Suspect In Fort Bragg Councilmember’s Murder Linked To Another Slaying

FORT BRAGG (KCBS) – The man being sought for the shooting Fort Bragg City Councilmember Jere Melo has also been tied to another recent murder, the Mendocino county Sheriff’s Office said Friday.

Since Saturday, authorities have been searching the forest east of Fort Bragg for Aaron Bassler, who may still be armed with the high caliber rifle allegedly used to murder Melo.

An arrest warrant issued for Bassler also names him as a suspect in the Aug. 11 slaying near Westport of Matthew Coleman, who worked as a land steward for the Mendocino Land Trust.

The Sheriff’s Department declined to reveal what evidence connected Bassler to that earlier killing, but Detective Greg Van Patten noted similarities in both cases.

Both Melo and Coleman were “conducting land management duties on privately-owned pieces of property in the North Coast,” he said, and “both victims were killed with a high caliber-powered rifle.”

Authorities believe Bassler may have been the sole tender of more than 100 opium poppies found growing in an area that has traditionally been used for illegal marijuana cultivation.

Van Patten said investigators were now comparing ammunition casings collected at both shootings.

Bassler’s relatives told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat the 35-year-old had a history of psychiatric problems and violent outbursts. He has lived in Fort Bragg all his life, a fact Van Patten said only complicated their extensive search for a man considered armed and dangerous.

“He’s very familiar with the surroundings whether they be the city or the outlying areas in the wooded timberland,” Van Patten said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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