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Notable career ends in manhunt

Published Jul. 29, 1997|Updated Oct. 1, 2005

Carl Jon Clausen has been a man of mystery throughout his life.

From searching for sunken 18th-century Spanish gold to plumbing the depths of Little Salt Springs in Sarasota County to serving as a bodyguard in Panama, Clausen's life reads like an action-packed Indiana Jones movie.

But now, it has an added _ and unexpected _ element of tragedy.

Clausen, 60, a former police officer and marine archaeologist, is charged with killing his wife, Cynthia, 58, after a late-night argument Wednesday.

He was also charged with shooting and wounding three Gadsden County deputies and riddling more than a dozen patrol cars with automatic gunfire during a five-day manhunt.

He was finally caught late Sunday on his 64-acre ranch west of Tallahassee, near the small town of Sycamore. His former son-in-law, John Pretti, got the drop on him in woods. The capture came just after Gadsden County deputies and other officers ended their vigil at the property.

Clausen, who was carrying a handgun in a plastic bag and two extra clips, was surprised by Pretti, a Tallahassee police officer, who pulled a gun on Clausen and ordered him to lie on the ground while other officers returned to the ranch. Clausen was said to be dehydrated and had fungus growing on his hands and feet.

"He appears to have been in and out of the water for several days," said Gadsden County Sheriff W.A. Woodham.

Clausen, described by friends and colleagues as temperamental and brilliant, has spent his life on the other side of intense searches _ often 100 feet underwater in caves and sinkholes.

Born in Bradenton, Clausen made a name for himself in the specialized world of underwater archaeology more than 30 years ago when he took a strong interest in deep-sea diving for lost treasures.

In 1964, when he was 27, Clausen had just received his master's degree from the University of Florida when he was appointed by Gov. Farris Bryant as the state of Florida's first-ever official underwater archaeologist.

The state position helped open many doors for Clausen, academically and professionally. After a stint as Texas' state underwater archaeologist, Clausen was asked to assist on some of the most noted exploration projects in Florida, including Col. William Royal's work at the Warm Mineral Springs sinkhole in the mid-1970s.

Clausen then took the lead on on his own project, Little Salt Springs, which Royal and Clausen discovered together three miles from Warm Mineral Springs near North Port.

Clausen's most notable find there was the discovery with Royal of a 6,000-year-old human skull with intact brain matter.

A former Little Salt Springs colleague, Marion Almy, said Clausen's reputation quickly spread nationwide, attracting divers and archaeologists from across the country to explore the 210-foot-deep sinkhole.

Almy said she last saw Clausen about 10 years ago over dinner in Tallahassee. She said of the entire Clausen saga that she was especially shocked over the apparent murder of Cynthia Clausen.

"I'm dumbfounded. He loved her very much," said Almy, now co-owner of Archaeological Consultants, a Sarasota firm.

After leaving North Port for northern Florida, Clausen stayed active in archaeology, offering his services to private ventures as an underwater archaeologist.

Clausen's expertise led him to Central America, where his research work led to a new line of work, private security. Friends of Clausen said he would often tell of providing security for visiting heads of state and other dignitaries in Panama and other countries.

The exotic security work wasn't much of a surprise, given Clausen's longtime interest in gun collecting, his nine-year stint in the military and his penchant for traveling wherever mystery and intrigue awaited.

In 1978, Clausen co-authored Florida's Golden Galleons, a historical mystery about a Spanish treasure fleet that disappeared in 1715 near present-day Cape Canaveral. Piecing together the tale required 10 years of research for Clausen, but cemented the scientist's reputation for getting, quite literally, to the bottom of the story.

After the book's publication, Clausen chose to settle down in a second love, law enforcement. He joined the Gadsden County Sheriff's Office in the late 1980s, then moved to the smaller Midway City force. With their four children grown, the Clausens focused on their farm, their occasional archaeological work and their new life in the rural Panhandle.

By several accounts, Clausen enjoyed his work on the Midway force, moving up to acting police chief. But when he was passed over for the permanent chief's post, he became despondent, friends said.

Two weeks ago, he left the Midway department after a critical performance evaluation.

But Clausen hadn't left archaeology behind, traveling frequently to Sarasota to assist a local exploration company, Triton Quest.

Triton Quest officials said Friday that they had hired Clausen as a special consultant to help find and excavate shipwrecks near Gasparilla Island. Last week, they discussed the project at length, asking Clausen to help supervise the next stage of the excavation.

"He's a person with a tremendous sense of honor. It's all a real tragedy," Kaltsas said.

_ The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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