TUCSON, Ariz. – A married couple wanted for murder escaped custody in southern Utah by faking a medical emergency, according to the US Marshals Service.
“We believe that they used some kind of a medical emergency or medical bathroom break for them to pull over to the side of the road,” said David Gonzales, US Marshal for the district of Arizona. “And once they got over to the side of the road, they were able to overpower them, bind them and threw them in the back of the van they were in.”
Blane Barksdale, 56, and Susan Barksdale, 59 escaped custody Monday night as they were being transported from Henrietta, New York, to Pima County, Arizona. They were being extradited to face charges of arson, burglary and murder in connection with the death of Frank Bligh, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran who was killed in April in Tucson, Arizona.
Their escape set off a manhunt across the Southwest, and the US Marshals Service is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for each for information leading to their arrest.
After the couple tied up the male and female guard in the back of the van, they drove to a remote area in northeast Arizona to meet with another person and get a new vehicle. The Barksdales then drove to an isolated area and left the van and the guards behind.
The guards managed to free themselves after a few hours, and they notified the Apache County Sheriff’s Department, Gonzales said. By that time, the Barksdales had been gone for about six hours.
“We are trying to make up for lost time,” Gonzales said.
Tucson police said the Barksdales are armed and dangerous and should not be approached. Gonzales said he was particularly concerned because the couple need money and perhaps another vehicle.
On Tuesday, Tucson Police said the couple’s direction of travel is unknown, but investigators have information that they are possibly traveling through Arizona.
They were last seen driving a red GMC Sierra pickup, Arizona license plate No. 127XTY, with damage to the front passenger side and rear bumper, police said. Blane Barksdale has numerous tattoos on his arms and hands.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department suspended its use of Security Transport Services, the company tasked with moving the suspects across the country, pending a review of the incident.
Suspected of a fire and a murder
The investigation into the couple began in April when police responded to a fire that led to an explosion at Bligh’s home. But he and his vehicle were nowhere to be found, and investigators discovered evidence that the fire was set intentionally, and that Bligh had been killed, Tucson police said.
On May 1, an arrest warrant was issued for the Barksdales on charges including first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, arson and auto theft, police said.
But the Barksdales had fled the state, sparking a nationwide search. They were found in Henrietta, New York, a suburb of Rochester, and arrested without incident on May 24, Tucson Police said on May 24.
Bligh was a veteran of the Vietnam War and was in the Air Force Reserves after the war, the victim’s brother William Bligh said. He said that his brother and Susan Barksdale were good friends, but she had changed since meeting her new husband.