Unidentified man in Kayenta not Jesse Conger
By Arlyssa Becenti
Special to the Times
John Doe is not Patricia Conger’s twin brother, Jesse Conger.
For a few weeks, Kayenta was sending tips of a non-Navajo man living among them, who would descend upon the residents and steal food and shelter, wielding a machete.
For a while people decided that it was Conger’s brother, Jesse Conger, a U.S. Marine veteran who had gone missing two years ago.
The possibility that it could’ve been Jesse Conger could not be ignored, so when Navajo Nation Police tried to identify who the man was that community members had been reporting, they decided to contact Patricia Conger to ask more about the whereabouts of her brother.
“The way she explained it is someone decided he was the same guy from two years ago and he’s been there the whole time,” explained in a family group text that Patricia Conger shared with the Navajo Times.
This group text was shared among the family as they discussed the bizarre situation unfolding on Navajo that involved her brother.
But Patricia knew from the start it wasn’t her brother because on Jan. 23, 2020, five months after Jesse Conger drove off in his silver Toyota Camry never to return, his vehicle was found on the San Carlos Reservation.
In a YouTube video made by Patricia Conger, it shows photos of the found vehicle and it explains how the San Carlos tribe will not allow Graham County Search and Rescue do a proper search of the area.
Patricia Conger believes her brother’s remains are on the San Carlos Reservation. He had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“I always knew it wasn’t Jesse,” Patricia said. “When I read the transcript of the voicemail left by (Navajo Police), I thought it was because someone had found his remains.
“I know he’s on San Carlos,” she said, “but I figured it was an inter-tribal thing. I thought we were finally at the end, but we weren’t. And the emotions I felt pulled me straight back to the beginning.”
Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco said even before there was an influx of reports from Kayenta and elsewhere of the non-Navajo, his officers knew about it and had been trying to contact the person.
But the man in question continued to elude officers.
When it comes to the reports of the machete and burglaries, Francisco said the machete the stranger had was more like a survival tool.
“There were no reports of assaults, no reports of anything dangerous or violent,” Francisco said. “He just was taking things to survive.
“And it was obvious it was food and water and supplies that you may need to survive,” he said. “But the community started getting upset.”
From what Francisco was told, residents have seen this person before and he has been in the area for the past two years. Only recently has the man gotten desperate for food and shelter.
Reports also indicated the man travelled with a dog that he tried to keep fed.
Last month, Navajo Police sent out a press release trying to inform people not to approach the stranger.
Francisco said rumors the person was a wanted felon or a wanted murderer started and people began to complain and get worried.
When people began to think it was Jesse Conger and they saw the $30,000 reward for information about his whereabouts, that’s when Navajo Police began getting reports of outside groups wanting to look for the person. Not to mention locals who wanted to do the same.
To keep people safe and the situation under control, the department sent out the press release.
“We had people from the outside form search parties and citizens wanting to approach him,” Francisco said. “We didn’t want citizens to approach this guy and cause a situation where they get hurt or he gets hurt.”
Identifying the man was a priority and approaching him safely was a concern. Since residents were identifying Jesse as possibly the man, that’s when NPD decided to reach out to Patricia in hopes to get more information on her brother.”
“It was really just to gather more information,” Francisco said. “Hoping it would lead us to identify this guy and bring him in safely.
“We started getting veterans affairs and counselors ready,” he said, “we just didn’t want to go out there and grab him. If he was this gentleman, we wanted to make sure we provided him the services he needed.”
Running from authorities
The illusive stranger was finally found after he tried getting away from authorities. What was described as a calm approach to contacting the man, ended up with him falling 80 feet or so.
The man was flown out and had sustained injuries, but nothing life threatening.
He gave his name, and it’s not Jesse Conger, but the FBI and the San Juan County Sherriff’s also believe the name he gave is also not really his name.
“We had officers were tracking him and community members were taking up arms and trying to track him,” said Capt. Martin Page of the Kayenta Police District. “This guy ended up in Halchita.
“He started from Shonto/Tall Mountain area,” Page said. “It’s quite the distance and quite the treacherous terrain. He travelled this on foot.”
Page said when officers were tracking him, they said he would jump from ledge to ledge, which was no easy feat.
Getting to him proved to be tough, with the assistance from San Juan County deputies, Navajo Criminal Investigators, and other authorities he was finally found.
When authorities were closing in on him, he started scaling a cliff about 80 to 100 feet, he then started jumping from rock to rock.
He could’ve gotten away but on one jump he lost his footing and fell.
“He just didn’t want to be contacted by anybody and law enforcement especially,” Page said. “He survived.
“He did sustain injuries,” he added. “Officers rendered aid. He was conscious and alert, but he was refusing to give any information.
“Officers said to him, ‘We just want to give you assistance’ and he still didn’t want anything to do with us,” he said.
Page said he believes the man is between 25 to 35, and from the photos of Jesse, he said he doesn’t believe it could be him, but then again, the mystery man has not been identified.
In a letter to the Navajo Times, Patricia said she always gets calls from people claiming they found her brother.
“I appreciate every text and call, but I want to demonstrate how thoroughly extensive this search continues to be,” she wrote. “This man may not be my brother, but he is someone’s brother, and I hope he can find his way.”
The San Carlos Apache Tribe did not return calls for comment.
FBI and San Juan County authorities have still not been able to identify the man.