Couple checking on barking dog leads to encounter with escapee, his recapture

YOUNGSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — A couple checking a barking dog on their property in northwestern Pennsylvania led to the capture of a homicide suspect who used bed sheets to escape from jail, news reports authorities.

Michael Burham, 34, was captured nine days after fleeing Warren County Jail late evening July 6 by climbing onto exercise equipment, through a window and climbing a rope made from prison bedding, authorities said.

A tip from residents of Conewango Township of a suspicious individual came just before 4 p.m. Saturday, and Burham was in custody shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday, said Lt. Col. George Bivens, deputy commissioner of police operations of the State of Pennsylvania.

Residents came out to see why their dog was barking, went to the back of their property and met Burham, who said something about camping during a brief conversation, Bivens said.

“The property owner recognized him, put his wife back in the golf cart (which they were using) and drove from there so he could contact us immediately as Burham fled into the woods,” Bivens told reporters Saturday night. It happened in an area where researchers had “pushed hard,” Bivens said.

“That’s been our strategy from the start, it’s to push him hard, make him make a mistake – he finally did it,” Bivens said.

Burham, followed through the woods after that by searchers with the help of two dogs, encountered soldiers on a road that were part of a perimeter set up, Bivens said. He lay down and tried to hide, but was approached from behind by federal marshals, border patrol and state police and taken into custody at gunpoint, Bivens said.

Burham looked “tired and worn, just like we thought” and was dirty and wet, still wearing his turned-up jail pants. Authorities did not find a weapon they feared to possess as ammunition was found in small stockpiles linked to him by DNA, but the area was searched to ensure he had not hidden any one, Bivens said.

Several hours earlier, Bivens had renewed a call for residents of northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York to regularly review doorbell and surveillance camera footage, and also urged people again to ensure that vehicles, sheds, houses and anything useful to a fugitive are secure. .

Burham was jailed on $1 million bail and was charged with kidnapping, burglary and other counts. Authorities warned while he was missing that he was considered armed and dangerous. More than 200 state, federal and local officials participated in the search for Burham, and up to $22,000 in rewards were paid out, Bivens said.

Authorities were still trying to determine where he will be held after his arraignment, but it won’t be the Warren County Jail, where an investigation into the escape is ongoing.

An investigation is continuing into whether Burham received any assistance, and authorities will speak to the county attorney if they believe they have evidence to support charges against anyone, Bivens said.

Bivens thanked residents of the county and surrounding areas for their patience during the manhunt.

“I know they were nervous, I know they were scared, but they remained kind to all of our people,” he said. Authorities feared harm could be done to a citizen or even an officer in the hunt for Burham, who had “really very little to lose”, he said.

“So it doesn’t play out, it’s a good day,” Bivens said.

District Attorney Jason Schmidt, of Chautauqua County, New York, said in June that Burham was the prime suspect in the May 11 murder of Kala Hodgkin, 34, and related arson in Jamestown, New York. . Authorities also accused him of abducting an elderly couple in Pennsylvania as he tried to evade capture before his arrest in South Carolina. New York officials said they opted to let Pennsylvania handle the initial prosecutions as they investigate the murder and arson.

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