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Copter Escape Couple Caught at Jewel Shop

November 16, 1986|RICHARD C. PADDOCK and JAMES BATES | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Two prison sweethearts involved in a daring helicopter prison escape earlier this month were arrested Saturday when they returned to a jewelry store to see if wedding rings they had purchased were ready.

Ronald J. McIntosh, wearing glasses and a hat to disguise his identity, and Samantha Dorinda Lopez, wearing a brown wig, surrendered without a struggle after 15 federal marshals closed in on them at the Birdcage Walk shopping mall in suburban Citrus Heights.

When arrested, McIntosh was carrying a brief case that contained two handguns--a 9-millimeter automatic and a .357-Magnum--ammunition and $2,000 in cash, U.S. Marshal Arthur F. Van Court said.

About 50 federal marshals had been looking for the couple since Nov. 5, when McIntosh, who previously had escaped from the Federal Correction Institute near Pleasanton, daringly flew back to the prison in a hijacked helicopter, swooped down into the yard and lifted Lopez to freedom.

McIntosh, 42, a twice-convicted con artist, was serving a four-year federal term for fraud and parole violation when he met Lopez, 37, who was serving a 50-year sentence for her part in a series of bank robberies in the South.

Van Court said authorities had received a tip that the couple had twice visited Merksamer Jewelers at the shopping mall and would be returning to pick up the engagement and wedding rings they had purchased. The couple bought at least $5,500 in jewelry from the store.

"I would think the last thing you would want to do is go back to the same location three times and risk having someone put the pieces together," said Carol Folsom, an assistant store manager, who witnessed the arrests.

Although their wedding rings were not supposed to be ready until Tuesday, two marshals began posing as store clerks on Saturday while more than a dozen other agents staked out the mall.

McIntosh and Lopez entered the store shortly after 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon to check on the rings. After waiting a few minutes, Lopez walked to a nearby shoe store, Folsom said.

'They Were Overwhelmed'

Marshals closed in and arrested her and then nabbed McIntosh in the jewelry store. McIntosh fumbled with the latch to his briefcase, but was unable to open it before he was arrested, Van Court said.

"They were overwhelmed," the marshal said.

Folsom said she and other clerks at the store had been suspicious of the couple when they first came to the store Monday and Tuesday.

On their earlier visits, the couple picked out more than $5,000 worth of jewelry in less than 15 minutes, including the rings, a diamond pendant and gold chains.

"That's a very unique shopper and you do take notice," Folsom said. "We really assumed they were going to pass a bad check."

Explaining that they had just moved to the Sacramento area from Oregon, McIntosh paid for the jewelry with cash and a check drawn on an Oregon bank. The two seemed unsure of their address and said they had no telephone, Folsom said.

Access to $2 Million

The check, however, proved to be good. Authorities believe that the couple may have had access to as much as $2 million that was never recovered from their various crimes, including more than $1 million in cash and $700,000 in gold coins.

The fugitives were confident enough to order a ring for McIntosh that was set with diamonds and would take a week to make, Folsom said.

"I hope they had a good time," Folsom said. "Because I'd guess they're not going to get out for a long time."

On their visits to the store, Lopez wore a wig that was "obvious," Folsom said. McIntosh wore glasses in the store--but not in photographs later shown to her by marshals, she added.

According to Folsom, McIntosh used the name Lyle Thompson--the same name he allegedly used when renting the helicopter used in freeing Lopez from prison.

McIntosh escaped on Oct. 28, while on an unescorted bus ride from Pleasanton to the federal prison facility at Lompoc, where he was to serve out the remaining 15 months of his sentence. He disappeared after guards at Pleasanton bought him a bus ticket and drove him to a nearby Greyhound station. McIntosh had requested the transfer.

On Nov. 5, McIntosh allegedly posed as a developer and chartered the helicopter in San Jose, saying he wanted to inspect some property. Once airborne, authorities say he pointed a pistol at the pilot and ordered him to land in a remote area. McIntosh took the pilot's shoes and flew off alone to free Lopez.

The helicopter was later found abandoned about 15 miles from Pleasanton.

Escape Carefully Planned

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