— As the wild adventures of the couple dubbed the modern-day Bonnie and Clyde come to an end, friends of the accused robbers call the notorious couple unusual suspects.
The FBI says Michael Pritchert, 41, and Nova Ester Guthrie, 28, used their stolen cash to finance a very lavish lifestyle. The couple went skiing at fancy resorts and scuba diving in the tropics while the FBI searched for them.
The fugitives were on the FBI's most-wanted list and had been living in South Africa illegally since 2000.
'Clyde' Is a Jock?
Pritchert's high school friend, Steve Bender, says he can't understand how Pritchert ended up on the FBI's most-wanted list. Bender said Pritchert seemed destined for the big leagues, not the big house.
"This guy was a role model, he dated the prettiest girls in school," Bender said.
Bender said his old friend had dreams of a pro baseball career when he entered Arizona State University.
Pritchert's ex-wife, Laurie Pulzato, also his high school sweetheart, said things started going downhill for her ex-husband when life threw him a curve ball he couldn't cope with.
"His future was in baseball, we thought. I thought he would go on to probably sign a pro contract," Pulatzo said.
But baseball superstar Barry Bonds, Michael's teammate, outshined him and got the deal Pritchert had counted on.
Pritchert dropped out of school and spent the next few years developing a taste for gambling and night life.
Eventually, his appetites cost him his marriage, his former wife said. Then, in 1992, Pritchert robbed a Las Vegas bank.
He was caught and served five years. But authorities say, he used his jail time to learn from his mistakes, and soon after his release in 1997, Pritchert was back at it.
Sorority Girl and Convicted Robber Team Up
Soon after his release, Pritchert met Guthrie while in a bar in Farmington, N.M. Guthrie was a small-town girl who grew up in Boone, Colo. — population 400. She was the youngest of eight children and was raised by Christian fundamentalist parents.
Before Guthrie met Pritchert and made it onto the FBI's most-wanted list, she was her college sorority president.
FBI agent Jana Monroe said Guthrie went from hosting mixers to life on the lam in no time.
"You are looking at a very attractive young women," Monroe said. "She's athletic. She's involved in a lot of different activities. She's engaging."
Guthrie's college friend Tina Laskie says all of her sorority friends were so excited when Guthrie met Pritchert.
"She just looked so happy," Laskie said. "And so we thought, 'Wow, what a wonderful guy.' She finally found somebody to care for her," Laskie said.
Monroe says she believes the small-town girl was attracted to the life Pritchert offered her.
"I believe she was attracted to the lifestyle that Craig Pritchert was and was more or less infatuated with him," Monroe said.
FBI agent Don Vogel said the couple lived life as if they had hit the lottery.
"They're living this lavish lifestyle and they're enjoying things that most of us would consider a vacation," said FBI agent Don Vogel.
Stealing Sweethearts Hit the West Before Leaving United States
Pritchert and Guthrie are suspected of armed robberies in Montana, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas in the 1990s.
Susan Herskovits, an FBI Agent in Phoenix, Ariz., says the couple is expected to be flown to the United States on Monday. Herskovits says Pritchert became better at robbing banks with every hit.
"Well, we believe that he cased the banks and put a lot of planning and thought into it. His m.o. [modus operandi] is such that it was pretty obvious that he'd done a lot of planning," Herskovits said.
Pritchert is accused of entering the banks with a semiautomatic handgun and using duct tape, cheap handcuffs or plastic ties to bind bank employees. Authorities say Guthrie drove the getaway car. The FBI said the couple never shot anyone during the robberies.
One of Pritchert's victims, Rhonda Dent, a bank manager of Klamath First Federal in Oregon, says the day she met Pritchert was terrifying.
"All I could see was the barrel of that gun in my face and he says 'you better hope he doesn't push a button because you are the one that is going to die,' " she said.