He faked his death to avoid prison on child sex charges. Chico fugitive busted in Florida

The Chico man skipped sentencing on child sex and pornography crimes back in Butte County and faked his death at the Golden Gate Bridge. He took on a new name and fled for the Florida Keys, his home a dockside storage container.

On Friday, Michael Patrick Manning sat in a south Florida lockup where he awaits a return trip to Northern California and a potential dozen years in state prison.

Manning’s three-year run from the law came to an end last week with his arrest May 3 in the Florida Keys, his cross-country flight from justice done in by a sheriff’s deputy’s overnight call to a burglar alarm at a Stock Island marina where Manning was found in an unlocked storage container, Chico police announced in a statement.

It’s yet unknown when Manning, 58, will face a judge in Butte County, said Mike Murphy, Butte County Chief Deputy District Attorney, on Friday. But Murphy said the Chico man is looking at 10 years in state prison, plus as many as two years and eight months for fleeing bond when he returns to an Oroville courtroom.

Meantime, Manning faces a felony count of possessing counterfeit identification and providing false ID to law enforcement out of the May 3 arrest, according to Monroe County, Fla., sheriff’s arrest records. A court date in Key West has not been scheduled, and Manning remains held on no-bail warrants there.

Manning gave deputies a fake name, identifying himself as William Wallace Littlejohn. The Miami Herald reported a search of the storage container uncovered a military contractor’s identification card with the name Littlejohn along with several checks written out to Littlejohn and a passport that “appeared to be forged or fake.” U.S. Border Patrol officials ran the passport information, tracing it back to a Utah man, the Herald reported.

Manning faces a slew of charges in California stemming from the Sept. 3, 2015, warrants served at his home by Chico detectives and federal Homeland Security agents: four counts of lewd and lascivious acts against a minor; another of contacting a minor to commit a felony, in 2008 and 2009.

He was free on bond on those charges when a week later - Sept. 9, 2015 - Manning was arrested on suspicion of manufacturing and possessing child pornography. He posted bail a second time, Chico authorities said, and later pleaded no contest to felony lewd-acts charges with a promise to return to Butte Superior Court for a September 2016 sentencing.

It would be the last time Manning set foot in a Butte County courtroom.

A month later, in October 2016, U.S. Parks Service officers found Manning’s abandoned rental car near the Golden Gate Bridge. They found a suicide note, but no body.

But investigators had begun to watch a person they said was a “close associate” of Manning, noting what “appeared to be sophisticated counter-surveillance measures.” Meantime, Chico police, U.S. marshals and the FBI were on the hunt in the Sacramento Valley, the Bay Area and beyond.

Manning managed to stay frustratingly out of reach. The near misses mounted. U.S. marshals nearly had their man on “multiple occasions,” authorities said, including at an Alameda marina.

“Residences, storage facilities and vehicles tied to Manning’s associate were frequently found full of personal property and hastily abandoned,” Chico police officials said in their statement.

But in April, new leads directed marshals to Florida before a routine burglar alarm call to sheriff’s deputies in the early hours of May 3 cracked the case.

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Darrell Smith covers courts and California news for The Sacramento Bee. He joined The Bee in 2006 and previously worked at newspapers in Palm Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Marysville. A Sacramento Valley native, Smith was born and raised at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville.