Campsite where Arizona fugitives were captured (Jeff Todd/KRQE)
Updated: Friday, 20 Aug 2010, 2:09 PM MDT
Published : Thursday, 19 Aug 2010, 9:10 PM MDT
SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. (KRQE) - A weeks-long cross-country manhunt ended late Thursday when an alert Forest Service ranger spotted a prison escapee and his fiancee believed to be involved in two murders in New Mexico.
John McCluskey and Casslyn Welch were captured near the northeastern Arizona community of Springerville about 15 miles from the New Mexico state line. U.S. marshals and officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Apache County made the arrests and reported the couple was in a stolen car bearing a New Mexico license plate.
A U.S. Forest Service ranger first found the couple's campsite at the Gabaldon Campground outside Greer, Ariz., and became suspicious about an unattended fire and the way a car was backed into the trees as if to hide it, U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said at a news conference late Thursday. The ranger returned later and confront McCluskey and Welch ordering them out of the campground, he added.
The ranger then reported he may have found the wanted couple, which brought the Apache County SWAT team and other officers to the area.
After watching the campground and waiting for an opportune moment the officers moved in to make the arrest. That's when Welch started to pull a pistol from the small of her back but dropped in on officers' orders, Gonzales said.
The officers quoted McCluskey as saying he had a weapon in the tent and should have shot the Forest Service ranger when he had the opportunity.
Gonzales said the license plate on the couple's car had been stolen in the Santa Rosa, N.M., area about the time a vacationing Oklahoma couple was murdered. He did not provide any details on the car itself.
They are being held in the Apache County Jail in St. Johns. Welch is also McCluskey's cousin.
McCluskey and two other inmates escaped from a privately run medium-security prison in Kingman, Ariz., on July 30. Welch is believed to have helped in the escape by providing wire cutters and waiting nearby in a getaway car.
Inmate Daniel Renwick split from the group and was caught in Rifle, Colo., on Aug. 1 after a shootout with police in Colorado. McCluskey, Welch and Tracy Province have been linked to the murder of the Oklahoma couple , Linda and Gary Haas, both 61 from Tecumseh, Okla., whose remains were found Aug. 4 in the burned wreckage of their camper trailer on a ranch near Santa Rosa.
The couple's pickup truck was later found abandoned in Albuquerque.
The three were then believed to be in Yellowstone National Park, and Province was captured without trouble outside the park boundaries on Aug. 9 after attending a small-town church and lingering in the community. McCluskey and Welch had been suspected of being in Wyoming, Canada and Arkansas before frustrated authorities said they could be anywhere.
Their exact travels have yet to be determined although authorities said the last credible sighting of the couple was in Montana on Aug. 6.
McCluskey was serving a 15-year prison term for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm. Renwick was serving consecutive sentences of 22 years for second-degree murder while Province was serving a life sentence for murder and robbery.
Earlier Thursday Arizona officials released a reported detailing security failures that contributed to the escape including a door simply propped open with a rock. A perimeter post was not staffed, and a defective alarm system went off so often corrections officers got to where they ignored it, according to the report.
The alarm went off 89 times on the day of the escape including after McCluskey and his colleagues cut through the fence, officials said.
The prison warden and an aide have since resigned.