Fugitive search full of dead ends

THURSDAY, AUG. 12, 2010

Report of escaped inmate, fiancée in Arkansas goes nowhere

GENTRY, Ark. – They fancy themselves a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde who pulled off a brazen prison escape in Arizona and allegedly went on a bloody, multistate crime spree. They have dyed their hair and stuck to out-of-the-way places to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

John McCluskey and Casslyn Welch have become two of the most-wanted fugitives in America over the past two weeks as they traversed towns across the West and eluded capture at every turn.

On Wednesday, the manhunt shifted from the wild, open lands of northern Montana near the Canadian border to a tiny town in the Arkansas Ozarks where McCluskey and Welch were briefly suspected of robbing a beauty salon. Investigators later said they believe someone else carried out the heist.

Benton County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Doug Gay said photographs and descriptions of the suspects give authorities in Gentry “no reason to believe these are those individuals.”

It was the latest maddening turn in the manhunt.

Investigators had thought they may have boxed in the escaped Arizona inmate and his fiancée– who is also his cousin – near Glacier National Park in recent days. Federal, state and local authorities began checking vehicles at the border and patrolling tiny towns near the park on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were notified as well.

But the leads that put the couple in Montana have been getting stale, with the last possible sighting on Sunday. Then a beauty store owner hundreds of miles away in Gentry was robbed at gunpoint and tied up by two people matching the couple’s description.

Dozens of officers from various law enforcement agencies descended on Gentry just at the suggestion earlier that the fugitive couple could have committed the robbery, and Gay said their extensive search would continue. He acknowledged McCluskey and Welch could be anywhere, including Arkansas.

“They could be in Las Vegas, Nevada; they could be in Akron, Ohio,” he said.

The saga began on July 30 when McCluskey and two fellow inmates broke out of a medium-security prison in the Arizona desert. Authorities believe Welch, 44, threw wire-cutting tools over the fence that allowed the criminals to slice their way through a fence.

Two of the escaped inmates already have been caught. One was captured after a shootout with law enforcement in Colorado, and the other was spotted hanging out and singing hymns at a Wyoming church.


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