U.S. Marshals: Escaped Arizona murder suspect on 15 Most Wanted list

Gabriella Khalaj, Arizona Republic

PHOENIX – A fugitive couple who escaped federal custody while being extradited from New York state to Arizona in connection with a murder of a Tucson resident could be hiding out in remote areas of eastern Arizona, the U.S. Marshals Service said Monday.

On Monday, officials also said Blane Barksdale, 56, now has been elevated to the U.S. Marshals Service 15 Most Wanted List and the reward for information leading to his capture is now up to $25,000.

His wife, 59-year-old Susan Barksdale, was being transported with him when they escaped custody Aug. 26 while on the way to Pima County. The reward for her capture remains up to $10,000.

"We believe based on tips, calls into the Marshals Service from informants and interviews that the Barksdales could possibly be east of the Snowflake area," said David Gonzales, the U.S. Marshal for Arizona, during a news conference Monday.

Manhunt begins: Manhunt underway: Armed and dangerous couple accused of murder escape from prison guards

"About 20 miles (east of Snowflake) are a lot of people who live off the grid. Some are anti-government people, some are good people who want to stay away and lead their lives,'' he said. "We have a lot of drug dealers in the area who are involved in methamphetamine use and sales, it's a very difficult area to do surveillance.''

Officials say the Barksdales overpowered and kidnapped two security officers and a third inmate near Blanding, Utah. They bound them in the van, then drove to Vernon, Arizona, where authorities say they picked up a Red GMC Sierra pickup truck from an acquaintance. 

According to U.S. Marshals Service, one of the Barksdales drove the pickup truck while the other followed in the prisoner van with the two officers and the other prisoner, who was not involved with the Barksdales.

After a few miles, they abandoned the prisoner van and the Barksdales drove off together in the pickup. The Barksdales and the red GMC have not been seen since.

After several hours, the security guards and the prisoner in transit were able to break out of the prisoner van and called 911. They had no idea where they were and they were given instructions to drive to the Apache County Sheriffs Department in St. John's.

U.S. Marshals are warning people to not be fooled by the Barksdales or how they might appear.

In a news release, U.S. Marshals Service Director Donald Washington said, "I urge the public not to be deceived by the physical appearance of the Barksdales.

"While they may look friendly, both have demonstrated a propensity for violence and should be considered armed and dangerous," Washington said in a statement. 

He urged the public to remain vigilant and aware that the couple remains at large.

The couple is wanted in the killing of Frank Bligh, 72, earlier this year in Tucson, officials said. Officials began investigating after Tucson firefighters responded to a fire at his home in April. Police later determined it was set intentionally, but Bligh was not found. His car later was found abandoned, and evidence in the car led officials to determine Bligh was dead, but his body was not found. He last was seen in a Tucson about a week before the fire.

Blane Barksdale is described as 6 feet, 5 inches tall, weighing around 260 pounds with brown-gray, shaved hair and blue eyes. He has large tattoos covering both forearms, arms, shoulders and torsos of swastikas, warlocks, lighting bolts – all symbols linked to white supremacy groups. 

Susan Barksdale is 5 feet, 7 inches tall. She is a white female weighing 120 pounds with blonde-gray hair, according to authorities.

Officials say the red GMC Sierra pickup truck had damage to the front passenger side and rear bumper with an Arizona license plate 127XTY.

In addition to rewards for the Barksdales, the U.S. Marshals Service is offering a $5,000 reward for the missing pickup truck. 

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of these individuals are encouraged to call the U.S. Marshals at 1-877-WANTED. 

Follow Gabriella Khalaj on Twitter: @gabriellakhalaj

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Manhunt continues: Escaped Arizona murder suspect on most wanted list