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Jail Interrupts Their Fairy Tale

Loving couple is accused of bank robbery. Grand romance survives behind bars, but happy ending is in doubt.

October 05, 2003|Pauline Arrillaga | Associated Press Writer

PHOENIX — He sat behind the glass partition in the county jail, his years on the run finished.

Craig Pritchert leaned forward in his black-and-white striped uniform and rubbed his eyes. They were weary and damp with tears, the eyes of a man who could see the end.

The end of a good life, although a life based on a fake identity. Worse, this could be the end of a love. Not one built on lies and lawlessness, as police assert, but on sincere affection, he said.

"We had what most people strive for but can't even touch," Pritchert said. "It was ... the fairy tale. The only question now is the happily ever after."

But in a fairy tale, the hero isn't an accused bank robber and his heroine the accused getaway driver. And happily ever after doesn't include the possibility of prison for both.

*

When their past finally caught up with them late one August night, Craig Pritchert and Nova Guthrie had become Dane and Andi Brown, a couple who enjoyed walks on the beach and dancing at the club where she worked near Cape Town, South Africa.

She was the manager of the Bossa Nova. Owner Giorgos Karipidis so trusted the woman he considers "like a sister" that he had given her keys to the safes.

"Dane" was an Internet trader who spent his days inside their two-bedroom flat glued to a computer.

"We were happy. We were working," Pritchert, 42, said in an interview. "We had stopped looking over our shoulders."

"We were just two people starting a new life," Guthrie added in a telephone interview from jail.

Friends such as Karipidis knew nothing of their real identities, nor of the nickname that turned the tale of their alleged escapades into a sensational caper worthy of Hollywood.

In the United States, Guthrie and Pritchert had been branded a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, lovers accused of robbing half a dozen banks in Colorado, Montana, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington from 1997 to 1999. Pritchert is also charged with a solo job in Arizona.

But why would a woman from a devout Christian family who once considered medical school become the alleged accomplice of an armed bandit? Why would a man who had his own big dreams leave a wife and three kids and begin robbing banks?

"He seems like somebody who would rather take a shortcut as opposed to working for something ... who thinks, 'The rules are for everybody but me,' " said Don Vogel, an Arizona police investigator who assisted the FBI in its probe.

As for Guthrie, 12 years younger than Pritchert, authorities and her family wonder if she was manipulated. "If she got involved in this, it was pressure from someone much older who had the keys to her heart," said her brother, Gerald Guthrie.

*

Pritchert grew up in Scottsdale in the 1970s. In high school, the blond-haired, blue-eyed teenager was handsome and popular. He dated one of the prettiest girls in school -- Laurie Gill, cheerleader, homecoming queen and, eventually, his wife.

Pritchert played outfield on the baseball team and harbored ideas of making it in the major leagues. He was given a shot as a walk-on at Arizona State University, but the outfield was filled that year with promising players, among them a recruit named Barry Bonds.

Although Pritchert earned a spot as designated hitter, he played little. By the end of the 1983 season, his baseball and college days were over.

Already married with the first of three children, he started working for his father selling solar heating panels. But Pritchert suggests that pressure was mounting from his wife to bring home a better salary.

"If I was making $40 [thousand], she could spend $80," he said.

While Pritchert traveled, supposedly to work, Laurie was evicted from their home and saw her car repossessed. Then one day, after she had begun divorce proceedings, she ran into her husband. "He was driving a Porsche and I was practically on welfare," she said.

Only later did Laurie learn that her ex-husband had turned to bank robbery.

Pritchert spent five years in prison after two 1990 heists outside Las Vegas. When released to a halfway house in 1996, he owed $55,000 in restitution and tens of thousands more in child support.

He got a job at a car dealership and did well, but was let go after the boss learned he had a record.

He turned to trading stocks on the Internet but wasn't making enough to cover living expenses and all the money he owed. Those who stand by him say Pritchert feared delinquent payments would land him back in prison.

As Pritchert put it: "The odds were seriously stacked against me."

At 10:45 a.m. on Aug. 12, 1997, a man walked into Norwest Bank in Scottsdale, pointed a gun at the teller and yelled: "Give me all your money!" The teller filled his backpack with more than $32,000.

A tracking device led police to a car at a shopping mall. On the passenger seat was the backpack. Also found, according to court records, was a wallet containing Craig Pritchert's driver's license.

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