The Mystery of the Man Who Murdered Two Wyoming Game Wardens
One year ago in Saratoga, Wyoming, a memorial was held 70 years after two Game and Fish Deputy Wardens were killed in late October 1945. Bill Lakanen and Don Simpson, went to check on a man who was arrested for illegal possession of beaver pelts. They wouldn’t come home.
The man the wardens were after, Johann Malten, held a vendetta against them after his release from jail because of the bever pelts. He was known to have said he would kill Lakanen and Simpson if they ever came on his property again.
On Wednesday, Oct. 31, 1945, Bill Lakanen and Don Simpson went to Nugget Gulch southwest of Rawlins to check on activity of Johann Malten.
Although the truth of what happened may never be known, here is how evidence from the scene looked. Arriving at Malten’s cabin, the suspect opened the door and started shooting at them. Lakanen was shot once in the head with a .22 caliber rifle while he was still behind the steering wheel. It appears Simpson managed to return fire.
At some point, Simpson attempted to get to safety of surrounding trees--he did not make it. Malten found him still alive, and shot Simpson through the head with his own .38 caliber revolver. Malten dragged his body back to the vehicle, and after removing Lakanen's body. Wood was piled around them both, and gas poured over them, but for some reason, they were never set on fire. The cabin had been burned to the ground.
Authorities believe that Johann Malten was in the fire after finding some of his personal belongings, but they could never confirm that Malten was in the scorched cabin. All we know is that Malten was never seen or heard from again.
Many years later, on Aug. 6, 2014, a group of game wardens had gone up to the area in Nugget Gulch to place a plaque in the honor of Bill and Don.
Last year, the president of the Wyoming Game Wardens Association Bill Robertson continued to be sure the two were remembered. After 70 years, there wasn’t much information on who they were, but they honored their duty to service and sacrifice.
Rawlins Daily Times reporter David Louis quoted more from Robertson, “I don’t know exactly what these wardens were talking about, what their hobbies or interests were, as they drove up to a remote location. Likely they both had a love for Wyoming’s wildlife and the great outdoors like all of us here. ... Everyone must be reminded of their story."
So did Malten really die in that cabin, or was the fire and ash enough to cover up one of Wyoming's most elusive murderers?