THE state's most wanted man has turned up in a remote bush community, terrifying residents who claim police are ignoring their plight.
Accused double murderer Malcolm Naden wore a mask and camouflage gear when he loomed over a woman as she slept near Bellbrook, 52 kilometres inland from Kempsey in northern NSW, but failed to wear gloves, leaving behind his fingerprints.
That frightening approach, late last year, sparked a major police operation but residents are furious at what they say was not a one-hit wonder.
They believe Naden is behind about a dozen break-ins in which non-perishable food, torches, camping gear, warm clothes, raincoats and binoculars have been stolen, while valuables are left behind. The most recent break-in took place last week.
Residents have accused NSW Police of ignoring their fears after the town's only policeman was ordered to conduct beach patrols 90 kilometres away.
Naden, 33, a former abattoir worker from Dubbo, has been on the run since 2005 when the body of a cousin was found, and another cousin disappeared.
The experienced bushman eluded police by hiding in Dubbo's Western Plains Zoo after the body of Kristy Scholes, a mother of two, was found in Naden's locked bedroom at their grandparents' home. Naden is the first wanted man since Ned Kelly to attract a reward - $50,000 - for his arrest.
Bellbrook GP Paul Appleton, a former NSW police officer, said families further up the valley were sleeping with shotguns next to their beds.
"If they leave home they take all the family," he said. "Cockies up there will only work around the house paddocks because they don't know what's happening."
Dr Appleton said trying to get information from senior police was hopeless and their attempts to catch Naden after his fingerprints were found were inept.
"This is a very small place and if two cars go past at 4am everyone wakes up because that is unusual," he said.
"Suddenly we had a convoy of 30 police vehicles. It was like trying to catch a rabbit with a grenade."
Dr Appleton said residents understood the challenges of catching Naden but they wanted their police officer, spending half his shifts with holidaymakers at South West Rocks, to stay in the town.
Single mum Julie White, of Five Day Creek, said she was scared to walk outside at night after several break-ins not far from her home.
Bellbrook shopkeeper Lloyd Gibbs said the area was peppered with national parks and dense bush, which provided perfect cover.
"We need security," he said.
"We don't want vigilantes but we want to be kept informed."
A police spokesman refused to discuss the Bellbrook policeman's roster but acting Superintendent David Laidlaw from the Homicide Squad said there had been 600 reports about Naden's whereabouts in the past three years.
"Police treat all these reports very seriously," he said.
"Each and every report is followed up by a dedicated team of investigators at the State Crime Command who are following this case zealously.
"Whatever information we receive that suggests Malcolm Naden might be active in a particular area is thoroughly investigated using all technology available to us to verify the reports.
"We are as keen to apprehend Malcolm Naden as anyone."