DENVER – Officers posing as forest rangers surprised a 60-year-old escapee from Florida at a remote Colorado cabin on Wednesday, bringing a sudden end to his 32 years on the lam after a murder conviction in the 1970s.
Frederick Barrett was arrested outside a makeshift but tidy cabin near Montrose, about 200 miles southwest of Denver, when the officers said they wanted to discuss fire danger, the U.S. Marshals Service said. When they saw a tattoo on his hand that matched one that Barrett was known to have, they told him he was under arrest.
"His whole face, every expression dropped out of his face," said Charlie Ahmad of the Marshals Service, recounting what the arresting officers told him.
Ahmad, the enforcement supervisor for the Marshals Service in Colorado, led the arrest team of marshals, Montrose County deputies and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers. Ahmad and some of the team surreptitiously surrounded the cabin before other officers collared Barrett.
Barrett was convicted of murder in the 1971 death of Carl Ardolino in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
Ardolino had picked up Barrett and another man who were hitchhiking, said Ron Lindbak, a deputy U.S. marshal in Florida. Ardolino was choked and beaten until he was unconscious and then held underwater in a ditch until he died.
Barrett escaped from Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Fla., in August 1979 by climbing three fences at night during a power failure. Barrett had escaped and been captured twice before that, Lindbak said.
The Montrose Daily Press reported Barrett had lived in Montrose County since 1994.
The arrest took months of planning, but authorities didn't say how they tracked Barrett to Colorado. Barrett had been using the alias "Neil Meltzer," Florida authorities said. Barrett wouldn't say how he had supported himself, Ahmad said.
Barrett's cabin was two stories and was connected to a camper, Ahmad said, with plywood floors, a wood-burning stove and a generator.
"It was kept very clean, it was meticulously clean," Ahmad said.
Barrett was alone when arrested but there was evidence of a second person "coming and going," Ahmad said.
Authorities aren't looking for anyone else, he said.
"We rarely prosecute those (aiding and abetting cases), and when we do, we rarely win," he said.
The cabin was on a dirt road about an hour's drive west of Montrose, a town of about 18,000. In the wintertime, it's accessible only by snowshoe or snowmobile.
The cabin is on private land bordered by the Uncompahgre National Forest, and a campsite near the lot is popular with hunters, Ahmad said. He said he didn't know who owned the land.
Barrett is being held at the Montrose County jail awaiting extradition to Florida.
Officers saw several firearms and what appeared to be a small marijuana growing operation, and local authorities were seeking a state search warrant for the property, the Marshals Service said.