PHOENIX—Accused murderer and escapee Blane Barksdale, 56, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Phoenix on two counts of kidnapping and one count of car jacking, all felonies. Barksdale and his wife Susan Barksdale, 59, were apprehended on Sept. 13 near Punkin Center, Arizona, after a tense two-week manhunt by a team of local, county, state and federal law enforcement.

The case started in Tucson. The Barksdales came to the attention of Tucson police as persons of interest in the murder investigation of one Frank Bligh, 72. Bligh disappeared in April; neither he nor his body has been found, say authorities. And his house was set on fire. According to a report by a Tucson TV station, family and friends assume Bligh is dead; they remember him as a good brother, good neighbor, a Vietnam veteran who never said a bad word about anyone.

Bligh was also a gun collector and had about 100 guns when police believe the Barkdales showed up at his house looking for money and things to steal. Before her marriage to Blane, Susan Barksdale was a friend of Bligh’s.

On May 1, Pima County authorities charged the Barksdales with murder, arson, theft (guns) and burglary and issued warrants for their arrest. They also charged Barkdale’s nephew, Brent Mallard, (age unknown) with arson.

Federal authorities believe that the Barksdales got wind of the warrants out for them from Pima County, and fled the state. Before they took off, they allegedly signed the titles to all their vehicles over to a family associate, and registered an RV under another family associate’s name. When the feds found out about that, they charged Blane with felony flight, or in legal language, “did move and travel in interstate commerce with intent to avoid prosecution,” court filings reveal.

Barksdale was now in the federal system, which has vast law enforcement tools. Authorities therefor were alerted when Susan Barksdale pawned some property (maybe guns) at a New Jersey pawn shop; the Barksdales were thereafter arrested in New York state and packed up for a return to Tucson.

But near the Utah border with Arizona, Susan Barksdale is alleged to have faked a medical emergency, and they overpowered two private security guards who were driving them in a van headed for Tucson. It has been reported that the two guards were tied up with their own shoe laces and locked in the van in a remote area. The Washington Post reported that the guards had a firearm, but it was locked up in a compartment in the van; the Barksdales either couldn’t get to it or didn’t know about it, the Post speculates.

It took the guards about three hours to free themselves, say reports. In the meantime, the fugitives then reportedly got hold of a truck in northern Arizona from an acquaintance and eluded searchers for about two weeks.

From Aug. 30 until they were captured on Sept. 13, the hunt for the Barksdales was focused primarily on remote areas in Apache and Navajo counties, where authorities believed at the time the couple may have had connections. Staff from the local sheriff’s offices assisted the U.S. Marshall’s Service in the search, which garnered national media attention.

Of the three different cases involved here, the murder charges are set for a pretrial conference next month. At their last court date, Susan appeared in the Pima County Superior Court in custody (bond amount unknown.) Records say Blane “refused transport” from wherever he is being held.

There is no court record yet of Susan Barksdale having been charged in for any type of unlawful flight.

Meantime, nephew Mallard has pleaded guilty to the arson of Bligh’s home. It is unknown whether as part of the plea Mallard has agreed to cooperate in the case against the Barksdales, but his plea agreement has been ordered sealed by the court, and Mallard was released from custody the same day he pleaded guilty.

Federal authorities dismissed the felony flight charges against Barksdale. The two kidnapping charges (the security guards) and the car jacking charge appear to have been put on ice in federal court, possibly awaiting the outcome of the murder charges in Pima County.

Reach the reporter at rlynch@wmicentral.com

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