From the highway Friday, the small community of Jakes Corner looked calm and peaceful. But just a week earlier, officers descended on this tight-knit community, searching furiously for two prison escapees and their suspected accomplice, who have now been tied to the murder of a 61-year-old Oklahoma couple in New Mexico.
The dust up shook up quite a few residents and store workers at the mobile home park community, who were visibly shaken when asked about the events surrounding the arrest of one of their own.
On Aug. 7, officers arrested Jakes Corner Store owner Claudia Washburn, 68, on charges of conspiracy to facilitate escape and hindering prosecution.
Authorities allege Washburn helped her son and escaped convict John Charles McCluskey, 45, and his alleged accomplice, Casslyn Mae Welch, 43, escape officers’ detection.
On Friday, employees at Jakes Corner Store refused to discuss Washburn’s arrest and said it was “old news.” Washburn’s husband Jack, who lives behind the store, was also unavailable for comment.
Most of the residents the Payson Roundup spoke with painted Washburn and Welch as good people tied to a horrible situation.
One woman working at the Jakes Corner Bar said she and most of the other residents feel sorry for Washburn.
“In that position, any mother would have done it,” said the woman of Washburn’s assistance of the fugitives.
Another man, who would only give his first name, Bobby, said the whole situation was sad because Washburn and Welch were “good people.”
“I never expected anything like that from them,” he said.
Residents said Washburn was always very friendly and “would help anybody.”
“I was surprised (she was arrested),” one man said. “I still can’t get it in my head that she did that.”
Jake Williams, who runs the mobile home park, said Washburn was one of the nicest and most helpful people in Jakes Corner.
“I sure hated to see Claudia get involved,” he said. “She just made a big mistake, but a lot would.”
Williams said he does not agree with Washburn’s decision to help, but hopes she comes home soon.
Washburn is being held in jail on a $250,000 bond.
Authorities allege Washburn and Diana Joy Glattfelder, of Prescott Valley, who is also McCluskey’s ex-wife, gave money, supplies, transportation and medical aid after McCluskey and convicted murderers Tracy Province, 42, and Daniel Renwick, 36, broke out of prison.
On the evening of July 31, McCluskey — who was serving a lengthy sentence for murder, Renwick and Province cut through two fences surrounding a private, contract Kingman prison after Welch tossed them wire cutters, according to authorizes.
Renwick fled Arizona for Colorado where officers later captured him Aug. 1.
Welch, McCluskey and Province hijacked a semi-truck and forced two truckers to drive them to Flagstaff. An unnamed woman, now thought to be Glattfelder, helped the group get from Flagstaff to Jakes Corner, officials said.
The fugitives stocked up and then took off. Authorities in Wyoming later arrested Province on Aug. 10.
Authorities believe Welch and McCluskey headed to Yellowstone National Park and the Canadian border. McCluskey and Welch were last spotted Aug. 6 in Billings, Mont.
Welch — who is McCluskey’s cousin and fiancée, worked at the Jakes Corner Store for a year and lived next to the store in a small trailer.
“Cassie was a nice kid,” Williams said.
From store clerk to murder suspect, investigators now believe Welch along with Province and McCluskey are tied to the murder of an Oklahoma couple that were found dead, their bodies burned in a camper trailer on Aug. 4.
Authorities believe McCluskey and Welch may have altered their appearances. McCluskey now has hair dark and a dark beard while Welch may be thinner and blonde.
Officers continue to focus investigative efforts in western Arkansas and Montana where Welch and McCluskey are thought to be driving a 1997 Nissan Sentra, described as either gold, tan or gray.
“All information indicated McCluskey and Welch are still traveling together and should be considered armed and extremely dangerous,” the U.S. Marshals Office announced.
“It is likely they are reacting, rather than taking deliberate action.”