U.S. marshals nab Alaska fugitive

Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An Alaska fugitive has been caught in California, nearly 16 years after he skipped out on robbery charges in Anchorage.

U.S. Marshals arrested John Franklin Walker III last week at his girlfriend's apartment in San Francisco.

Walker had been missing since May 8, 1986, when he failed to appear in Anchorage Superior Court for a change of plea hearing on two charges of first-degree robbery.

The case grew cold until Walker surfaced in June 2000.

Walker was in France when he called the U.S. Embassy in Paris to ask if there was a warrant for his arrest, according to Wanda Phillips, the chief deputy marshal who runs the Alaska Fugitive Task Force.

That call led to another by embassy officials to law enforcement, which led to the task force and ultimately resulted in an international alert placed on Walker's name. Despite that, he returned unnoticed to the United States sometime in the last 18 months, Phillips said.

Further investigation brought the search to San Francisco, which led to Walker's March 14 arrest.

''We want to know how he got back in the country,'' Phillips told the Anchorage Daily News. ''We want to determine when he got to France and when he left. He must have worked.''

Walker's presence in France also interested Anchorage police Sgt. Bill Webster.

A shootout with a few of Walker's cohorts in 1985 made Webster, then a young patrol officer, realize his mortality.

''I just decided on my own that before I retired I was going to do something for the case,'' Webster said.

Walker was indicted in 1986 by a grand jury on charges that he, along with some friends, robbed two McDonald's restaurants in Anchorage. The robberies on Oct. 16 and 23, 1985, culminated in a shootout during a third robbery on Halloween.

Webster responded to the call that night. According to news reports, a group of Walker's known associates robbed a South Anchorage Carrs grocery store and tried to shoot their way through police who had surrounded the store.

One suspected robber, John Hennessy, died during the exchange of shots.

Walker was not accused of participating in the shootout. But his connection to the group involved was enough for Webster to pursue him.

Two men were caught and tried. Sidney DeGross was convicted in Anchorage Superior Court in 1986 of two counts of robbery and two counts of assault for shooting at police. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Roger Thiel, convicted of one count of robbery and two counts of third-degree assault, was sentenced to 12 years.

Walker, now 39, is being held without bail at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Calif. If he waives extradition, he will be returned to Alaska fairly quickly, said Lt. Dan Lowden of Alaska State Troopers.

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