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Escaped Tucson murder suspects Blane and Susan Barksdale in custody, sheriff's office says

Posted at 10:42 PM, Sep 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-12 23:48:44-04

Authorities say they have captured the husband and wife fugitives wanted in the killing of an Arizona man.

Blane and Susan Barksdale had been missing since August 27 but were located Wednesday evening and taken into custody without incident.

*Watch video of Blane's arrest in the player above*

The arrest of the Barksdales

The U.S. Marshal's Service says they were located at a home in the remote Punkin Center/Tonto Basin area, northeast of the Valley, thanks to a tip from a citizen.

Dozens of law enforcement officials swarmed the home, commanding the occupants of the house to come outside. The homeowner came out first, then about five to 10 minutes later, Susan Barksdale came out, visibly upset.

It took about five to 10 more minutes before Blane Barksdale exited the home. It took a non-lethal "beanbag" round and Taser to take him into custody after he started to ignore commands.

"You could hear all kinds of yelling, you know, 'Come out of the house! Come out of the house!'" a witness to the arrests told ABC15. "They already had her [Susan] and then when he came out, he [Blane] was just yelling and cussing at the cops and flipping them off and then they Tased him and took him down."

The witness also says there were rumors around the area that the couple was seen at a local grocery store a few days before their arrest.

"Some customer had thought they had seen them in there -- and then discussion between some of the employees -- that that definitely looked like her," the witness said.

During a press conference Thursday between multiple involved law enforcement agencies, officials said they followed up on hundreds of tips from around the country.

After their arrest, the Barksdales were taken to Florence where they were booked into jail Wednesday night. While Blane was with officers, he reportedly told them, "be careful, it's dangerous out there," law enforcement says.

An initial appearance in front of a judge is set to take place in Tucson on Thursday afternoon. They are then expected to be turned over to Tucson police where they will be booked into jail for the initial homicide case.

Officials believe the couple was in the Snowflake area until a couple days ago, but they are still working to fill in the blanks and timeline after talking more with the Barksdales.

The red truck they were believed to be driving during their time as fugitives has yet to be located.

Officials say anyone with more information about the Barksdales or where they may have been since their escape is asked to contact the FBI tip line.

What led to the manhunt

The couple, who was being transported across the country to face murder charges, used a medical emergency ruse and then overpowered two security guards, tied them up and left them and a third uninvolved prisoner outside a rural town, authorities said.

David Gonzales, the U.S. marshal for Arizona, told The Associated Press that a privately operated prison transport van had departed from Blanding, Utah, on Monday afternoon when Susan Barksdale pretended to have an "intestinal issue."

"It was compelling enough that they felt the need to pull over," Gonzales said.

The guards were unarmed and did not feel the need to take a handgun that was inside a locked box. But Susan and Blane Barksdale charged at them once they opened the rear compartment, the marshal said. The male and female guards weren't physically injured, Gonzales said, but the Barksdales used shoelaces to bind them and then put them in the back with a third inmate. They also took a key to free themselves of a waist restraint.

Blane Barksdale, 56, "is not a big guy but he can be very imposing," Gonzales said. "I don't think these two guards were equipped physically and emotionally with the experience needed for these types of individuals."

The Barksdales drove the van to the town of Vernon, Arizona, where they met up with a friend who gave them access to his red GMC pickup truck. The friend has not been charged but law enforcement continues to question him, Gonzales said.

From there, each drove away in a vehicle for about 40 miles and abandoned the van near the town of St. Johns, Arizona. The couple took off with the money in guards' wallets, which "wasn't much," according to Gonzales. They were likely unaware of the handgun, which was still in its box. The guards and the third prisoner were left behind.

"This other prisoner, he wanted no part of this deal,"' Gonzales said. "He was very forthcoming."

It took the guards two to three hours to break free, eventually kicking out some windows. By the time authorities reached the area, the Barksdales had been gone for several hours. The third prisoner has since been taken to his intended destination -- a southern Arizona jail.

The Barksdales were arrested May 24 near Rochester, New York, on suspicion of first-degree murder and other crimes related to the April death of a 72-year-old man in Tucson. Tucson police say a fire followed by an explosion broke out in April at the home of Frank Bligh. His car was found abandoned the next day.

While his body has not been found, investigators say evidence in the car indicated he was likely dead. The Barksdales were later identified as suspects.

Gonzales said multiple agencies including the FBI and Tucson police are interviewing people from Arizona to New York. The Marshals Service on Wednesday offered a $20,000 reward -- $10,000 for each suspect -- for information leading to their arrest. He believes they are somewhere in the Southwest, possibly Arizona or New Mexico. He also thinks they likely have since shed their prison uniforms.

"In any crime or situation like this, somebody knows something. Sometimes a reward can be that little push to make a call to us," Gonzales said.

Gonzales said Blane Barksdale has a criminal history and his arms are covered in tattoos, including swastikas. He served two prison terms, according to online records. He spent nearly eight years in Arizona prisons for theft and drug convictions dating to 1984. He was released in January 1993.

Barksdale also was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a 2003 federal marijuana possession convictions in Taylor County, Kentucky, and was released in early 2012, according to records.

In a letter to the judge in the Kentucky case, Barksdale said he was thankful that he didn't receive a stiffer sentence. "I sir, will not ever make you regret giving us this second chance either," Barksdale said in the handwritten letter.

After his release he married Susan Barksdale, now 59, in December 2013.

Officials in Pima County, where Tucson is located, announced they were suspending use of the transport company, Security Transport Services, pending a review of the escape.