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John Bjornstrom, seen led by police in Salmon Arm, B.C., in 2001, escaped from jail in Kamloops and was on the lam for two years.James Murray

A fugitive who evaded police as the "Bushman of the Shuswap" and later loved playing Santa and ran for mayor in his hometown of Williams Lake, B.C., has died.

John Bjornstrom's death came suddenly on Jan. 13 at the age of 58, according to an obituary in the Williams Lake Tribune. A celebration of life will be held on Sunday.

Mr. Bjornstrom escaped from jail in Kamloops and was on the lam for two years before being captured in November, 2001, after a massive manhunt.

"This area is really, really isolated. The terrain is very steep, riddled with canyons and creek beds. The fact he was able to survive for so long is remarkable," said Fred Busch, who was mayor of the lakeside municipality of Sicamous when the fugitive was captured.

He survived by stealing food and property from dozens of cabins in the woods around Shuswap Lake, where he repeatedly eluded the RCMP but spoke with several media outlets about his underground encampment.

RCMP posed as journalists making a documentary in order to arrest Mr. Bjornstrom.

In 2004, he was sentenced to house arrest for 23 months after pleading guilty to 10 charges including break and enter.

Mayor Walter Cobb of Williams Lake said he last saw Mr. Bjornstrom in December as he sported his long white beard and a Santa suit at a community dinner hosted by the Salvation Army.

Mr. Cobb didn't know how Mr. Bjornstrom died, but said he ran into him at a Chamber of Commerce meeting last fall, where the former "Bushman" said he'd suffered a heart attack.

In 2014, Mr. Bjornstrom entered the Williams Lake mayoral race saying he was healthy despite a recent battle with cancer.

He finished with 91 votes and in last place among four candidates.

Mr. Bjornstrom worked as a truck driver and also drove a limousine for a local company but seemed to be a reclusive type, Mr. Cobb said.

Mary Betts said she didn't know Mr. Bjornstrom personally but her son is married to Mr. Bjornstrom's sister, although the siblings were estranged from each other.

"People around here liked him," she said. "He was a novelty when he first came here because of the things he had done. I mean, he had to be a smart man to do the things he had done."

Her niece lived in a trailer park across from Mr. Bjornstrom's motorhome, Ms. Betts said.

"He was very good to her, and not in a romantic way. He was just nice to her. And I know that for a special occasion he drove her somewhere in a limousine."

The obituary in the Tribune says Mr. Bjornstrom had moved from Ontario at the age of 12, loved the outdoors and horses, and was an accomplished bare-back rodeo star.

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