California Fugitive Arrested After 36 Years on the Lam

A fugitive who spent the last 36 years on the run after escaping from a California prison camp is in custody after investigators used records of telephone calls possibly made by his dying mother to track him down

Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011  |  Updated 5:57 AM PDT
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Authorities arrested Asher, a fugitive who had spent the last 36 years on the run after escaping from a California prison camp.

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A fugitive who spent the last 36 years on the run after escaping from a California prison camp is in custody after investigators used records of telephone calls possibly made by his dying mother to track him down, authorities announced Monday.

William Walter Asher III, 66, was arrested Friday at his home in Salida, about 70 miles south of Sacramento.

According to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Asher was sentenced to seven years to life in prison for robbing a San Francisco bar during which a bartender was shot and beaten to death in 1966. Asher was 20 at the time.

He was denied parole twice before escaping in January 1975 from Growlersburg Conservation Camp, an inmate fire camp in El Dorado County.

According to the FBI, Asher fled to the Northwest Territories of Canada, where he assumed the name David Donald Mcfee and worked as a long-haul truck driver. He married, raised a family and eventually separated from his wife.

She was unable to help Canadian authorities and the FBI track down Asher. But investigators discovered the home in Salida after Asher's mother passed away in 2005.

"According to source information, shortly before her death she asked various family members to assist her in using the 'secret' number to call 'Billy,'" the FBI said in a statement.

With that information, investigators collected the phone records of people believed to have helped her in contacting Asher.

That eventually led investigators to a home that belonged to a man named Garry Donald Webb, who appeared to resemble an older, thinner Asher and worked at a trucking business. A fingerprint on Webb's driver's license matched one on Asher's fingerprint card.

Asher admitted his identity after questioning from authorities, they said. He was living with a woman who had been with him for more than 10 years but didn't know about his fugitive status.

Asher was being held at the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown.

He could face new charges related to his escape and could spend the rest of his life in prison, authorities said.

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