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Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2019 @ 1:09 PM
KEY WEST, Fla. — The disheveled, sunburned man found living in a Key West storage trailer May 3 gave investigators a name: William Wallace Littlejohn.
Monroe County sheriff’s deputies, who went to the Stock Island Marina around 1:30 a.m. that morning to investigate a burglar alarm, said they found Littlejohn living in an unlocked trailer next to the building they were investigating.
While searching the trailer, deputies found a U.S. passport and U.S. Navy identification card in the name of Littlejohn, but suspected the documents were forgeries, Monroe County authorities said. According to police investigators in Chico, California, those suspicions proved to be correct.
Fingerprints taken at the Florida jail gave Littlejohn’s true identity, that of Michael Patrick Manning -- a Chico man who allegedly jumped to his watery grave nearly three years ago.
Manning, now 58, was due to be sentenced on child sex abuse and child pornography charges when his rented car was found abandoned Oct. 7, 2016, near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Chico police officials said last week. A suicide note was found inside the car.
Suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge are frighteningly common. According to an August 2018 report by The San Francisco Chronicle, nearly 1,700 people had jumped to their deaths since the bridge was erected in 1937.
Construction began last year on a $211 million steel net designed to prevent people from being able to jump from the span. It is anticipated to be completed in 2021, the newspaper reported.
Manning’s body was never found, however, and authorities were suspicious about his supposed death.
The case against Manning began on Sept. 3, 2015, when Chico police detectives and agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security served multiple search warrants in connection with allegations that he’d abused a girl multiple times in 2008 and 2009, when she was between 12 and 14 years old, Chico police officials said.
“Detectives developed evidence and probable cause to support the victim’s allegations,” authorities said in a news release.
Manning was arrested on four counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor and one count of contacting a minor to commit a felony, police said. Days later, following the execution of search warrants at his home, he was again arrested on charges of possessing and manufacturing child pornography.
About a year later, Manning pleaded no contest to oral copulation with a person under the age of 14, possession of more than 600 images of child porn and two counts of solicitation of a minor to participate in the porn, the Chico Enterprise-Record reported. He was due to be sentenced Oct. 6, 2016, but he failed to show up for his sentencing hearing.
Manning’s alleged suicide was discovered the next day.
Detectives were immediately suspicious.
“Investigators began to monitor the behavior and patterns of a close associate of Manning and observed what appeared to be sophisticated counter surveillance measures,” Chico police officials said in the news release.
The search for Manning extended through Chico, Yuba City, Sacramento, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda. Detectives sought help from the U.S. Marshal’s Service Fugitive Task Force and the FBI.
“The investigation continued to broaden in scope, with indicators that Manning’s close associate was involved in international travel,” the news release said. “Agents from the U.S. Marshal’s Service continued to monitor the behavior and developed leads regarding possibilities of Manning’s location. Residences, storage facilities, and vehicles tied to Manning’s associate were frequently found full of personal property and hastily abandoned.
“Investigators believed that on multiple occasions they had narrowly missed apprehending Manning. One of these incidents occurred at the Fortman Marina in Alameda, California.”
The most recent break in the case came last month, when U.S. marshals learned Manning might be in Florida, authorities said. They focused their search for him there, but Monroe County deputies managed to find the suspect first.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office officials said the man calling himself Littlejohn initially said he had no identification. When the apparently fake documents were found, he was taken into custody.
“U.S. Border Patrol ran the passport information,” Monroe County officials said. “It came back as belonging to a man in Utah.”
Investigators contacted the FBI and Naval Air Station Key West for assistance. “Littlejohn” was refusing to speak to investigators at that point, authorities said.
“The man was taken to jail and booked under the name ‘John Doe’ as the Sheriff’s Office continued to work in identifying him,” officials said.
It didn’t take long for the inmate’s fingerprints to prove that he was Manning.
According to the Monroe County Jail, Manning is being held there on charges of giving false identification to a law enforcement officer and possession of fraudulent identification. He is awaiting extradition back to California.
Meanwhile, a laptop and cellphone found in the storage locker were confiscated during his arrest.