The mail and a small-town grocery clerk made the difference between captivity and freedom for a woman who says she was held prisoner in the eastern Idaho woods.
Elizabeth Tuttle slipped a letter to a clerk at Dave’s IGA in Ashton. That letter, addressed to Tuttle’s niece in Iowa, asked for help escaping from a family she had befriended four months earlier. And two weeks ago, it led police to a remote cabin where they found her.
Details now released by the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department tell the story of a vulnerable woman duped into giving a family $40,000 and then forced to hole up with them in the hills east of Ashton.
“I’d come home today, but they won’t let me. I’m not allowed to talk to anyone or go anywhere by myself,” Tuttle, 40, wrote in the letter that was mailed in late November.
The sheriff’s department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are still searching for members of the Cagle family, who fled shortly after Tuttle left the house with police.
The woman was reunited with her family and returned to their home outside the small town of Grinnell, Iowa. It was there she first met the Cagles, who took her to Idaho.
Tuttle first met the Cagles last July, she told police. She had just collected a $40,000 check for a head injury she suffered while working as a truck driver and she wanted to move away from her mother, Fremont County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Richey said.
So she accepted the family’s invitation to leave with them. It was not until several days later that Tuttle began suspecting something was wrong.
In Des Moines, Iowa, the father, Roger Cagle, told her to cash the check. He told her to watch for the surveillance cameras in the bank, but to avoid looking at them.
The Cagles used part of Tuttle’s money to buy an aging motor home, which Cagle drove to Idaho along with his wife, 23-year-old son and four adolescent daughters. During that time, Tuttle told police, one of the daughters had to accompany her to public restrooms, and one of the men often would stand guard.
The Cagles eventually found their way to Ashton, where in early October they rented the cabin for three months from Skip Willingham. Cagle told locals he was a Hollywood screenwriter looking for a quiet place to spend the winter.
But Tuttle said he actually was a fan of white separatist Randy Weaver, who was involved in a deadly 1992 shootout with federal agents in North Idaho.
Tuttle told police she delivered the letter at the grocery store by asking to borrow a pen from a clerk for the family’s shopping list.
At the end of her letter, Tuttle outlined a plan for her mother to send someone posing as a private investigator hired by the family. The person could ask the Cagles to release her and return her money.
“I just hope we can pull it off,” she wrote.
The family contacted Grinnell police instead.
Fremont County deputies did not arrest the Cagles when they found Tuttle because they did not have enough evidence, Richey said. The FBI was called in the next day, but interviews and the Thanksgiving holiday delayed efforts to get search warrants or arrest warrants.
On Thanksgiving, the cabin’s landlord called to tell police his property was in shambles and the Cagles had left.