An escaped convict and his fiancee, suspected of murdering at least two people, were captured at an Arizona campsite after a three-week manhunt that crisscrossed the American west, US marshals said Friday.
“The nightmare that started on July 30 is finally over,” David Gonzales told a press conference broadcast on CNN.
He said the pair, 45-year-old John McCluskey, and his fiancee Casslyn Welch, 44, were discovered Thursday night by an alert forest ranger who noticed their campfire and then discovered their stolen vehicle partially hidden by trees.
The ranger called in police and SWAT officers who surrounded the pair, who have been compared in US media to the duo known as Bonnie and Clyde, American bank robbers who went on a killing spree in the 1930s before being gunned down in a shootout with law officers.
Their folklore reputation was immortalized in the Oscar-winning 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde,” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the title characters who cut a far more glamorous figure than the modern-day couple, who US media report are cousins.
Interpol issued an alert for the pair earlier this month at the request of the United States, saying Welch was suspected of aiding her fiance escape from an Arizona jail along with two other convicts, who were arrested on August 1 and 9 in the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado and Wyoming.
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Sightings of McCluskey and Welch were also reported in New Mexico in the US southwest, and in Montana near the Canadian border.
The jail break has been linked to the murder of an elderly couple at a camp ground in Santa Rosa, New Mexico in early August, the US Marshals Service said earlier this month.
Marshals had described the two as “armed and extremely dangerous.”
Authorities checked the license plate of the vehicle discovered at the campsite, and found it to be a Nissan Sentra stolen from near Santa Rosa where the two murder victims were found, the Arizona Republic reported Friday.
Officials said McCluskey and Welch appeared ready to use deadly force if given an opportunity to escape, but that they were overwhelmed by authorities in a dramatic end to their three weeks on the run.
“At the time of the arrest, Casslyn Welch had a firearm in the small of her back, she attempted to go for the firearm but as she pulled it out, SWAT officers obviously had their guns trained on her and she laid it down on the ground,” Gonzales said.
McCluskey was laying down at the site and was taken into custody before he could reach his nearby tent.
“He made a statement… that if he had gotten back to the tent, there was a gun there and that he would have killed the officers involved,” Gonzales said.
US Marshals Service photographs showed McCluskey, in dirty jeans and the word “ARIZONA” tattooed across his bare torso, handcuffed at the campground.
Gonzales said authorities were just beginning their investigations into potential crimes committed by the couple.
“If there were any other crimes committed while they were out we want to make sure that we tie those to them,” he said.
McCluskey was serving a 15-year sentence for attempted murder, while the convicts who escaped with him had been convicted of murder and second-degree murder, Interpol said.