Hey, y’all. Last week was crazy busy for me and I couldn’t find the time to recap last week’s episode of Dateline, but I’m back, baby. And this week, we get Keith Morrison who tells the story of Lloyd Barrus and the deadly chase that claimed the life of a police officer in Dateline On a Dark, Deserted Highway.
- Dateline “On a Dark, Deserted Highway”
- Aired February 3, 2023, on NBC with Lester Holt and Keith Morrison.
In May 2017, a small-town Montana deputy was cruising home after a quiet shift. Spring was in the air and the deputy was looking forward to going home early. Then suddenly, a speeding Chevy Suburban flew by and the deputy gave chase.
However, when the deputy stopped answering his calls, the reason became apparent. The deputy was found with his car door open at mile marker 109, and EMTs were called for medical assistance.
This incident led to one of the most furious chases in Montana’s history, with speeds reaching 140 miles an hour. The driver of the Chevy Suburban, Lloyd Barrus, became one of the most notorious criminals in Montana’s history.
But according to Keith, the story of Lloyd Barrus began long before this night on the highway. It started over 50 years ago in McCammon, Idaho, where he met Michael Cobia in high school. The two became fast friends and got involved in unwholesome activities until Lloyd found religion and got Mike back on the right path.
He went on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and married his girlfriend Tracy when he returned from the mission.
Tracy says that Lloyd was a good provider, a God-fearing man, and a proud father of two boys (Marshall and Jeffrey). However, Lloyd made it clear to Tracy that she was to submit to him as his wife and that he was the arbiter of right and wrong. Oh, he was one of *those* religious people.
Tracy tells Keith that back then, people didn’t talk about abuse and domestic violence and that’s such a sad reality of how the world once was. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
So how did this man who was strong in his LDS faith go from missionary to monster?
Tracy began to realize that Lloyd was involved in something secret, and the phone calls from people she didn’t know only reinforced her suspicions. Lloyd would often return from these mysterious trips and rant like a 19th-century prophet about the government’s role in our lives. Meanwhile, Tracy lived in fear of his sudden flashes of anger and violence.
And Lloyd was paranoid, often raving about the government.
At her wit’s end, Tracy went to her LDS Bishop, but he only made the situation worse by suggesting that she was just having a hormonal mood swing. Marriage was considered sacred in their community, and the bishop reminded them that they should keep trying. However, things only got worse, and Tracy was subjected to marital rape and other forms of abuse.
Eventually, Tracy filed for divorce, and after it was granted, Lloyd essentially kidnapped his sons from a sitter and took them 700 miles away to Tacoma, Washington.
While Lloyd’s first wife, Tracy, was frantically searching for her two sons, Lloyd had settled in at a new church and caught the eye of some of the women there. That’s where he met Debra, a divorced mother of two. Debra had no idea about Lloyd’s past, married him, and took on the role of a mother to Marshall and Jeffrey.
At some point, Lloyd took his new family to Alaska. Debra soon became pregnant with a son of her own, Alma, and the family continued to grow.
Once in Alaska, Lloyd continued his slide into paranoia and extremism. As time went on, Lloyd became increasingly secretive and stopped attending his LDS ward. He became involved with a neighbor who was also against the government, and they began thumbing their noses at local ordinances and refusing to pay taxes. Lloyd’s allegiance to the church was changing and he was now a fanatical Amway distributor, calling himself Diamond Lloyd Barrus.
However, when Lloyd’s Amway distributorship failed, he became angry and abusive towards Debra, once forcing her to hold a fake smile in front of her face all night long so that she would know how to behave.
Years later, Lloyd agreed to let the boys visit Tracy, but with a warning that he would come with a gun if there were any funny business. Tracy consulted a child psychologist who advised her against kidnapping the boys back.
She sent the boys back to Lloyd but had no idea of the danger they were in. Lloyd was constantly armed, with a closet full of weapons, and was practicing fight moves in front of the mirror.
One day, Lloyd shot and killed a neighbor’s black lab puppy, and Debra realized that Lloyd was becoming more and more dangerous. She devised a plan to escape, and one night when Lloyd announced that he had to work all night, she gathered her children and left. Debra and her children went straight to a domestic violence shelter in Anchorage and called her LDS bishop, who went to the airport in disguise to purchase airplane tickets for them.
Unfortunately, Debra left Marshall and Jeffrey with Lloyd because she wasn’t their mother and had no legal right to remove them.
Debra tells Keith about her fear and the lengths she went to in order to escape Lloyd’s abuse and track. She first fled to Arizona and then to Washington where her parents lived, but even with a change of location, Lloyd was able to track her down.
Debra was forced to act in self-defense when Lloyd appeared on her doorstep, armed with a knife and a gun. She managed to convince him to take a walk with her, and it was only through a lucky coincidence that a visitor arrived, allowing Debra to escape the immediate danger.
For Debra, this was only the beginning of an odyssey to keep her and her family safe. She was forced to move from place to place, constantly in fear of Lloyd’s ability to track her down. But even years later, she still lived in fear of him.
He shot down a helicopter?
In 1999, Lloyd Barrus was living in Idaho with a new girlfriend and was upset with the government for various reasons. By now, he had been through three wives, had ten children, and told his childhood friend, Michael Cobia, that it was all the government’s fault.
Lloyd also refused to pay child support and lost all of his professional licenses. In March of 2000, he was summoned to an Idaho court on DUI and other charges but skipped town instead with his girlfriend and his now 20-year-old son Jeffrey.
In the early morning on the way to Las Vegas, Lloyd and his group were pulled over by a highway patrolman. When the officer approached the car, he found Lloyd with a shotgun and Lloyd told him he could have as many weapons as he wanted.
The cop tried to call for backup but the nearest officer was 18 miles away. Jeffrey tried to lure the police officer back to the car, but he stayed out of sight and waited for backup. When backup arrived, they attempted a high-risk stop, but the car fled. The chase led to Death Valley where Jeffrey, Lloyd, and the woman bailed out of the car, grabbing several firearms and digging a makeshift bunker.
The standoff went on for 18 hours, with some of the cops reporting gunfire and moans coming from the bunker. Eventually, the helicopter sent to monitor the situation was shot down by Jeffrey, but the crew miraculously survived. The standoff ended when the three suspects surrendered and were arrested by the law officers who had surrounded them.
Turns out, that was the first time anyone had ever shot down a chopper, which is impressive, I guess? Jeffrey and Lloyd were taken into custody and interviewed.
I tried to transcribe what Lloyd said, but honestly, his interview made no sense. He rambles about how he hated the government and had written a letter to former President George W. Bush.
But the important thing to take away here is that he immediately turned on his son Jeffrey, blaming him for everything. Lloyd took a plea deal and was sentenced to ten years less prison time than Jeffrey.
After being released from prison, Lloyd moved to Bakersfield and reemerged on social media, documenting his life and beliefs. He made predictions of an imminent military coup, fevered allegations of government genocide campaigns, and posted photos of lynchings. His son Alma was alarmed and tried to stop him but was unable to find any help from law enforcement. Lloyd eventually pointed his car north towards Montana, driven by his dark fantasies.
In May 2017, Lloyd Barrus was newly paroled in California and traveled to Montana to visit his firstborn son, Marshall. Marshall had been no doubt traumatized by his dad raising him as a soldier, but he was determined to turn his life around and start anew with his family.
However, a camping trip near Canyon Ferry Lake in Montana’s Broadwater County took a turn for the worse when Lloyd and Marshall started drinking and things escalated. Marshall cut off his ankle bracelet and started shooting his semi-automatic weapon.
Shortly after 2:30 a.m. on May 16, 2017, Deputy Mason Moore spotted a white Suburban speeding past a gas station called The Town Pump, which is a great name.
But now, let’s learn about Deputy Mason Moore, who would later be killed by Marshall and Lloyd.
Deputy Mason Moore was known for his South Carolina accent and his college sweetheart-turned-wife, Jodi Moore. The couple eventually moved to Montana in 2011. Mason always said that he knew he was destined to be a cop.
Mason fit in well at the Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office, where he was considered a big brother to dispatcher Kylie Howard. Despite his Southern accent, which was hard to understand at first over the radio, Kylie and Mason made a great team.
On Monday, May 15th, while Mason was starting his shift in the afternoon, Jodi recalls kissing him goodbye as she was leaving the house to pick up their daughter from school. It was a normal, busy day for the couple.
That evening at the Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office, the phones were dead and it was a very quiet night, which was unusual for law enforcement.
At 2:00 AM, Deputy Moore made his final rounds and he always checked the main businesses before leaving. It was a quiet night, but things changed quickly. At 2:13 AM, security footage shows a white Suburban parked at a gas station called the Town Pump.
Just a few minutes later, Deputy Moore passed the same gas station and turned onto the highway. As he was driving, the Suburban passed him again, going way too fast. Deputy Moore radioed in the license plate, but little did he know that this would be his final call.
Six minutes after the incident, the suburban passed the same camera, heading in the same direction as the deputy. On a dark stretch of highway, Deputy Moore’s dash cam shows the Suburban passing his patrol car. Tragically, this was the last time Deputy Moore was seen alive.
A chase ensued and Deputy Moore followed Lloyd and Marshall at dangerous speeds, up to at least 146 miles per hour.
Backup arrived to help after Deputy Moore stopped responding via his radio. The police dropped spike strips, but the SUV just kept driving on rims.
Then the cops saw someone (it’s unclear if that was Lloyd or Marshall) take a sniper position in the back of the Suburban. The sniper opened fire on the police but by now the backup that Deputy Moore had called for arrived.
A shootout followed and only ended when Marshall was dead.
Deputy Moore’s body was found later that morning. Despite the efforts of the police officers to save his life, Marshall did not survive his wounds. Lloyd Barrus, Marshall’s father, was taken into custody after the shooting.
During his time in jail, Lloyd was interviewed by reporters and shared his views on the situation. He considered himself an extreme believer in the Constitution and had no remorse for the death of Deputy Moore.
Jodi Moore, the wife of the deceased Deputy, remembered the moment she found out about her husband’s death as a moment of shock and anger. She felt that she had let him down and was overwhelmed by the responsibility of picking out a casket for him.
The funeral service was a difficult time for the family, with Jodi feeling out of place and disconnected from reality. After the service, Mason’s body was taken to South Carolina where he was buried in the family plot.
Lloyd Barrus was known for talking at length about his beliefs and his self-introduction to the police. He considered himself an “oath keeper” and believed that he was being persecuted for his political views. In the end, Lloyd never showed any remorse for the death of Deputy Moore.
Montana is one of the few states with a long and fabled history with the hangman’s noose, but no judge has implemented the death penalty in the 21st century. . In the case of Lloyd Barrus, who begged to be executed after his arrest, the Broadwater County attorney filed the intent to seek the death penalty.
The decision was made due to the crime committed, which was the killing of a law enforcement officer in an ambush. The officer’s widow, Jodi Moore, believed that the crime warranted the death penalty.
However, due to Lloyd Barrus’s diagnosed mental illnesses, including severe paranoid personality disorder and delusional disorder, a judge found him incompetent to stand trial. He was sent to a state psychiatric facility for treatment.
Lloyd refused to take the drugs that might restore him to competency, but the state of Montana was eventually able to force him to take antipsychotic medication after the Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state.
In September 2021, Lloyd’s trial began, with prosecutors quoting his own words where he stated that he would accept death and wished to be executed.
For some reason, the judge excluded information about Lloyd’s past, including the California shootout and his inculcation of his children into extremism. The prosecutors instead focused on the events leading up to the death of Deputy Moore and were able to call Lloyd’s granddaughter as a witness.
The prosecutors played tapes of Lloyd and Marshall waiting at a gas station for a deputy to drive by and then shooting him. The tapes also showed Deputy Moore struggling for breath after being shot, but unable to speak. The trial was emotional and difficult to listen to, as the prosecutors presented the evidence to the jury.
Lloyd Barrus was sentenced for his part in the murder of Deputy Mason Moore at the Broadwater County Courthouse in Townsend, Montana. Lloyd had a chance to avoid prison and spend his days in a state psychiatric hospital if he could convince a judge that he couldn’t appreciate the criminality of his offense nor comport his behavior to the law. However, the attorney general’s office argued that Barrus should go to prison without the possibility of parole.
On sentencing day, Jodi Moore and her twin sons, who had gone through high school during the legal battle, faced Barrus in the courtroom. Mason’s brothers and sisters in law enforcement also spoke in court, calling for Barrus to be locked away from society forever.
Jodi Moore, who had put in many sleepless nights and tears into her statement, addressed Barrus, expressing her disbelief at the lack of remorse in his eyes.
Jodi’s powerful statement was punctuated by a letter from Mason, who had tucked away a note for Jodi in case something were to happen to him. In the letter, Mason told Jodi not to dwell on his death and to enjoy life.
In a Montana courtroom, the fate of Lloyd Barrus was decided. Despite his government-paid attorneys fighting to keep him out of prison, the judge sentenced Barrus to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The sentence was a relief for the officers who captured Barrus. It was also a relief for those affected by Barrus’ crimes, including his second wife Debra, who had fled from his abuse, and his son Alma, who wrote an open letter apologizing for his father’s actions.
For Jodi Moore, the loss of her husband led her to stay in Montana and open a bookstore called “Book Therapy and More.” The bookstore is also the headquarters for the Mason Moore Foundation, a charity Jodi founded to raise money for safety equipment for cops. The motto of the foundation is “Love wins,” a message that Mason shared with Jodi before his death.