YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — An escaped killer with a handgun and a hitchhiking sign expressed relief at his capture today after 10 days on the run, while authorities searched to the north of this tourist-packed park for a second fugitive and his female accomplice, a self-styled “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Tracy Province, 42, was caught 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.”
The search for inmate John McCluskey, 45, and Casslyn Welch, 44, focused for a time on sprawling Yellowstone National Park, which straddles Wyoming and Montana. But authorities now believe the two fled the park with agents following leads in Montana.
“They consider themselves as Bonnie and Clyde,” U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said at a news conference in Phoenix. “This is very, very serious business.”
Province, McCluskey and Daniel Renwick escaped from a private, medium-security Arizona State Prison near Kingman on July 30 after authorities say Welch threw wire cutters over the perimeter fence. Welch is McCluskey’s fiancee and cousin. Renwick, who turns 37 on Tuesday, was captured in Colorado.
Efforts to find the remaining three intensified after they were linked to a double homicide in New Mexico, with the case airing Saturday on “America’s Most Wanted.”
On Sunday, Province walked into Meeteetse Community Church, about 60 miles outside of Yellowstone, wearing blue jeans, a blue checkered flannel shirt, and a camouflage backpack slung over one shoulder, worshipper Jay Curtis said. Province looked like the many hitchhikers who pass through town.
“Just shook his hand and said ‘Welcome, welcome to our church,”’ said Curtis, a member of the church band. “He just smiled and said: ’Thank you.”’
Province closed his eyes and sang along with the band and seemed particularly engrossed when the band played “Your Grace is Enough” by Chris Tomlin, Curtis said.
After the service, Province walked across the street and sat down on the curb with his backpack, looking like a hitchhiker. Curtis said the church pastor then paid Province to mow and trim the church lawn. Province got $40 and a jacket, authorities said.
The town came alive Sunday night with word drifting around that the stranger at the church was a fugitive, he said. “It definitely made my wife and I and our children very nervous to think that was a convicted murderer in our town,” Curtis said.
“We’re just not used to that,” Curtis said. “Little bitty Meeteetse, Wyo., we just don’t — they roll the sidewalks up around here at 8:30 at night.”
A woman who had chatted briefly with Province on the steps of the church on Sunday called police after recognizing him later on television, Gonzales said.
When marshals and other law enforcement officers arrested him, he initially denied being the fugitive, Gonzales said. He was carrying a 9 mm handgun and the sign that said “Casper,” a city about 160 miles to the southeast, authorities said.
Province was in the Park County jail and scheduled for an extradition hearing Tuesday morning, authorities said.
Gonzales said a $40,000 reward was set for McCluskey and Welch’s capture.
“Rest assured, we are going to be on McCluskey like a cheap suit,” Gonzales said. “We are not going to pull this thing down.”
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.
Forensic evidence linked the two inmates and Welch 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 they went to Wyoming, where Province separated from McCluskey and Welch on Wednesday morning at the southern entrance to Yellowstone.
By today, rangers at the park were given posters of the fugitives so they could check passing cars for them. But they weren’t handing out the posters, nor were they advising entering motorists about the search. Officials said the 3,472-square-mile park was safe, as they welcomed an estimated 30,000 campers and tourists.
Some Yellowstone campers weren’t concerned about the search, including four men from Pittsburgh who were taking a vacation.
“We’re just driving around, stopping and getting out of the car,” Kevin Tonini said. “The odds of them being there aren’t too good. It’s a big park.”
Others however were glad any potential danger had passed.
At the Mammoth Hot Springs campground, Khalid Ahmed and Bushra Malik of Calgary, Alberta, said they almost didn’t come after hearing at their hotel on Sunday that the fugitives may have stayed at a campground in the park.
Ahmed said he and his wife had second thoughts momentarily, but decided to go ahead with their vacation.
They were happy to find the campground full, believing in safety in numbers, and even more so upon learning the search had shifted away from the park.
“It’s a big relief,” Ahmed said. “Hopefully we can sleep without fear.”