SANTEE, Calif. – Marie Walsh kept a low profile for 32 years, trying to escape her past life as Susan LeFevre.
She raised three children with her husband of 23 years, Alan, who never knew she was using an assumed identity. Authorities wanted her for escaping from a Detroit prison a year into a maximum 20-year sentence on heroin charges.
Now, LeFevre, 53, is in jail awaiting extradition from California to Michigan on an escape warrant.
She was arrested April 24 outside her home in San Diego's posh Carmel Valley area, wearing a sweat suit and driving a black Lexus SUV. Authorities say her cover was blown by an anonymous caller who tipped Michigan authorities to her new name.
"It's been a secret no one knew for so long, and now everyone knows," LeFevre told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee, a San Diego suburb. "I hope there's some mercy."
LeFevre, who grew up the second of five children, was just 19 when she was arrested during an undercover drug operation in Thomas Township, outside Saginaw, Mich., in 1974. She said she got into drugs after graduating from her Catholic high school because she was despondent over the death of her teenage sweetheart in the Vietnam War.
Her parents, strict Catholics who took away her John Lennon albums and prohibited their daughter from wearing faded blue jeans, encouraged her to plead guilty to spare the family the embarrassment of a court trial. LeFevre said she agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and violation of drug laws in hopes of winning leniency from the judge but was given the maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years.
"I kept thinking it had to be a mistake. I was supposed to have probation," LeFevre said.
In jail, LeFevre said, she was threatened by other inmates at the Detroit House of Corrections, now known as Robert Scott Correctional Facility. One night, she decided she had to leave. Her grandfather and another relative agreed to meet her, and in February 1976 LeFevre walked across an open yard, threw her jacket over a barbed wire fence and climbed over, then started running.
"They had helicopters looking for me. ... You don't think about fear, you don't have time. You just run," she said.
When she got to the car, her relative was saying a rosary for her.
A few weeks later, friends let her ride with them to California, where she went by Marie, her middle name.
LeFevre said only a few people knew about her secret past. She said she told a fiance, who broke their engagement. She decided to keep it secret when she married her husband of 23 years, Alan Walsh.
"We're still just getting over this, but it's been a tremendous shock to us," Alan Walsh told the AP in a brief telephone interview.
He described his wife as a woman of "the highest integrity and compassion."
A brother said he periodically heard rumors that she was living in California.
"As far as I was concerned, I lost a sister back then," said David LeFevre, of Cass City, Mich. "There was always a big question as to where she was, but then when this happened. Well, it surprises you after all these years."
Steve Jurman, the U.S. Marshals Service officer who arrested LeFevre, said the fugitive established her new life with a Social Security number belonging to someone who died in 1981, a number she says she made up. She obtained a California driver's license using a false date of birth but didn't risk renewing it after it expired in 1999.
"Obviously, she had done a good job of obtaining and maintaining a new identity and could have gone another 10 years undiscovered if it hadn't been for this tip," said Jurman, supervising deputy of the U.S. marshals' fugitive operation in San Diego. "She was extremely comfortable with her new identity. It wasn't like she was actively trying to hide or anything."
Jurman said LeFevre initially denied her identity but admitted it once he told her she could face additional charges for lying to a federal agent. She told him her husband and children knew nothing of her past.
"Can you imagine? You think you know everything about your spouse," Jurman said. "She immediately broke down and said, 'I was a child; I don't know why I got involved in this."'
Alan Walsh said he will support his wife.
"Our family is threatened to be destroyed by something that happened to her as a 19-year-old teenager 34 years ago in Michigan," he said.
An attorney for LeFevre did not respond to message left with Walsh. Prosecutors in Saginaw County did not return a message left seeking comment.