Tip leads to arrest of 2 who escaped prison van last month


FILE – These undated file booking photos provided by the Tucson Police Department show 56-year-old Blake Barksdale, left, and his 59-year-old wife Susan Barksdale. Authorities say the husband and wife fugitives on the run for over two weeks in the killing of an Arizona man have been captured. The U.S. Marshals Service announced Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019 that 56-year-old Blane Barksdale and 59-year-old Susan Barksdale are in custody. (Tucson Police Department via AP, File)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Sixteen days of chasing countless leads about husband and wife fugitives who escaped a prison transport van taking them to face allegations of killing a man ended when a tip led authorities to a house in a remote Arizona community.

In Punkin Center, whose 1,500 residents live spread out among manufactured homes and trailers, 50 officers from the FBI to the U.S. Marshal’s Service surrounded a home Wednesday night and flooded it with a spotlight.

They weren’t certain if Susan and Blane Barksdale, described by officials as “middle-aged Bonnie and Clyde,” were inside, but they blasted commands through a megaphone for everyone to come out with their hands up.

The homeowner was the first to come out and then a “sobbing” Susan Barksdale followed five minutes later. The 59-year-old confirmed her husband was inside. Blane Barksdale, who had been put on the marshal’s 15 Most Wanted list, emerged defiant 10 minutes later.

“After a couple of minutes, he became very verbally abusive to the officers — flipping them the bird and not responding to other commands,” David Gonzales, the U.S. marshal for Arizona, told reporters Thursday in Phoenix.

Officers subdued the 56-year-old with a stun gun and a beanbag round to the leg, and he then became cooperative, said Van Bayless, U.S. marshal’s assistant chief deputy for Arizona.

A tip pointing to the community 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Phoenix helped end a more than two-week-long manhunt for a couple, who overpowered their guards and escaped the prison transport van bringing them across the country to southern Arizona.

The couple were transported south to Tucson and appeared in federal court to hear they will face charges related to the April death of 72-year-old Frank Bligh, whose body has not been found.

They also will likely face federal kidnapping charges after tying up their guards in the back of the van and driving it in their escape, the FBI said. It’s not clear if they have attorneys to speak on their behalf.

Authorities believe at least three or four people helped the couple during their time on the run. The Barksdales were wearing clean clothes and had to have gotten a ride to the remote area, Gonzales said. He believes they were trying to collect enough money to flee to Canada.

He did not identify the owner of the home where they were staying but said that person had served time for drug-related offenses and was on federal probation.

It wasn’t clear yet if the initial tipster would receive the $35,000 reward that had been offered for the couple’s capture. That person had no direct sightings or interactions with the Barksdales, just advised authorities to go look around Punkin Center, Gonzales said.

The Barksdales escaped Aug. 26 in Utah while being brought from upstate New York to Tucson. The couple overpowered two private security guards in the transport van after Susan Barksdale faked a medical emergency, authorities said.

Gonzales previously told The Associated Press that the couple tied up the unarmed guards with shoe laces and took a key to remove their own waist restraints. A third prisoner was present but not involved.

From there, the Barksdales drove the van with the three in the back into Arizona. Once they got to the middle of the state, around the tiny town of St. Johns, they picked up a friend’s red GMC Sierra pickup truck. The couple drove both vehicles to a remote area outside town and abandoned the van, Gonzales said.

It took the guards more than two hours to free themselves. By the time authorities reached the guards, the couple had been gone for several hours.

For about a week after the escape, digital highway signs displayed a message about the fugitives and the pickup. Authorities took down the message after concluding the couple likely were no longer using the truck, which is still missing.


Associated Press writer Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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