A SWAT team captured escaped inmate John McCluskey and his fiancée Casslyn Welch in an Arizona national forest this morning, peacefully ending a three-week manhunt. Aided solely by Welch and a pair of wire cutters, McCluskey and two other inmates escaped from a private prison in Arizona on July 30. Authorities apprehended McCluskey’s fellow escapees in early August.
Following a tip from a forest ranger who discovered the couple yesterday, a SWAT team swarmed the woods and apprehended them this morning in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, 300 miles away from the prison from which they escaped. The ranger, who spoke with McCluskey yesterday afternoon while investigating an untended campfire, became suspicious when the fugitive acted nervous during their conversation. Anticipating violence, the SWAT team spent the night staking out the campground.Welch initially turned a gun on her captors, but dropped it after realizing she was greatly outnumbered. Officials found McCluskey in a sleeping bag nearby.
A member of the extremely violent white supremacist prison gang Aryan Brotherhood, McCluskey was serving time for attempted second-degree murder. Inmates at California’s San Quentin prison founded the Aryan Brotherhood in 1964, shortly after prisons were desegregated. Also known as “The Rock” or “The Brand,” the gang gained traction across the country throughout the 1970s, especially in prisons in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Missouri.
Estimates vary, but membership is generally thought to exceed 15,000 men either on the inside or released from prison. Besides selling drugs and other criminal activity, some AB members commit hate crimes after their release. Two of the three men who murdered James Byrd Jr., a black man, by tying him to their pickup truck and dragging him over three miles of road near Jasper, Texas, were ex-cons who belonged to the Brotherhood.
Forensics experts have linked McClusky, Welch, and one of the other escaped inmates to the murders of a (white) Oklahoma couple whose bodies were discovered in New Mexico on August 4. On being captured, McCluskey told authorities he wished he’d shot the forest ranger when he’d had the chance.