Cop's 'Bittersweet' Arrest of Fugitive Wanted for 36 Years

PHOTO: Michael R. Morrow
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Michael Morrow was serving time for robbery with a weapon when he escaped from a California prison in 1977, but a cop who finally caught up to Morrow and arrested him this week said he did it with mixed emotions.

Morrow, who has lived as Carl Frank Wilson for the past 36 years, was married with three children and grandchildren. By outward appearances, Morrow had lived a law abiding life since breaking out of prison.

"It's good to have him answer to justice, but to take an elderly person with medical issues, who has otherwise lived a quiet, peaceful life, never causing any problems, went to church every Sunday, it was bittersweet," said Detective Sgt. Joel Ware of the Garland County Sheriff's Department in Arkansas where Morrow was living.

"He was super nice to us, very cooperative," Ware told ABC News.

Morrow, now 70, so completely became his alias of Carl Wilson that even his family was not aware of his true identity and his prison past, Ware said.

He is now sitting in the Garland County Jail in Arkansas awaiting extradition to California.

Morrow had a series of arrests before he escaped and changed identities. He had served time for forgery and first degree robbery in 1965 and 1968, according to California prisons spokeswoman Terry Thornton.

He was arrested again in 1973 for two counts of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm, convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. On Aug. 27, 1977, Morrow slipped away from the California Institution for Men in Chino.

Morrow said he decided to break out in the fourth year of his sentence because "there were some individuals inside the prison that wanted him dead, and he felt like he needed to get out and protect his own life," Ware said.

"He had a pretty good plan," the sergeant added.

But Morrow's not telling what his escape plan was because he is waiting to get back to California and tell them, Ware said.

Ware and two colleagues went to Morrow's house on Monday and were able to bring him outside his home to speak with them. When the officer revealed the reason for their visit, Morrow said, "You've got me... I've been all around expecting this to happen."

"He was visibly upset but there was sense of relief as well," said Ware. "Looking over your shoulders for the past 36 years and not having to do it anymore, there's got to be relief in that."

What tripped up Morrow was being picked up in 1984 in Saline County, Ark., on suspicion of murder. He was cleared as a suspect, but not before police took his fingerprints.

According to a police report filed by the FBI's Little Rock Division, "Investigators matched fingerprints to those of a man using the name of Carl Frank Wilson when he was arrested by the Saline County Sheriff's Department in 1984." The name Michael Morrow did not come up.

But decades later, those fingerprints resurfaced, although authorities are not saying why or how it came up.

"Databases weren't as automated in 1984 as they are now," said Thornton. If the fingerprints were put through the system and matched, "they would have found our warrant" long ago, she said.

Between 1977 and 2012, 98.5 percent of all California prison escapees have been recaptured.

"Of all the people that we have apprehended, Morrow has been on the run the longest," Thornton said.

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