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Escapee Captured After 7-Week Chase : Manhunt: Convict who confounded authorities with his survival skills is cornered in an Arizona back yard. He says he 'enjoyed himself.'

July 06, 1992|TINA DAUNT and LAURA LAUGHLIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A brazen escaped convict who authorities said stole cars, took hostages at gunpoint and tormented tourists as he led police on a seven-week chase across the wilderness near the Grand Canyon National Park was captured early Sunday.

Danny Ray Horning, 33, who was serving four life terms for a bank robbery last year and is suspected in a dismemberment-slaying in Stockton, was tracked down by police bloodhounds and cornered under a back-yard gazebo at a resort subdivision near Sedona shortly after 2 a.m.

Horning, nicknamed "Rambo" by police for his ability to confound his searchers with expert survival skills, surrendered without incident, ending the largest manhunt in Arizona history. He was charged with attempted murder, kidnaping and armed robbery and booked into the Coconino County Jail. He was being held on $2-million bail.

Although Horning appeared tired and filthy, he was not rueful. He made wisecracks to police about the quality of the cars he stole, grinned at news cameras and said he wished the chase had not ended.

After his court appearance, he paused to talk to reporters.

"I've never kidnaped in my life until recently," Horning said. "All I was trying to do was to get away from the cops."

Since his escape from an Arizona prison May 12, Horning had become a sort of local folk hero because of his ability to disappear into the forest. But law enforcement officers said Sunday that "he's no Robin Hood."

"I've been in law enforcement for 30 years and I've seen a lot of things," said Yavapai County Sheriff Buck Buchanan, who was there when Horning was captured. "This is not a nice fellow.

"I had a great personal fear that there would be a murder or an officer would be shot before it was all over with. We were lucky."

Horning surfaced Saturday, taking two British women hostage at the Grand Canyon, police said. Horning foiled roadblocks and the surveillance of more than 400 law enforcement officers from more than a dozen agencies.

He left the women unhurt but tied to a tree near Red Lake, about 45 miles south of the canyon. A state police officer spotted him driving on an interstate highway.

Authorities said Horning fired one shot at police during the chase and then pulled off Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff, dumped the car and took to the woods and the canyons above Sedona, about 100 miles north of Phoenix.

As night fell, law enforcement officials feared that they again had lost Horning.

But shortly before 10 p.m., authorities received a phone call from a homeowner who said there was an intruder drinking from a hose in his back yard. Buchanan and five other officers arrived at the scene with bloodhounds.

Horning, who was armed with a loaded revolver, was found burrowed under the gazebo. He was taken to jail in Flagstaff in Coconino County, where most of the search had taken place.

After he escaped in May from the state prison at Florence, about 50 miles southeast of Phoenix, he used techniques he had learned during 11 months of Army reconnaissance work. He walked in circles and figure-eights to confuse tracking dogs. He left notes taunting police.

On June 25, Horning allegedly abducted a couple from a parking lot east of Flagstaff and forced them to drive with him to the Grand Canyon's South Rim, stopping to pick up a shotgun he had stashed near Interstate 17.

After spending the night with the couple at Grand Canyon National Park, Horning tried to abduct a family of six from a parking lot near the park headquarters, police said. The plot was foiled when a teen-age boy in the family ran away screaming, and Horning drove off with the couple he had abducted in Flagstaff.

When park rangers gave chase, Horning fired several shots at them that missed--leading to the attempted-murder charges. He fled on foot. Three days later, Horning stole a station wagon at gunpoint from an Oregon couple near Grand Canyon Village, police said.

Horning said at an impromptu press conference Sunday before being led back to jail that he never intended to hurt the park rangers, adding that he is a good shot and would not have missed if he had aimed at them.

Reveling in the attention, he added that he was amazed at how easy it was to escape from prison and hinted that he might try it again.

He told Coconino County Sheriff Joe D. Richards that "it had been a fun chase and he had thoroughly enjoyed himself."

Horning had been serving four consecutive life sentences for robbery, kidnaping and aggravated assault in a 1991 bank robbery in Winslow, Ariz.

Horning is also named in a Stockton murder warrant in the September, 1990, slaying and dismemberment of a man identified as Sam McCullough.

According to authorities with the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department, Horning is believed to have killed McCullough, who ran a fish farm, during a robbery at his home. McCullough's body was cut into pieces, placed into plastic bags and dumped in the San Joaquin Delta.

Horning fled California and went on a bank robbery spree that stretched from Washington to Arizona, authorities said. When he was arrested in Winslow, police found him in possession of McCullough's pistol, said Sgt. Christine Reeves of the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department.

She said charges were never sought in the California case because of the lengthy term Horning received for the Winslow robbery.

Horning's mother, who lives in Stockton, said during a phone interview Sunday that she was relieved that her son had been arrested.

"It was the answer to my prayers that he didn't hurt anybody," said Dorothy Horning, who said she spent the day watching her son on TV news updates. "He looked good. He had the big smile."

Times staff writer Daunt reported from Los Angeles; Laughlin, a special correspondent, reported from Flagstaff. The story was written by Daunt.

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