have been longtime safe havens for drifters, burnouts, fugitives and anyone eager to live as far off the grid as possible.
But the man from the trailer did not remain a John Doe for long. Running his fingerprints, Monroe County deputies learned he had been wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service for the last three years – in reality, he was 58-year-old Michael Patrick Manning.
In 2015, Manning had been charged in California with both sexually abusing a minor under the age of 14 and creating child pornography. But he had slipped away from authorities the next year after elaborately staging a suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge, more than 3,200 miles from the trailer where he was recently discovered.
Manning’s problems with the law began when he was living in Chico, Calif., a Central Valley city of around 112,000 north of Sacramento. In 2015, the local police department began investigating him after a young woman said she had been sexually assaulted by Manning in 2008 and 2009, when she was between 12 to 14 years old, according to a recent news release from the Chico Police Department.
On Sept. 3, 2015, Manning was arrested on ” multiple counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under the age of 14,” the Chico Enterprise-Record reported at the time.
During his arrest, police searched his home. According to the Enterprise-Record, investigators discovered more than 600 images of child pornography at the residence. He was later charged with possessing and manufacturing child pornography, the Chico police news release said. He posted a $215,000 bail and was released from jail.
More than a year later, in June 2016, Manning pleaded no contest to the charges he faced, including oral copulation of a person under 14, possession of more than 600 images of child/youth pornography, and two counts of solicitation of a minor to engage in the preparation of sexual images, the Enterprise-Record reported. His sentencing date in Butte County Superior Court was scheduled for Oct. 6, 2016.
Manning was a no-show at his court date.
The next day, about a three-hour drive south of Chico in San Francisco, members of the National Park Service discovered an abandoned car near the Golden Gate Bridge, according to the Chico police release. The car was a rental taken out in Manning’s name. Inside, they discovered a suicide note in the wanted man’s handwriting.
Authorities did not buy the scenario. A search turned up no body. So police tapped the FBI and the Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force to help track down Manning. According to the release from Chico law enforcement, the hunt hopscotched across California – Yuba City, Sacramento, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda.
Investigators believed a “close associate” of Manning was helping the fugitive slip away. This same associate “was involved in international travel,” according to the release. Investigators seemed always to just miss Manning.
“Residences, storage facilities, and vehicles tied to Manning’s associate were frequently found full of personal property, and hastily abandoned,” the release noted. Authorities believe they once almost caught up to him at a marina in Alameda, Calif.
Since his 2016 disappearance, it is unclear why or how Manning traveled to Florida, or much less his final destination, a storage trailer in Key West. After his arrest in Florida last week, he was charged locally with giving law enforcement a false name and identification.
His extradition back to California is underway.