What Happened to Keyton Cornelius, Jonathan Perez, and Will Kleier?

Image Credit: ABC News

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Dead Silent: The Desert Drifter’ narrates how an armed perpetrator held Keyton Cornelius, Jonathan Perez, and Will Kleier hostage in a cabin east of Bakersfield, California, in July 2015. The fugitive went on to commit several other crimes, including shooting a retired dentist dead and firing at several law enforcement officials before a massive manhunt took him down about a fortnight later. If you’re interested in finding out how the trip plotted their escape, we’ve you covered. 

Who Are Keyton Cornelius, Jonathan Perez, and Will Kleier?

Keyton Cornelius and Jonathan Perez, both 19, and Will Kleier, 20, decided to visit Will’s family’s ranch at Indian Creek during the summer vacation. The trio desired to soak up the sun in a California desert. On July 28, 2015, the friends embarked on a hunting trip to a cabin east of Bakersfield in the foothills of Kern County. However, Will’s parents had stipulated only one rule on the boys – they had to return home before dark. Little did the three friends know that their planned trip would turn into a day of unspeakable terrors.

Keyton Cornelius and Jon Perez//Image Credit: ABC News

According to the show, the trio was ambushed by an individual, demanding why they were on his property. When Will assured him the cabin belonged to his family, the person flaunted a sawed-off shotgun, lined them up, and threatened to shoot them dead. He forced them to enter the cabin one by one and held them hostage at gunpoint. The assailant, later identified as Benjamin Peter Ashley, also lined the perimeter with propane tanks.

The boys recalled on the show how grave the situation was as they were held hostage in California’s remote Jawbone Canyon. Keyton recalled, “We’re in the middle of the woods. He could have shot the gun a thousand times, and no one would have heard it.” His friend, Jonathan, added, “Pretty much that entire two hours, he was just debating whether he should kill us or not. He said, ‘Bam bam bam, all of you guys can be in heaven right now.'”

Image Credit: Will Kleier/Facebook

The boys were also concerned regarding the propane tanks around the cabin, worried that he would blow up the cabin. The friends came up with an escape plan amongst themselves as Benjamin paced the cabin with the shotgun in his hand. They told him their parents would be coming to the cabin soon, and Benjamin could take their off-road ATV to escape before the adults arrived and informed the authorities. Benjamin took the bait, stole weapons from the cabin, and took off with the ATV.

As soon as Benjamin left, the friends bolted from the scene. Keyton recounted, “All we could think of is that he was hunting … us.” Meanwhile, it was getting dark, and Will’s parents were getting worried. According to the show, Will’s father, Loren Kleier, set off toward the cabin to look for the boys. He was appalled to find them tired, out of breath, and hysterical by the side of the road. The boys told him a horrifying account, highlighting how they had run on foot for almost three hours before they reached the road and met with Loren.

Keyton Cornelius, Jonathan Perez, and Will Kleier Are Trying to Live a Normal Life Today

After the police were notified, the officials scoured the cabin, but Benjamin had already fled from the property. The stolen ATV was found two miles away the following day. On June 30, the family of Dr. David Louis Markiewitz, 64, went to check on him after the patriarch failed to check in with his family from his weekend Weldon cabin. His cabin was about 10 miles from Will’s, and the dentist’s wife and brother-in-law reached there to find him shot dead. Dozens of SWAT deputies combed the high desert for the next fortnight, searching unoccupied homes, cabins, and ranches for the killer.

Benjamin Peter Ashley

On August 1, a SWAT team was ambushed by Benjamin, who again managed to abscond and shoot at two deputies while fleeing. One deputy was critically injured and had to be airlifted to the hospital. Benjamin was finally tracked down by the police after a clerk at Brady’s Mini Mart in Inyokern tipped the officials on the evening of August 15. The deputies repeatedly asked Benjamin to lay down his weapon, but the fugitive allegedly refused to comply. According to an investigation report by the District Attorney, the deputies believed their lives were in danger and were forced to shoot Benjamin dead.

On the show, Keyton, Jonathan, and Will thanked their stars they were still alive. Keyton said, “As of right now, I’m a little jumpy.” But all three were grateful to the authorities for putting an end to the armed fugitive and ensuring their safety. According to their social media profiles, Keyton, Jonathan, and Will have continued to lead normal lives in different parts of California, trying to forget the trauma of their encounter with Benjamin. Respecting their wishes, we have decided not to make their current addresses or other details about their life public.

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