The US Marshals Service put fugitive murder suspect Blane Barksdale on its top 15 most wanted list and upped the reward for information leading directly to his arrest to $25,000. Barksdale and his wife escaped from custody in Utah last month. (Sept. 10)
PHOENIX – Two days after murder suspect Blane Barksdale was named one of the country’s most wanted fugitives, he and his wife were taken into custody without incident in Arizona.
The Navajo County Sheriff’s Office announced late Wednesday that it had assisted the U.S. Marshals Service in locating and arresting the Barksdales.
Authorities did not specify where they caught Blane Barksdale, 56, and his wife, Susan, 59. They had been on the run since Aug. 26, when they commandeered a prison transport van in Utah and escaped into rural Arizona.
An intense search for the couple had been underway in the county, which runs from the Utah state line south in a narrow strip to the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.
The Barksdales are suspects in the death of Frank Bligh, a 72-year-old Tucson man who has been missing since April.
The couple was being transported from New York state to Tucson when they overpowered their guards and escaped custody. They abandoned the van, with the guards and another prisoner bound inside east of Navajo County in Apache County, according to officials.
They had been last seen driving a red GMC Sierra truck with an Arizona license plate and damage on its front passenger side and rear bumper.
The U.S. Marshals Service offered no additional details Wednesday night, and a news conference was planned Thursday morning in Phoenix.
On Monday, Blane Barksdale was elevated to the U.S. Marshals Service’s 15 Most Wanted List, with the reward for information leading to his capture raised to $25,000.
A reward for information leading to the capture of Susan Barksdale was set at $10,000, and up to $5,000 was offered for information leading to the red pickup.
Residents Wednesday night quickly began posting their thanks and relief on the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office website. The search for the couple had sparked concern among residents throughout the area.
Locals said there were a million places they could have laid low among a labyrinth of dead-end roads, cattle ranches, trailers and bushy juniper trees in the high-desert backcountry of northeastern Arizona.
The couple and the red pickup seemed to have vanished into the teardrop-shaped expanse between Snowflake, Concho and Show Low.
“Who knows where they could be?” said Verlinda Adams, 65, just hours before the Barksdales were caught.
“There’s so much forest around the Rim Country … and there’s so many roads,” Adams added, as she ate lunch at a cafe in Taylor, not far from the area the marshals and deputies repeatedly had combed.
Navajo County Sheriff David Clouse said he cut his teeth as a young deputy on the rutted, gravel paths east of Snowflake. The routes lead to survivalist compounds, family cabins, drug dens, horse properties, hunting grounds or sometimes nowhere at all.
“Some describe it as No Man’s Land,” he said. “But that’s our backyard, and we’re very familiar with it.”
A typical patrol through the area could take hours from end to end, he said — let alone a manhunt for a couple assisted by a local criminal network in a territory where law enforcement cellphones and radios didn’t always work, Clouse said.
“It’s so remote, it’s hard to make contact. So we’re offering our knowledge of the roads, the people and the local lay of the land,” Clouse said before the arrests. “(The Barksdales) may have driven down their exact road, and they’ll never know it because there’s so many trees and their houses are set back so far. … Your urban searches are so much easier.”
Authorities searched by air and land for any sign of the couple or pickup, made warrant sweeps, property searches and arrests, Arizona U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said.
“(We were) beating the bushes,” he said. “Nothing was popping.”
To ensure authorities didn’t suffer from tunnel vision, they expanded the search from California to Texas in recent days.
One of the first places law enforcement swarmed was the property the Barksdales own near Vernon, about 20 miles east of Show Low, according to neighbor Joe Ferreira.
A SWAT team stormed the property a month ago or more, Ferreira estimated, some time before the couple hijacked the van.
A white RV and plywood lean-to sat nestled on their land Wednesday against a hill overlooking Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The couple purchased the property in August 2018, county records showed.
Ferreira, 64, a local chef who raises chickens and ducks three doors down, joked having a neighbor on the FBI’s “Top 15 Most Wanted” list was “different.”
Normally, the small clump of homes is quiet and peaceful, he said. Wind chimes and a few dogs barking were the only sounds Wednesday afternoon. Violet and yellow wildflowers nodded in the breeze. “No Trespassing” signs stood beside every driveway.
“That’s what it’s about: Do your own thing,” Ferreira said.
The manhunt added some worries, he admitted.
“How can you not? You get a little nervous about it.” Every time a vehicle drives by, Ferreira said, “We stick our nose in the window.”
Reporter Robert Anglen contributed to this article.
Follow reporters Chelsea Curtis and Rebekah L. Sanders on Twitter @curtis_chels and @RebekahLSanders
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