Jay Shaw was buying hay for his Black Angus cows when the past caught up in a hail of blue lights and badges. He was parked on a roadside in Idaho, 40 miles west of Boise, negotiating with a farmer, Bob Briggs, when an unmarked Chevy truck filled with federal agents passed by. “That’s a cop,” Shaw said. “That ain’t no cop,” Briggs countered. “I seen that pickup buying hay just like you.” They watched as just up the road, the truck turned around, and followed by more vehicles, roared back and skidded to a stop in front of Shaw. As the feds cuffed Shaw and brought a decade of illusion to an end, Briggs sat stunned as he watched the scene unfold, and managed to ask a U.S. marshal how Shaw had known their truck was unmarked. “How do you know,” the marshal responded, “when a cow is sick?”
For more on Shaw, see His Own Private Idaho
“Jay Shaw” didn’t really exist. The feds had actually arrested Boston mobster Enrico Ponzo, wanted for racketeering, attempted murder and criminal conspiracy. He had disappeared in the mid-90s, running from a federal grand jury indictment and the wrath of fellow mobsters, and fled west, spending time in Arizona before surfacing in Marsing, Idaho as “Jay Shaw” in 2001, along with new girlfriend Cara Lyn Pace.
At 32 years old, Shaw tried to permanently shed his East Coast skin. He paid cash for everything, buying 12 acres and building a house in Marsing — a tiny town of 1,000. He placed the house on the back of his acreage, with all windows facing a long driveway that connected to the main road. No surprises.
From Boston Magazine: “… he seemed to spend an awful lot of his first months in Marsing learning how to farm. In truth, he wasn’t any good. He bought tree saplings without installing an irrigation system to nourish them. They died. In 2002, he decided to raise cattle and asked a neighbor named Bodier Clapier to teach him. Clapier was a rancher who’d lived in Marsing his whole life and looked the part; a full mustache, a weather-beaten face. Shaw, apparently dressing to impress, showed up for lessons one day in bib overalls and a straw hat. Clapier, wearing jeans, a durable button-down, and a baseball cap, just stared at him.”
Despite serving as a community enigma, Shaw and Pace kept a low profile, and settled into routine. They had two children and Shaw looked after them while Cara worked nearby at Williamson Orchards. He tended 12 cows and Shaw’s 10-year back-to-the-wall vigil began relatively smoothly. Over time, Shaw learned to take on “the look of Idaho ranchers — a full goatee, a baseball cap forever on his head — he also acquired their hardiness. He helped friends and neighbors stack hay.” But Shaw’s chameleon act began falling apart when Cara took the two children and left. There has been speculation that Cara gave the feds Shaw’s location, although the tipoff source remains unclear.
According to GQ, after Shaw was arrested while buying hay in 2011, the feds found $118,000 in cash, $65,000 in gold coins, a bar of silver, and 33 guns in his house. He was extradited to back to Massachusetts for trial, and on Nov. 20, 2013, was convicted was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, murder conspiracy, money laundering and extortion, and will be sentenced on March 6, 2014. He was acquitted on two murder charges and four other attempted murders.
Not even the vast expanses of Idaho farmland and ranch country could hold Shaw’s secret.
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