Chilling Tale Of Murder On The Run

Details emerge of double killing in bizarre escape that nearly ended in a Rim Country gun battle

A handcuffed Welch sits after her capture.

A handcuffed Welch sits after her capture.

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Photos courtesy US Marshall’s Service

Casslyn Welch

The would-be Bonnie and Clyde fugitives who’d led police on a wild, three-week chase began talking soon after their capture in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests last week.

When Apache County Sheriff’s Office deputies took Casslyn Welch’s silver .38-caliber revolver, Sgt. John Scruggs warned the other officers not to touch it for fear it was a murder weapon, according to court documents.

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Photos courtesy US Marshall’s Service

John McCluskey

“That’s not the murder weapon,” now-captured fugitive John McCluskey, both Welch’s fiance and cousin, told the officers. “The murder weapon is in the tent.”

After police recaptured the convicts who escaped from a private prison near Kingman on July 30, allegedly with Welch’s help, the clues to their escape and crime spree have quickly emerged.

The frightening tale included an easy escape through an unguarded fence, a lost getaway car, a fateful vote that saved the lives of two truckers, two aimless and improvised alleged murders and a narrowly averted gun battle at the end.

McCluskey and Welch, along with escaped murderer Tracy Province, allegedly caused the deaths of Oklahoma couple Gary and Linda Haas as the couple drove through New Mexico on vacation. The fugitives had grown tired of sleeping in a sedan and decided to find a camper.

Later, while tracking the bloody trail with Province after his arrest, police eyed bloodstains from the camper that had seeped onto the asphalt of a Phillips gas station off Interstate 40 in Santa Rosa, N.M.

Police had captured Province in Wyoming about a week-and-a-half after his escape, as he held a hitchhiking sign that read, “Casper.” Once in custody, Province helped police piece together his time on the run, the blood stains, an eerie breadcrumb in a warped version of Hansel and Gretel.

The courtroom drama of McCluskey and Welch, the two fugitives who evaded capture the longest, has just begun. McCluskey, Province and Welch have all pleaded not guilty to their lists of charges. The court has appointed public defenders for the men, and Flagstaff attorney Stephen Glazer will represent Welch.

All three are held on $1 million bail on Arizona charges including escape in the second degree, kidnapping, armed robbery and aggravated assault. McCluskey and Province also face charges of misconduct involving weapons.

In New Mexico, the fugitives face charges for carjacking the Oklahoma couple with the intention of causing their deaths. McCluskey and Province face other charges connected to the killing, and each of the three could receive the death penalty.

Although Mohave County now has custody of the fugitives, Tom Henman, a supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal out of Phoenix, said this week that officials there would have to coordinate with New Mexico to see “who’s going to get first dibs.”

Claudia Washburn, McCluskey’s mother and owner of the Jakes Corner Store in Tonto Basin where Welch worked, now sits in Maricopa County Jail on charges of hindering prosecution and conspiring to commit escape after she allegedly gave the fugitives money or supplies. Payson attorney Harlan Green will represent Washburn, whose preliminary hearing was set for Thursday, but no other details were available by press time.

Welch, 44, had been working in Jakes Corner until she allegedly threw wire cutters over the prison fence to free her beloved and his two friends, Province and Daniel Renwick on July 30. Authorities captured Renwick the next day in Colorado.

Just the month before, Welch avoided jail time by agreeing to become an informant after authorities found marijuana, heroin and drug paraphernalia during a random search of Welch and her vehicle, the Associated Press reported. Welch reportedly told authorities that people associated with a white supremacist group were paying her to smuggle heroin into prison.

Henman, the U.S. Marshal, said this week that McCluskey had ties to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.

Four days after arriving in Mohave County Jail after the escape, McCluskey was taken to Kingman Regional Medical Medical Center after cutting his neck and wrists with a Bic razor. The lacerations were serious, but not life threatening, according to the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office. After receiving treatment, McCluskey returned to his high-security level single cell in jail.

The courtroom drama is just beginning, and the sordid details of the crime spree are emerging.

A complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of New Mexico outlines how the three prisoners’ escape allegedly led to car-jacking and murder.

Immediately after the escape, Renwick became separated from the crew while the group tried to find the car that Welch had parked in the desert. Welch had packed the car with food and clothes, and had bought two .40-caliber semi-automatic handguns for the escape. But then Welch couldn’t find it. Instead, they hijacked two men driving an 18-wheeler at gunpoint and forced them to drive to Flagstaff.

In Flagstaff, the trio voted whether to kill the truckers. McCluskey, just escaped from a 15-year sentence for attempted second-degree murder voted to kill them while Welch and Province voted to release them.

McCluskey then somehow “secured” a gray Nissan Sentra and the group stopped in Safford before driving to New Mexico, according to court documents. In New Mexico, Province noticed that the car had an expired license plate, and the crew stole another one.

By Aug. 2, all three had tired of driving and sleeping in the sedan. They agreed to find a camper or trailer to steal.

At a rest area, McCluskey and Welch eyed Gary and Linda Haas, thinking them a good “prospect,” according to the complaint.

The Haases were camping near Santa Rosa on their way to Colorado as they had every year for more than a decade. The couple had concealed weapons permits, and typically carried at least one gun with them.

But on the morning of Aug. 2, when McCluskey and Province took their places behind Linda as she walked to her truck, no gun would save her.

The fugitives forced Linda into the truck’s passenger seat as Welch acted as a lookout. Gary reached down as if to retrieve something from under the seat. Province saw him, and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

The fugitives ordered Gary to drive west on I-40, and eventually directed the truck to a secluded area between Tucumcari, N.M., and Santa Rosa. McCluskey and Welch made Gary and Linda hand over their two guns, which had been in the camping trailer, while Province stayed outside.

Welch joined Province outside, and several gunshots rang out with McCluskey still inside.

According to the complaint, McCluskey shot Gary once in the head and then turned the gun on Linda, who he shot three times. McCluskey told investigators he felt compelled to kill the Haases if the fugitives were to remain free.

McCluskey and Province scooted the bodies down in the trailer so nobody could see them from outside, and then the fugitives drove the truck and the trailer — dead bodies inside — back on the highway to the Phillips 66 gas station, where they would leave that telltale bloodstain.

Meanwhile, Province followed McCluskey in the Sentra with stolen plates.

After gassing up, McCluskey found a spot off the highway and unhitched the trailer. Inexplicably, they quickly decided to abandon the trailer that they’d allegedly committed two senseless murders to obtain. With Welch’s help, the two found liquor in the trailer and poured it on the floor before lighting a fire with matches. Province had dumped out food for the dogs, and the three left the Haases as their bodies burned.

Later at a shopping center, Province and McCluskey wiped the truck with paper towels and brake fluid, hoping to remove their fingerprints.

Welch took blankets, Province took a backpack, and the three drove away in the Sentra.

By this time, Province had asked the engaged cousins to drop him off at Yellowstone Park. Police arrested Province soon after in Meetetese, Wyo., reportedly the day after singing “You’re Grace is Enough,” with other churchgoers in the small town outside Yellowstone. He carried the backpack stolen from Gary and Linda Haas.

McCluskey and Welch would remain free for about another week. News reports placed the couple anywhere from Canada, where the Royal Mounted Police searched, to Arkansas, where a beauty salon robbery was briefly and incorrectly linked to the fugitives.

But on Aug. 19, a Forest Service ranger was patrolling the Gabaldon Campground at the base of Mount Baldy back in Arizona where their terrible journey had begun.

When the ranger spotted the couple, McCluskey walked behind a tree, trying to hide, according to court documents. The ranger also noticed bullet holes in a nearby tree. He jotted down the license plate number, and realized it was stolen. Later, McCluskey told police he was sorry he hadn’t killed the ranger when he had the chance.

Authorities covertly watched the couple, closing off escape routes, while an arrest team assembled.

Shortly after 7 p.m. on Aug. 19, officers from the U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Apache County Sheriff’s Department apprehended the fugitives and ended the nationwide manhunt.

Welch pulled her silver revolver out from behind her back, pointing it at police, according to court documents, before realizing police outnumbered her. McCluskey was lying in a sleeping back outside the tent where he’d hidden his guns. Later, he told the officers he would have killed them.

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