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George Robert Johnston (1954 – 2004), better known as the Ballarat Bandit or as John Doe, was a Canadian-born burglar who gained nationwide attention as he spent the last several years of his life hiding from police in Death Valley National Park. The nickname of Ballarat Bandit was given to Johnston in accordance to where his criminal career began, inside of the town of Ballarat, California.
Johnston was born in Prince Edward Island, Canada. He had been employed as a drywaller when he had met his wife, Tommi, and they eventually had four daughters. When Tommi had developed leukemia, he began to grow and sell marijuana. In 1997, Johnston had been discovered, he received a total of eight years in prison (though only actually spent a year in a half before being paroled). However, within just weeks of incarceration, Johnston suffered a breakdown from which he never fully recovered. Tommi believed that the medicines that Johnston was given in prison had exacerbated, if not even caused, his psychotic breakdown; which left him unable to support his family. In 2000, Johnston left his family, saying he wished to leave Canada to the United States, where he would see a faith healer and get some help.
In 2003 he began his ‘criminal career’ by burglarizing multiple areas of Ballarat for various odd items for which to support himself with; as well as stealing items, such as weapons, and hiding them inside of his campsites. Johnston was described as being elusive and police spent many months attempting to capture him. It was believed for some time that he might have been a terrorist, or at very least suspected he had had military training, as his endurance and evasion techniques were rather impressive, foiling many a police officer for months.
Unable to face being incarcerated once again, Johnston instead took his own life when he discovered that he was near capture, via a single shot to the head. Because police were unable to identify Johnston’s body for eighteen months, he was known as John Doe . He also had a distinct tattoo, which did not initially assist with identification. Johnston’s body was identified by fingerprint matching in 2006, when the coroner thought to send his details to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Lost to his family for years, his wife and daughters were devastated at the news, as they had not heard from Johnston since his departure. He was buried in an unmarked grave in San Bernardino, California.
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