NSW Police via Reuters
New South Wales state police officers escort Malcolm Naden after he was captured near Gloucester, about 137 miles north of Sydney. The photo was blurred by police before it was released to the media.
Australia's most-wanted fugitive, Malcolm Naden, has been captured after spending seven years surviving in rugged bushland by killing and eating animals such as kangaroos.
The 38-year-old outlaw, whose evasion of a massive police dragnet has made him a figure of legend, was finally snared in a raid in the early hours of Friday local time, the BBC reported.
The former slaughterhouse worker was wanted for the murder of 24-year-old Kristy Scholes, who was found strangled in his locked bedroom in the New South Wales town of Dubbo in 2005. He also faced two counts of sexual assault against a 15-year-old-girl and the shooting of a police officer who closed in on one of his makeshift camps in December 2011.
Photographs of his capture - near the town of Gloucester in the vast Barrington Tops national park several hours' drive north of Sydney - showed him with a long beard, handcuffed and covered in mud.
He later appeared in a local court with a shaved head, beard and no shoes, where he was refused bail, according to a report in the Newcastle Herald.
The $260,000 (AUS$ 250,000) bounty on Naden's head was reported to be the largest since the hunt for outlawed bushman Ned Kelly in the late 19th century.
Naden broke into isolated homes to gain supplies before returning to almost inaccessible bushland, playing a game of cat and mouse with frustrated police.
NSW Police - AFP - Getty Images
A police file photo showing Malcolm Naden.
He was first spotted on the run in December 2006, when police found evidence he had been living in the animal enclosures in Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, stealing meat and fruit left out for the animals. Police also found carefully butchered kangaroo carcasses, according to a report in the Herald Sun newspaper.
Naden spent so long in the bush that it became difficult for police dogs to pick up his scent.
Fingerprints from house thefts led police to concentrate an area near the 5,000-strong town of Gloucester, but in December he used a stolen semi-automatic weapon to shoot an officer who came close.
New South Wales (NSW) Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione described Naden in December 2011 as "a master bushman" and the local conditions "atrocious" with terrain "second to none when it comes to difficulty".
But despite Naden's wildlife skills, it was a police dog named Chuck that eventually brought him down, dragging him to the ground by his leg and biting him in several places.
Simone De Peak / Pool via Getty Images
Chuck the police dog, who assisted in the capture of Malcolm Naden.
"Today Australia's most wanted man was behind bars," Scipione told reporters in Sydney on Friday, according to Reuters.
'Game of patience'
Mick Peet, whose daughter Lateesha Nolan is misssing in a case also linked to Naden, told the Sydney Morning Herald the news of the capture left him in shock.
"I immediately nearly dropped to the floor. I just sort of went all limp," Mr Peet said. "I had so many thoughts in my mind. I didn't know which one to bring out first."
"To get the positive truth about what has happened to my daughter and where she may be, that will relieve a lot of pain that we've got inside us."
He added: "It started getting that way where they started looking at him as a Ned Kelly folk hero ... which made you pretty wild. You just feel for all the families that have been involved in this and I'm just glad that it's come to this day."
"The kids and everyone here [are] jumping around and joyous. It's like we've sort of won lotto or something like that."
Police Assistant Commissioner Carlene York told Australia's ABC News: "This was a game of patience and I am very proud of everyone involved."
The capture also brought relief to local residents who lived in fear of his break-ins.
However, Naden's haunting presence in the region might be missed by some. Gary Daley, a publican at the town's Avon Valley Inn, said the outlaw had "put Gloucester on the map" and beer sales had been increased by up to 20 percent because of police officers in the area and interest in the case.
"We get people in here - from everywhere - coming up to see the town," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Msnbc.com's Alastair Jamieson and Reuters contributed to this report.