A month after a sheriff was gunned down while pursuing two bank robbers, the suspects' frozen bodies have been removed from under a spruce tree on a snowy 9,000-foot mountain. They apparently carried out a suicide pact less than two miles from where the sheriff was slain.

"I yelled for joy and started crying," said former Undersheriff Ray Blaum, who witnessed the killing of Sheriff Roger Coursey and became Hinsdale County's top lawman afterward.A nationwide manhunt and a segment on TV's "America's Most Wanted" led to scores of false sightings of the suspects in half a dozen states.

Now authorities believe that a few hours after Coursey died, Mark Vredenburg and Ruth Slater lay down under a brown sleeping bag and carried out their suicide pact with the same .44-caliber gun used to kill the sheriff.

An Australian shepherd dog trained in avalanche rescues found the bodies of the 31-year-old Vredenburg and his 38-year-old companion just before dark Saturday.

When news of the deaths reached Boo's Saloon, patrons cheered.

"I'm glad it's over. I just wish the mountain had done it. They would have suffered more," said Bowie Bolger, proprietor of the saloon in the old silver-mining town of Lake City, 90 miles southeast of Grand Junction.

Forensics specialists pulled the bodies down on a sled Sunday and thawed them enough to identify Vredenburg from his fingerprints. Slater was identified through a photo ID in her purse.

On Nov. 18, Coursey and Blaum - the county's entire police force - stopped a pickup that matched the description of a truck seen driving away from a botched bank robbery.

Coursey was shot to death while telling the driver to get out. Blaum, standing on the passenger side, emptied his gun at the fleeing pickup. The deserted truck was found about a mile away.

After the nationwide search failed, the FBI suggested another check near the murder scene. The bodies were discovered less than half a mile from where the pickup had been abandoned.

The discovery brought relief to many of the roughly 300 winter residents of Lake City, people once used to leaving their doors unlocked and their keys in the car.

Coursey's widow would rather have seen the couple stand trial, "but the more I heard about them, it probably wouldn't have affected them even if they hadn't taken the gutless way out.

"I'm happy for the townspeople," Karen Coursey said. "They needed that closure. My closure won't come until the Lord takes me away."