California fugitive arrested after 36 years: FBI

LOS ANGELES Mon Aug 22, 2011 8:29pm EDT

William Walter Asher III, 66, is shown in this August 19, 2011 booking photograph released to Reuters August 22, 2011. REUTERS/California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation/Handout

William Walter Asher III, 66, is shown in this August 19, 2011 booking photograph released to Reuters August 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation/Handout

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A convicted murderer who escaped from a California prison camp over three decades ago has been recaptured thanks to a clue gleaned from his dying mother, authorities said on Monday.

William Walter Asher III, 66, was taken into custody without incident at a home in the Northern California town of Salida on Friday, FBI spokesman Steve Dupre said.

Asher, who was sentenced in 1967 to seven years to life in prison after a fatal bar robbery, had been on the run since an accomplice helped him escape from a Northern California prison camp in 1975.

The trail had gone cold until 2005, when authorities learned that, on her death bed, Asher's mother had asked family members for help in contacting her son via a secret number, Dupre said.

Agents using phone records tracked two phone calls to a residence in Salida, where Asher was living under the assumed name of Garry Donald Webb, Dupre said.

The fugitive, who shared the home with a female companion of more than 20 years, was arrested there after admitting to his true identity, Dupre said.

"According to the agent who was there, (Asher) was real somber and didn't really say too much, but one of the things that stuck with agent was, he was very curious about how we tracked him down," Dupre said.

"He kept asking, 'How did you find me?'," Dupre said.

The woman was not identified by authorities and apparently did not know that Asher was a fugitive and convicted murderer, Dupre said.

Asher was originally arrested in Chicago in 1966, where authorities say he fled at the age of 20 after taking part in a San Francisco bar robbery in which the bartender was shot and beaten to death.

After escaping from the Growlersburg Conservation Camp in El Dorado County, California, he assumed the name of David Donald McFee, worked as a long-haul trucker, married and raised a family, the FBI said.

Asher eventually separated from his wife, who was later interviewed by authorities but could not provide information on his whereabouts. The FBI said one of Asher's daughters contacted the FBI several years ago trying to find her father.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)

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