"I really thought it could be the end," Karen Reynolds said.
The couple believed Dorner had been staying in the cabin at least since Feb. 8, the day after his burned truck was found nearby. Dorner told them he had been watching them by day from inside the cabin as they did work outside. The couple, who live nearby, only entered the unit Tuesday.
"He said we are very hard workers," Karen Reynolds said.
After Dorner fled in their purple Nissan Rogue, she managed to call 911 from a cellphone on the coffee table. Police said Dorner later killed a fourth person, a sheriff's deputy, during a standoff, and died inside the burning cabin where he took cover during a blazing shootout.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Wednesday that his deputies shot pyrotechnic tear gas into the cabin, and it erupted in flames.
While authorities have not corroborated the couple's account, it matched early reports from law enforcement officials that a couple had been tied up and their car stolen by a man resembling Dorner. Property records show the Reynoldses as the condo's owners.
The sheriff's department has refused to answer questions about how one of the largest manhunts in years could have missed Dorner.
During the search, heavily armed deputies went door to door to search roughly 600 cabins for forced entry. Many of the cabins were boarded-up summer homes.
Authorities said officers looked for signs that someone had forcibly entered the buildings, or that heat was on inside in a cabin that otherwise looked uninhabited.
Helicopters had landed SWAT officers in a lot near the Reynoldses' condo, and through the weekend they stood in plain view from the cabin, gearing up in helmets, bulletproof vests, with assault weapons at the ready.
According to the Reynoldses, the cabin had cable TV and a second-story view that would have allowed Dorner to see choppers flying in and out.
Timothy Clemente, a retired FBI SWAT team leader who was part of the search for Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, said searchers had to work methodically. When there's a hot pursuit, they can run after a suspect into a building. But in a manhunt, the search has to slow down and police have to have a reason to enter a building.
"You can't just kick in every door," he said.
Officers would have been approaching each cabin, rock and tree with the prospect that Dorner was waiting there with a weapon that could penetrate bulletproof vests. In his manifesto posted online, Dorner, a former Navy reservist, said he had no fear of losing his life and would wage "unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" and warned officers "you will now live the life of the prey."
Even peering through windows can be difficult because officers have to remove a hand from their weapons to shade their eyes. Experts said it is likely officers may have used binoculars to help examine homes from a distance, especially when dealing with a man who had already killed three people, including a police officer.
In many cases, officers didn't even knock on the doors, according to searchers and residents.
"If Chris Dorner's on the other side of the door, what would the response be?" Clemente said. "A .50-caliber round or .223 round straight through that door."
Abdollah reported from Los Angeles.