They were wanted in Arizona on murder and arson charges, and they had been held at a jail in upstate New York for three months. But the extradition of Blane and Susan Barksdale didn’t go as planned.
As they were being taken more than 2,000 miles back to Tucson, the couple overpowered and kidnapped the private security guards transporting them Monday night in Utah, officials said.
The Barksdales are considered armed and dangerous, according to law-enforcement officials, who urged the public to be vigilant and said they could have access to a cache of more than 100 firearms.
The authorities said the Barksdales escaped in Blanding, Utah, about 20 miles south of a county jail in Monticello, Utah, where the couple spent Sunday night. On Tuesday, a local high-school volleyball team sent students home early as a precaution, according to Jason Torgerson, the San Juan County sheriff.
“People have been on edge here in San Juan County,” Torgerson said in an email Wednesday. “We have told them there is no immediate threat but to continue to be on the lookout for the escapees and to report anything suspicious.”
Torgerson said he did not know how the couple had escaped and referred questions to the FBI, which redirected inquiries to the Justice Department and to the police in Blanding. Neither agency immediately responded to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
The Barksdales were last seen in a red 2004 GMC pickup with Arizona license plates 127-XTY, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. Highway message boards flashed alerts about the fugitive couple. Blane Barksdale has numerous tattoos on his arms and hands, the authorities said.
Rewards of up to $10,000 for information leading to the capture of each fugitive are being offered.
The Tucson couple — she is 59 and he is 56 — were arrested on May 24 in Henrietta, New York, a suburb of Rochester, on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, arson and other criminal offenses related to the slaying of Frank Bligh, 72, of Tucson, in April.
On Monday night, the Barksdales were in Blanding when they overpowered two private security officers who were transporting them to Arizona, according to a Facebook post by the Tucson Police Department.
Law-enforcement officials referred questions to the private contractor, Security Transport Services, based in Topeka, Kansas, which declined to comment Wednesday.
Along with Blane Barksdale’s nephew, Brent Mallard, 31, the couple set fire to Bligh’s home, which was not occupied at the time, and caused an explosion, the authorities said. The police later determined that Bligh, who was last seen at the Cowpony Bar in Tucson on April 7, had been killed.
Mallard is being held in jail in Pima County, Arizona, on charges including arson and second-degree burglary.
Law-enforcement officials emphasized that Bligh’s home in Tucson was filled with firearms when it was burned down and exploded.
“With their original case, the person that they allegedly murdered, they also stole close to 100 firearms,” Michael Adams, a deputy U.S. marshal in Tucson, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We have to assume that they somehow made their way back to that weapons cache.”
The Marshals Service referred questions about the murder and arson case to the Tucson Police Department and to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff’s office said inquiries on the matter should be directed to the Tucson Police, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.