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Married couple accused of murder had an 8-hour head start after escape in Utah, authorities say


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(CNN) — A husband and wife accused of killing a 72-year-old man overpowered two security guards in Utah and tied them up in a van, giving the couple hours of head start on authorities trying to recapture them.

Blane Barksdale, 56, and Susan Barksdale, 59 escaped custody Monday night as they were being transported from Henrietta, New York, to Pima County, Arizona.

They were facing charges of arson, burglary and murder in the death of Frank Bligh, a Vietnam veteran who was killed in April in Tucson, Arizona.

The married couple faked a medical emergency or bathroom break, and the guards pulled over to the side of the road, according to the US Marshals Service.

“And once they got over to the side of the road, they were able to overpower them, bind them and threw them in the back of the van they were in,” said David Gonzales, US Marshal for the district of Arizona.

It took time for the guards to free themselves, Assistant Chief Deputy US Marshal Van Bayless said. By the time they called law enforcement, six to eight hours had passed, he said.

The couple allegedly had help

After the couple tied up the male and female guard in the back of the van, they drove to a remote area in northeast Arizona to meet with another person and get a new vehicle. The Barksdales then drove to an isolated area and left the van and the guards behind.

The guards managed to free themselves after a few hours, and they notified the Apache County Sheriff’s Department, Gonzales said. By that time, the Barksdales had been gone for about six hours.

“We are trying to make up for lost time,” Gonzales said.

On Tuesday, Tucson Police said the couple’s direction of travel is unknown, but investigators have information that they are possibly traveling through Arizona.

They were last seen driving a red GMC Sierra pickup, Arizona license plate No. 127XTY, with damage to the front passenger side and rear bumper, police said. Blane Barksdale has numerous tattoos on his arms and hands.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department suspended its use of Security Transport Services, the company tasked with moving the suspects across the country, pending a review of the incident.

They are suspected of a fatal explosion

The investigation into the couple began in April when police responded to a fire that led to an explosion at Bligh’s home. But he and his vehicle were nowhere to be found, and investigators discovered evidence the fire was set intentionally, and that Bligh had been killed, Tucson police said.

On May 1, an arrest warrant was issued for the Barksdales on charges including first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, arson and auto theft, police said.

But the Barksdales had fled the state, sparking a nationwide search. They were found in Henrietta, New York, a suburb of Rochester, and arrested without incident on May 24.

Bligh was a veteran of the Vietnam War and was in the Air Force Reserves after the war, the victim’s brother William Bligh said. He said that his brother and Susan Barksdale were good friends, but she had changed since meeting her new husband.

CNN was not able to identify an attorney for the couple.