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Murder suspects overpower guards in Utah, remain at large

TUCSON, Ariz. — Still unaware of how they were able to escape, authorities searched for new leads Wednesday in the manhunt for an Arizona couple who were being extradited across the country to face murder charges.

The U.S. Marshals Service has been poring through dozens of tips since it was reported that Blane Barksdale, 56, and Susan Barksdale, 59, had overpowered guards in a transport vehicle in Utah on Monday.

“We’re getting tips left and right and looking into the validity of each one,” said U.S. Deputy Marshal Michael Adams.

While it wasn’t clear if they had obtained weapons or taken any from the guards, Adams warned the public should consider them armed and dangerous.

The Barksdales were in Blanding, Utah, on Monday night when they somehow overpowered the guards.

Authorities believe they may be driving through Arizona. They were last seen in a Red GMC pickup. Digital signs on highways throughout the state on Wednesday flashed alerts about the outlaw couple.

The fugitives, who were coming from upstate New York, spent Sunday night in a county jail in Monticello, Utah, said San Juan County Sheriff Jason Torgerson. Torgerson didn’t find until hours later about the escape in Blanding, about 20 miles south of the jail. He still doesn’t know exactly where or how it happened, he said.

The news caused some panic in the small city of 3,600 residents that the fugitives were loose in the community. A high school volleyball team sent team members home early Tuesday out of fear, he said.

Torgerson said they’ve since spread the word that the fugitives aren’t likely in Utah anymore, but he’s still asking county residents to be vigilant.

Law enforcement officials in Arizona said they had no details about the escape and referred inquiries to Security Transport Services, based in Topeka, Kansas. When reached by phone, an employee who declined to give her full name said the company expected to get more information from the two guards involved on Thursday.

The various agencies involved, including the FBI, did not disclose whether the couple was restrained during their cross-country transport, why the route from New York passed through rural Utah or how they overtook the guards.

The Barksdales were arrested May 24 near Rochester, New York, on suspicion of first-degree murder and other crimes.

Tucson police say a fire followed by an explosion broke out in April at the home of Frank Bligh. The 72-year-old’s car was found abandoned the next day.

While his body has not been found, investigators say evidence in the car indicated he was likely dead. The Barksdales were later identified as suspects.

Associated Press writer Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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