PHOENIX – Multiple law enforcement agencies worked together to locate and arrest two of the country's most wanted fugitives in a remote area of Arizona on Wednesday night.
Blane Barksdale, 56, and his wife, Susan, 59, were tracked to a one-acre property within Tonto Basin in Gila County, about 30 miles south of Payson.
"That ended the saga we've been dealing with for the last 16 days," U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said during a news conference in Phoenix on Thursday.
The Barksdales hid in a remote area east of Snowflake for days with the help of others, Gonzales said.
They then traveled to the unincorporated community of Punkin Center in Tonto Basin earlier this week to a house owned by an acquaintance with a known history of methamphetamine sales, he said.
Hundreds of leads poured in in the more than two weeks since the couple fled. Investigators focused on northeastern Arizona, specifically Navajo County.
A tipster – whom officials have not identified – cemented law enforcement's suspicions by pointing them to the Gila County property, which is about 150 miles south of Navajo County.
More than 50 law enforcement members from the U.S. Marshals Service, Department of Public Safety and Gila County Sheriff's Office and Navajo County Sheriff's Office closed in on the property housing a manufactured home and a number of trailers on Wednesday night.
The homeowner emerged from the main modular home after the marshals ordered them out and Susan Barksdale exited quickly after, Gonzales said. She was sobbing and visibly upset. She confirmed her husband was inside, he said.
Blane Barksdale refused to leave the house for five to 10 minutes after. He initially complied with the commands of law enforcement, but then he became verbally abusive with law enforcement, Gonzales said. A deputy marshal used a stun gun and multiple bean bag rounds on him before getting him into handcuffs.
As he was being booked into jail, Gonzales said, Blane Barksdale turned to the DPS troopers and bailiffs and said, "Be careful. It's dangerous out there."
Initial murder charges
Blane and Susan Barksdale had been on the run since Aug. 26, when they commandeered a prison transport van in Utah and escaped into rural Arizona.
The Barksdales are suspected of murdering 72-year-old Frank Bligh of Tucson, who had been missing since April. Tucson police Capt. James Scott said Bligh is still considered missing at this time, but officials believe he's dead.
The couple was found in a New York town near the Canadian border. They spent nearly three months in custody there before they were loaded into a van operated by a private company to be transported back to Tucson to face criminal charges.
They made it as far as the southeastern Utah town of Blanding on Aug. 26 when they overpowered the guards and escaped. They drove the hijacked van nearly 300 miles to Vernon, Arizona.
The van was abandoned in St. Johns in Apache County with the prison guards and another prisoner bound inside.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which tracks fugitives, said the Barksdales met "an acquaintance" who gave them a red GMC Sierra pickup truck.
Then, the Barksdales seemingly disappeared into the vast unoccupied swaths of northeastern Arizona. Officials said they likely spent most of their time in Navajo County before moving to Gila County a few days before their arrest.
Gonzales said officials still don't know where the red GMC ended up.
"It's up there somewhere in the remote area of northeast Arizona," he said.
The remoteness of northern Arizona was especially challenging for investigators. The area where the Barksdales were arrested is sparsely populated with about 1,500 people and surrounded by the vast Tonto National Forest.
The U.S. Marshals Service called on the local sheriffs office for a better understanding of the area and the people in it.
"These remote locations offer a different type of manhunt than an urban area," Navajo County Sheriff David Clouse said.
That remoteness allowed the Barksdales to "lay low" for a "long time," Clouse said. He said he believes they spent most of their time in Navajo and Apache counties due to their connections in the areas.
What's next for the Barksdales?
The Barksdales were being held in a Florence federal prison Thursday.
Gonzales said they were expected to be transported to a federal courthouse in Tucson on Thursday afternoon for an initial appearance.
This time, they'll be driven by U.S. marshals in separate vehicles.
The arraignment is simply procedural, though, according to Gonzales.
The federal charges are expected to be dismissed and the Barksdales will be turned over to Tucson police to face murder charges.
FBI officials said the Barksdales will likely face additional kidnapping charges for hijacking the van and driving over state lines with the guards and other prisoners bound inside.
The owner of the house and others who helped harbor the couple could also be charged.
Officials: Barksdales didn't harm anyone while in hiding
Investigators are still working to determine where exactly the Barksdales were hiding during their entire time on the run.
Gonzales said they don't believe the couple physically injured anyone.
He also quashed rumors that the Barksdales were responsible for a bank robbery that had occurred in Snowflake on Wednesday.
Blane Barksdale previously served an eight-year stint in prison for theft, conspiracy and narcotics. During that time, authorities said, he also became involved in the Aryan Brotherhood white supremacist prison gang and racked up a string of infractions for stealing, disobeying orders, destroying property, illicit monetary exchange, fighting, narcotics possession and smuggling.
There's no indication that any known white supremacist groups were harboring the couple.
Gonzales also said no weapons were found inside the house where the Barksdales were arrested.
Follow Bree Burkitt on Twitter: @breeburkitt.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Blane Barksdale, Susan Barksdale, fugitive couple in Arizona, arrested