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Suspected 'Bonnie and Clyde' Arrested in South Africa After Years on the Lam

August 21, 2003|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Two American fugitives, wanted by the FBI in a spate of bank robberies in the United States, have been arrested in Cape Town after years on the run, South African police and U.S. Embassy officials said Wednesday.

Nova Esther Guthrie and Craig Michael Pritchert, who gained the reputation of a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, had allegedly stolen about $500,000 from several banks across the American West.

The couple, featured on the FBI's most-wanted list of criminals and classified as "armed and dangerous," were apprehended Tuesday evening.

U.S. Embassy officials in South Africa and this country's national police force said the capture of Pritchert and Guthrie underscored the growing collaboration among international law enforcement agencies.

Senior Supt. Mary Martins-Engelbrecht of the South African Police Service said the arrests should serve as a warning to criminals not to consider South Africa a safe haven.

"The message should be clear to most of them now that it's really not a safe place for them to come here and hide," Martins-Engelbrecht said.

She said the couple were living in an apartment in Sea Point, a suburb of coastal Cape Town.

According to reports in South Africa's daily Star newspaper, Guthrie, 30, had been using the alias "Andy Brown" and had been working as a manager in an upscale nightclub the last two years. Pritchert, believed to be 41, reportedly called himself "Dane" and would often drop by the club.

They are accused of robbing banks in Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Texas and New Mexico from 1997 to 1999. They reportedly wore masks during holdups and used a police frequency radio scanner to monitor patrols.

During each of the heists, Pritchert reportedly used a semiautomatic handgun. He restrained the bank personnel with duct tape or cheap handcuffs before accessing the vault, reports say. Guthrie drove the getaway car.

A former Arizona State University baseball player and father of three children from a previous marriage, Pritchert was released from federal prison in Arizona in June 1996, after serving time for a bank robbery in Las Vegas. He reportedly lived in Phoenix until August 1997, when FBI agents said he robbed a bank in nearby Scottsdale.

In March 1999, the Colorado-born Guthrie surrendered to the FBI in Denver and was released on bond. She reportedly moved to Cheyenne, Wyo., to live with relatives and got a job as a waitress. Pritchert remained on the run.

But the couple resumed their relationship a short time later and remained at large.

They reportedly arrived in South Africa in 2000. Martins-Engelbrecht said it appeared they had entered the country legally and had not violated any laws here.

The U.S. is expected to make a formal extradition request for Pritchert and Guthrie, who are to appear before a Cape Town Magistrate's Court today, unless they request to go home.

"They don't face the death penalty [in the U.S.], so there is no impediment to them being extradited," said Judy Moon, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman. South Africa has been reluctant to extradite suspects who might face capital punishment upon their return home.

The couple can, however, appeal their extradition, and "this can be a lengthy legal process," Martins-Engelbrecht said.

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