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The manhunt ended after CNN's 'The Hunt' tip: Who was Charles Mozdir?

By Greg Botelho and Deborah Feyerick, CNN
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Sun August 3, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Charles Mozdir was accused of molesting a 5-year-old California boy
  • He didn't show up for his arraignment; authorities lost track of him
  • A viewer of CNN's "The Hunt" recognized Mozdir; her tip led to New York
  • Mozdir died in an exchange of gunfire in a West Village smoke shop

Join victims' rights activist John Walsh as he follows ongoing police investigations of wanted fugitives around the world on CNN's original series, "The Hunt with John Walsh," Sundays at 9 p.m. ET

(CNN) -- The mugshot shows a fairly clean-cut man with short hair, his head cocked, sporting a half-smile.

That was Charles Mozdir in 2012, when he stood accused of molesting a then 5-year-old boy in California.

But authorities didn't see much of Mozdir after that picture, after he failed to show up for his arraignment.

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"Our case went cold in 2012," conceded Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Steve Jurman. "He was definitely living on cash, with a good fake ID. He was off our grid."

Mozdir reappeared on their radar thanks to a Florida woman who watched CNN's "The Hunt" with John Walsh, which first aired July 20. She recognized Mozdir when the show's segment about him aired, she recalled his dog and she ultimately gave authorities his cell phone number, according to a senior law enforcement official.

Tip during CNN's 'The Hunt' led police to suspect

Her tip and some investigative work led police to Smoking Culture, a smoke shop in New York's West Village.

Working there was a man who some knew as "Big John." He sported a bushy beard and ponytail.

He may not have looked much like the man from that 2012 mugshot. But the New York police detective who went into the smoke shop recognized him nonetheless.

The detective came back soon with help, only to be greeted by shots from Mozdir.

This time, the suspect didn't escape. He was killed in the exchange of fire.

Fled after being arrested for child assault

So who was Charles Mozdir? Where did he go and what did he do, after that 2012 accusation?

To tell his story, you have to start two years ago, in Coronado, California. That's where two close friends asked Mozdir to help care for their young son, who was home ill with a high fever.

The parents say the boy said Mozdir touched his private parts.

The parents went to police, after which investigators searched Mozdir's house and found evidence of child pornography and bestiality on his cell phone and computers, according to U.S. Marshals Service Deputy Brian Grimes. Four days later, they arrested Mozdir. A district attorney told the Coronado boy's parents Mozdir also was accused of child assault while babysitting another boy.

Mozdir posted bail. But rather than show up in court to face the accusation, he ran.

Grimes said investigators think Mozdir took all his money with him, indicating in a phone call he might go to Mexico or Japan. His roommate told police Mozdir had two guns and had threatened to kill himself and kill a victim's father.

This all made the Coronado boy's parents' nightmare worse, according to Walsh, who made tracking down fugitives his life's mission after the 1981 abduction and killing of his 6-year-old son, Adam.

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"This family was destroyed, terrified that he would come back and hurt them, because they had the courage to come forward and file charges against him," said Walsh, co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

From California to Florida to New York

Authorities searched in California, they looked in the Mexican state of Baja California.

But the first indication that Mozdir went east came June 20, 2012 -- five days after his scheduled arraignment -- when his abandoned vehicle was found hidden in brush outside the coastal Georgia town of Darien. Its license plate was ripped off, an extra gas tank was inside.

A bloodhound picked up Mozdir's scent near U.S. 17, which runs through Darien. Yet there was no sign of the man himself.

As Jurman from the U.S. Marshals Service conceded, authorities didn't have much clue what happened.

Now, they have a better idea.

According to Jurman, "(Mozdir) had a history of working in smoke shops. He had a hobby of blowing glass, which would come in handy at a smoke shop."

To some, he seemed friendly enough. On Yelp, one customer of the West Village shop described him as "super helpful." Another wrote: "John is the dude! He was pretty chilled and very helpful."

And while his appearance and identify changed, one thing did not: Mozdir had a dog. The last time he'd been spotted -- up until this week -- he'd had his black Labrador, by the name of Lucky, with him.

That's one reason authorities gave credence to the call of the Florida woman, because she mentioned the dog.

"I know Mozdir," the caller said, according to Jurman. "He left here 10 months ago."

It's not known if Mozdir went directly from Florida to New York, or if he stopped somewhere in between.

But that's where his story ended -- with a fight. In the smoke shop, Mozdir had a .32-caliber handgun and over 20 rounds of ammunition.

As police Commissioner Bill Bratton explained, "Mozdir fired upon the officers at very close range, and the officers returned fire...

"During the exchange of gunfire, the detective and two marshals were wounded. Charles Mozdir was shot dead."

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