Woman linked to prison break, murders wasn’t ‘brave enough’ to stop it

KINGMAN, Ariz. — A woman who aided in a northwest Arizona prison break that led to the 2010 slaying of a vacationing couple in New Mexico said Monday she was too scared at the time to have stopped the violence.

But the escape from Arizona State Prison in Golden Valley didn’t go the way she was promised, 48-year-old Casslyn Welch said. She never dreamed the plot to free her fiance, who is also her cousin, and two convicted killers would bring bloodshed.

“What happened was never, ever, ever supposed to have happened,” Welch said in a phone interview from the Mohave County jail in Kingman. “There was not supposed to be any harm or any tragedy to any human being whatsoever.

“We were supposed to go off into the wild, wild West and disappear,” Welch said. “We would be gone and off the grid and never surface again.”

Welch is serving a 40-year federal prison term for her New Mexico convictions on weapons, conspiracy and interference with commerce offenses. She is scheduled to receive a concurrent 20-year sentence Wednesday for her Arizona convictions.

Her fiancee, Charlie McCluskey, first spoke of the plan about a month before the getaway, Welch said. On July 30, 2010, she parked away from the prison perimeter to avoid detection before approaching the facility on foot and delivering wire cutters that were used to snip through a fence.

McCluskey was serving a 15-year-sentence for attempted murder and other crimes when he and convicted killers Tracy Province and Daniel Renwick fled the prison into the desert darkness. After splitting from the others Renwick ended up locating the 1996 Chrysler Concorde that Welch had stocked with weapons, cash, changes of clothes and other provisions.

Renwick drove off alone, only to be captured following a shootout with officers in Colorado some 28 hours after the escape. McCluskey, Province and Welch forced truck drivers they abducted on a highway outside the prison to drive them to Flagstaff where the drivers were turned loose.

U.S. Marshalls said McCluskey’s ex-wife picked up the group there and drove them to Payson, Ariz., about 115 miles south of Flagstaff. McCluskey’s mother then drove the trio to Phoenix before they left Arizona.

In New Mexico they abducted Gary and Linda Haas, both 61, who were sleeping at an Interstate 40 rest area. McCluskey is serving a life sentence for shooting and killing the retirees, who had been on their annual vacation from Tecumseh, Okla.

Their charred remains were found Aug. 4, 2010, in their camper trailer that McCluskey torched after they were killed.

“Oh God, and how he put them through torture and terror was unexcusable,” Welch said. “If I would have been brave enough to stand up to Charlie and tell him ‘no,’ it would have been a million times different. They would have had their families and the truck drivers would never have been terrified.”

But Welch said her cousin’s demeanor changed noticeably moments before the killings.

“I looked at Charlie’s face and he was not the kid that I grew up with,” Welch said.

From New Mexico the odyssey headed north to Wyoming where Province was dropped off about a mile outside Yellowstone National Park. After his Aug. 9, 2010, arrest Province told authorities he had intended to ingest heroin then head into the wilderness to be eaten by a bear.

Welch and McCluskey were taken into custody at an eastern Arizona campground 10 days later.

Just six weeks before the escape, Welch had been caught smuggling drugs into the Golden Valley prison that the Centerville, Utah-based Management & Training Corporation operates through a private contract with Arizona. Welch admitted bringing heroin into the facility three times and that she had agreed to work as an informant before returning to facilitate the escape.

Only through escape-related publicity did the general public and local law enforcement authorities learn that 117 convicted killers were incarcerated at the Golden Valley facility originally constructed to house DUI offenders.

Embracing spending the rest of her life behind bars, Welch said the state of Arizona shoulders some blame for the Haas murders by tempting killers confined by inadequate security.

“Now I’m a lifer. I understand the philosophy now,” Welch said. “You have to keep killing the (inmate’s) hope. You can’t let us have any hope. And when they took those guys and put them over in that little playpen…that gave them hope.”

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