CJ Jones, a state Department of Natural Resources trail steward, was hiking with a couple of volunteers through thick forest when they discovered the elusive “Fairy Cabin” in November 2016.
It was Jones’ 28th birthday.
“We were very excited, excited to finally find it,” Jones recalled in a phone interview Tuesday. “Once I climbed the ladder and went in, the mood immediately changed. I said, ‘This is now a crime scene.’ ”
Inside the cabin illegally built on federal land, Jones immediately spotted framed, sexually explicit images of girls affixed to the walls. Jones’ discovery sparked a monthslong investigation by the FBI that culminated with criminal charges being filed last week against a Mill Creek man.
The Seattle Times published a story Monday describing the investigation that led King County prosecutors to charge Daniel Wood, 56, with two counts of possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. DNR officials made Jones available for media interviews Tuesday.
Jones, now 29, recounted details of his involvement, with his sequence of events differing slightly from those outlined in criminal charging papers.
The state DNR works with King County and the U.S. Forest Service, which are the other large landowners in the area, Jones said. The cabin is located within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which is under Forest Service jurisdiction.
Jones started working out of the DNR’s North Bend office in 2015 and heard about “a curiosity” built 8 feet up among trees, dubbed “The Fairy Cabin” because of the anime-style drawings of scantily clad fairies decorating the interior, he said.
“It’s not very well known. But there were no reports of anything illegal, except for the cabin itself,” he said.
The Forest Service must authorize any building in national forest lands, and charging papers refer to the structure as being illegally built.
Jones decided to search for the cabin because at the time, a paving project was planned for 10 miles of Southeast Middle Fork Road, he said. He wanted to find the cabin’s location and check for obvious hazards before easier access attracted even more recreational users into the area.
Jones clarified that he personally searched for the cabin four times over a couple of months in late 2016,. But a DNR volunteer also made two trips, looking on his own, Jones said.
“The very first day I went searching for it, I came within a couple hundred feet of it,” said Jones, recalling that he found what ended up being a path to the cabin, but lost it in the dense brush. “It’s so well hidden in the trees there that you don’t notice it until you’re right on top of it.”
On his fourth try, Jones and his companions found the cabin, which isn’t very well built, he said. Tar paper cut into wavy patterns is affixed to the exterior walls, giving it a “gingerbread house” appearance. Norse runes and Latin phrases — which, when translated, turned out to be “nonsense” — were carved into the wood, he said.
“It added to the weirdness of it,” said Jones, who assumes the builder was going for a “magicky” vibe.
The cabin, which had a propane grill on the front porch, was unlocked.
After finding the illicit photos inside, Jones reported the discovery to the King County Sheriff’s Office and two days later, guided a detective to the cabin.
But once there, they realized the framed photos had been screwed into all four interior walls and the men had no tools to remove them, Jones said. The detective, who confiscated an envelope filled with additional images of girls that was found on a bookcase, asked Jones to return later and remove the framed images.
It was early December by the time Jones returned to the cabin a third time, and the area had already seen a significant amount of snow.
“I knew if I didn’t get there soon, I’d have to wait till spring,” Jones said.
He managed to remove all but two of the photos and handed them over to the FBI, which by then had taken over the criminal investigation because the cabin was built on federal land.
Four months later, in early April 2017, Jones guided a group of FBI agents to the cabin. “Much to our dismay, there were more pictures on the walls,” Jones said.
Sometime during the winter, somebody had not only replaced the sexual images Jones had removed, but added to the collection of framed photos, he said.
Wood was eventually linked to the cabin through DNA, King County prosecutors say. According to the criminal charges, the FBI would later find a memory card with thousands of sexual images of girls ages 8 to 12 in their search of Wood’s Mill Creek condo.
Jones, who has worked for DNR for four years, is the trail steward for the Snoqualmie District, which encompasses DNR-owned lands in eastern King County, from Issaquah east to Interstate 90’s exit 38. The area is covered by at least 150 miles of hiking trails, where Jones is responsible for basic law enforcement, issuing permits, building and maintaining trails, working with volunteers in the agency’s recreation program and interacting with the public.
In a statement released by the DNR, Hilary Franz, the commissioner of public lands, commended Jones’ work and involvement in the criminal case.
“He cares about our land and our people. His hard work and initiative — and collaboration with partner agencies — brought an end to this illegal activity,” Franz said of Jones.
Colton Whitworth, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman based in Everett, said the remote cabin still stands and will remain in place until the criminal case against Wood is resolved. After that, the Forest Service plans to demolish it, he said.