Search for Arizona fugitive and his fiancee focuses on Montana, southwest CanadaBy Matt Volz, AP
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Search for Ariz. fugitive focuses on Mont., Canada
HELENA, Mont. — Authorities Tuesday focused on western Montana and southwest Canada in the search for an escaped convict from Arizona and his suspected accomplice who fashion themselves a present-day “Bonnie and Clyde.”
U.S. marshals said there have been reports that the accomplice, Casslyn Welch, was spotted Sunday at a restaurant in St. Mary, Mont., near Glacier National Park.
Montana’s acting marshal, Rod Ostermiller, said there were multiple other tips from the Glacier area, but he didn’t say whether any included sightings of escapee John McCluskey.
Ten miles north of St. Mary, residents of Babb have been frightened by the presence of police cars patrolling the streets. The town of 700 normally sees a patrol car every other week, said Tedi Burns, a bartender at the Babb Bar Cattle Baron Supper Club.
“This is a small town and nobody can find them,” said Burns, 19. “They could be hiding in the woods. We have mountains around us. We have a bunch of backwoods they could be hiding around.”
Glacier National Park abuts the Canadian border in rugged terrain, but the border to the east, along the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, is fairly flat. Glacier County Undersheriff Jeff Fauque said there are several small roads that cross the border.
“If you are really dedicated to getting across without being detected, you can do it,” he said.
A U.S. Border Patrol helicopter joined the search Tuesday, but authorities on both sides of the rambling border acknowledged it was impossible to completely secure it.
Sgt. Patrick Webb, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Calgary, Alberta, said Mounties have been checking out reports that the pair had been sighted, but none has been substantiated.
“We’ve got zero. We’ve got nothing that says they’re here,” Webb said.
Fidencio Rivera, chief deputy U.S. marshal for the Arizona district, said the last confirmed sighting of McCluskey and Welch together was Friday in Billings, Mont., and that wasn’t confirmed until Monday.
Rivera said the couple have connections in Montana, and marshals are also pursuing leads in Indiana and Pennsylvania, where the fugitives also have ties.
The Arizona attorney general’s office on Monday charged McCluskey’s mother and ex-wife with helping the inmates after they escaped.
Another prisoner who escaped with McCluskey waived his right to fight extradition to Arizona.
Tracy Province, 42, appeared in court in Cody on Tuesday, one day after he was captured in the small town of Meeteetse. He waived the right to fight extradition to Arizona and signed a waiver form in handcuffs.
Given the attention the case has received, Park County Circuit Judge Bruce Waters said he expected Province to be returned to Arizona soon.
Province was caught Monday as he walked in sleepy Meeteetse, Wyo., steps from a church where he sat in the pews a day earlier and sang “Your Grace Is Enough.” A woman he talked to after church recognized him from a photograph shown on television, but he went undetected at one of the town’s two bars the night before, even though his photo was broadcast on The Cowboy Bar’s television during the news.
Owner Jim Blake recalled Province staring straight at the TV screen but Blake said no one “put it together” because the photo wasn’t a good likeness.
Butch Cassidy was arrested at the bar before being sent to prison in 1894 and Blake said Province was interested in hearing outlaw stories. He also talked about getting work as a ranch hand.
“To tell you the truth, I realize he’s a terrible person, but he actually was a pretty friendly fellow,” Blake said. “He actually was a pretty nice guy.”
Rancher Tim Gould, the treasurer at the church, told NBC’s “Today” that Province told him he was trying to get to Indianapolis, where he was from, but didn’t have enough money.
The church paid him $40 to mow the lawn and cut weeds.
Province, McCluskey and Daniel Renwick escaped from the medium-security Arizona State Prison near Kingman on July 30 after authorities say Welch threw wire cutters over the perimeter fence. Welch, 44, is McCluskey’s fiancee and cousin.
Province was serving a life sentence for murder and robbery out of Pima County, Ariz. McCluskey was serving a 15-year prison term for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm out of Maricopa County, Ariz.
Renwick, who was serving two consecutive 22-year sentences for second-degree murder, was captured Aug. 1 in Colorado.
Efforts to find McCluskey, Province and Welch intensified after they were linked to a double homicide in New Mexico, with the case airing Saturday on “America’s Most Wanted.”
Forensic evidence linked them to the killings of an Oklahoma couple. New Mexico State Police spokesman Peter Olson declined to elaborate.
The badly burned skeletal remains of Linda and Gary Haas — both 61 and from Tecumseh, Okla. — were found in a charred camper Wednesday morning on a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico. Their pickup truck was found later 100 miles west in Albuquerque.
Authorities believe the two inmates and Welch went to Wyoming, where Province separated from McCluskey and Welch on Wednesday morning at the southern entrance to Yellowstone.
Associated Press writers Bob Moen in Cheyenne, Wyo., Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Mont., and Mark Carlson in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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