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US Marshal says escaped inmates in Arizona had 8-hour lead on police

PHOENIX — The U.S. Marshal for the District of Arizona says the escaped inmates wanted for murder who may be in the state had an eight-hour head start on police.

“When they took advantage of these two, basically, security guards … they tied them up, left in them in the middle of nowhere,” David Gonzalez told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Thursday.

Blane Barksdale, 56, and Susan Barksdale, 59, overpowered guards Monday in Utah and escaped custody in eastern Arizona.

Gonzalez said it took the guards about 2-3 hours to break out of the transport van.

The couple was able to get another vehicle from an acquaintance in northern Arizona.

The marshal said it’s not the first time the couple has been on the run.

“We were kind of shocked because we initially arrested them back in May for the murder in Tucson,” he said.

“They were on the run and we tracked them to western New York and then we knew it’d just be a matter of time before they got back to Tucson to face charges.”

A private transport company hired by the Pima County Sheriff’s Office was tasked with bringing the Barksdales back to southern Arizona.

In an interview with The Associated Press later Thursday, Gonzalez said Susan Barksdale pretended to have an “intestinal issue” to get the van to pull over after it departed from Blanding, Utah.

The guards were unarmed and did not feel the need to take a handgun that was inside a locked box, Gonzalez said. But the Barksdales charged at them once they opened the rear compartment, he said. The male and female guards weren’t physically injured, but the Barksdales used shoelaces to bind them and then put them in the back with a third inmate. They also took a key to free themselves of a waist restraint.

Blane Barksdale “is not a big guy but he can be very imposing,” Gonzales said. “I don’t think these two guards were equipped physically and emotionally with the experience needed for these types of individuals.”

The Barksdales drove the van to the town of Vernon, Arizona, where they met up with a friend who gave them access to his pickup truck. The friend has not been charged but law enforcement continues to question him, Gonzales said.

From there, each drove away in a vehicle for about 40 miles and abandoned the van near St. Johns. The couple took off with the money in guards’ wallets, which “wasn’t much,” according to Gonzales. They were likely unaware of the handgun, which was still in its box. The guards and the third prisoner were left behind.

The third prisoner has since been taken to his intended destination — a southern Arizona jail.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday it had suspended use of the Kansas-based transport company, Security Transport Services.

The Barksdales are suspects in the April 2019 killing of 72-year-old Frank Bligh. They are considered “armed and dangerous.”

Blane is 6-foot-5 and approximately 260 pounds with brown eyes and multiple tattoos on his arms and hands. Susan is 5-foot-7 and 110 pounds with blonde hair and blue eyes.

They were last seen in a red GMC Sierra pickup with Arizona plates 127XTY. The truck had damage on the front passenger side and rear bumper.

The U.S. Marshals Service on Wednesday offered rewards of up to $10,000 for each fugitive.

Anybody who spots the Barksdales or has information about their location was asked to call 911 or 520-88-CRIME (27463) or 800-CALL-FBI (225-5324).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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