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Oregon Fugitive Caught in Mexico

Crime: Christian Michael Longo is suspected of killing his wife and three children. A tourist's tip leads police to beach hut.

January 15, 2002|LIANNE HART and KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

HOUSTON — Ending a monthlong international manhunt, federal authorities said Monday they arrested an Oregon man, accused of murdering his wife and three children, after he was found living in a grass hut on a beach near Cancun, Mexico.

Christian Michael Longo, 27, was taken into custody over the weekend by Mexican authorities and handed over to FBI agents, who escorted him on a Continental Airlines passenger flight to Houston.

Longo faces four counts of aggravated murder in Oregon.

The fugitive, who was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, is believed to have fled the small coastal town of Newport, Ore., for San Francisco after the killings. Longo was tracked down to a beach camp on the Mexican coast after a Montreal woman on vacation in Mexico spotted a photo of him upon her return and tipped off authorities.

Longo, who had earlier been living in a Mexican youth hostel, admitted police had the right man and agreed to return to the U.S., a move that averted formal extradition proceedings. That eliminates any potential obstacle to seeking the death penalty in Oregon, because Mexico generally does not extradite people who face a possible death sentence.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 16, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Fugitive jailed--A Tuesday story in Section A about Oregon murder suspect Christian Michael Longo incorrectly stated the location of the Houston County Jail. It is in Harris County.

At Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Longo arrived Monday morning wearing jeans, a gray T-shirt and a long plaid over-shirt, resembling photos posted on the FBI's Web site, except his strawberry blond hair had grown slightly longer. He was led handcuffed by FBI agents and Houston police officers out of the terminal and into a waiting vehicle.

"He's booked in the Houston County Jail, and he will have an extradition hearing" today, said Dana Fernandez, clerk at the Harrison County Criminal Court. She said Longo is scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. before Judge Sherman Ross.

The family of Longo's wife, Mary Jane, 34, expressed relief.

"It doesn't help anything else, but I'm glad that he's in custody," said her mother, Susan Lowery of Trinity, Ala. "It was a worry to me when he was loose. Family members didn't know if he was going to come after them, or me, or whatever."

The arrest ended an intense search for a man who was thought to be a loving father to his three children. The body of Zachary, 4, was found Dec. 19 floating in a slough near the family's condominium; 3-year-old Sadie's body was found submerged about 150 feet away. The bodies of Mary Jane and 2-year-old daughter Madison were discovered by divers in the same inlet near the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 27.

The family had recently moved to scenic Newport, Ore., after leaving behind a string of financial problems in Michigan. Longo, who had opened a construction cleanup firm in Michigan's Washtenaw County in February 2000, was subsequently placed on probation on charges of forgery and writing bad checks, then charged with larceny in a case whose outcome is unclear.

Family members said Longo always lived beyond his means, buying expensive clothes, boats and vacations without any apparent ability to pay the bills.

Longo worked at a local Starbucks in Newport, where the family rented a condominium on Yaquina Bay.

Longo was spotted several times in San Francisco late in December and is believed to have purchased a ticket from San Francisco to Cancun on Dec. 27, according to the FBI. He was featured on the Fox television show "America's Most Wanted" on Saturday night.

Charles Mathews, special agent in charge of the FBI in Portland, Ore., said the key break in the case came when the Montreal woman told authorities she recognized Longo as a man who went by the name of Brad staying at a hostel there.

An investigation by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico revealed that Longo had been asked to leave the hostel about Jan. 7. "Apparently there was money stolen from other people at the youth hostel, [and] although it was not directly associated with him, he left shortly after that," Mathews said. Longo discussed with other hostel guests the possibility of going to the village of Tulum, 60 miles south of Cancun, Mathews said.

About 20 officers from the state judicial police closed in on a beach camp at Tulum, where Longo was living under the name of Michael Longo. "He acknowledged his identity to the law enforcement officers," Mathews said, and agreed to waive extradition proceedings and accompany FBI agents to the U.S.

Lincoln County Dist. Atty. Bernice Barnett said extradition from Texas to Oregon could take several weeks, unless Longo waives that proceeding. "If he waives extradition, officers from Lincoln County are ready to transport him back to Oregon at the first opportunity," she said in a statement.

She said the decision whether to seek the death penalty has already been made but will not be announced until Longo appears in court in Oregon. The state voted overwhelmingly to reinstate the death penalty in 1984, but since then has used it only twice.

Longo's family said they are "pleased" he was located so quickly. "As these events have unfolded over the last couple of weeks, the only thing more difficult than the answers has been the uncertainty," the family said in a statement. "Perhaps now the family can begin to understand what happened, and we may be able to have some kind of closure."

The arrest and hand-over marked an improved climate of cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico. The number of fugitives returned from Mexico jumped from 15 in 2000 to about 70 last year, according to Josie Shumake, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Mexico City.

*

Times staff writer James F. Smith contributed from Mexico City. Murphy reported from Seattle and Hart from Houston.

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