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Couple checking out barking dog leads to encounter with escapee, his recapture

Jul 16, 2023, 11:56 AM

This image provided by Pennsylvania State Police shows Michael Burham, a homicide suspect who used bed sheets to escape a northern Pennsylvania jail after being captured. (Pennsylvania State Police via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Pennsylvania State Police via AP)

YOUNGSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — A couple checking out a barking dog on their northwestern Pennsylvania property led to the capture of a homicide suspect who had used bed sheets to escape from jail, authorities said.

Michael Burham, 34, was captured nine days after he fled the Warren County jail in the late evening hours of July 6 by climbing on exercise equipment, going through a window and scaling down a rope fashioned from jail bedding, authorities said.

A tip from residents in Conewango Township about a suspicious individual came in just before 4 p.m. Saturday, and Burham was in custody shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday, said Lt. Col. George Bivens, the deputy commissioner of Operations for the Pennsylvania State Police.

The residents went out to see why their dog was barking, went to the rear of their property and encountered Burham, who said something about camping during a brief conversation, Bivens said.

“The owner of the property recognized him, got his wife back into the golf cart (they were using) and drove away from there so he could immediately contact us as Burham fled into the woods,” Bivens told reporters Saturday night. This occurred in an area in which searchers had been “pushing hard,” Bivens said.

“That’s been our strategy all along, is to push him hard, to have him make a mistake — he finally did,” Bivens said.

Burham, tracked through the woods after that by searchers with the help of two dogs, encountered troopers on a road who were part of a perimeter set up, Bivens said. He went prone and tried to hide but was approached from behind by federal marshals, border patrol and state police and taken into custody at gunpoint, Bivens said.

Burham looked “tired and worn-out, as we thought he might” and was dirty and wet, still wearing his jail-issued pants turned inside out. Authorities did not find a weapon they feared he had since ammunition had been found in small stockpiles linked to him by DNA, but the area was being searched to make sure he hadn’t hidden one, Bivens said.

Several hours earlier, Bivens had renewed a call for people in northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York to regularly review doorbell and surveillance camera footage, and also once again urged people to make sure vehicles, sheds, homes and anything else useful to a fugitive is secured.

Burham has been in jail on $1 million bail and was charged with kidnapping, burglary and other counts. Authorities warned while he was missing that he was considered armed and dangerous. More than 200 state, federal and local officers took part in the search for Burham, and up to $22,000 in reward money had been posted, Bivens said.

Authorities were still trying to figure out where he will be held after arraignment, but it will not be the Warren County jail, where an investigation into the escape is going on.

An investigation continues into whether Burham received any assistance, and authorities will talk to the county district attorney if they believe they have evidence that warrants charges against anyone, Bivens said.

Bivens thanked residents of the county and the surrounding area for their patience during the manhunt.

“I know they were nervous, I know they were scared, but they remained gracious to all of our people,” he said. Authorities had feared some harm might come to a citizen or even an officer in the hunt for Burham, who had “really had very little to lose,” he said.

“To not have that play out, it’s a good day,” Bivens said.

District Attorney Jason Schmidt, of Chautauqua County, New York, said in June that Burham was the prime suspect in the May 11 killing of Kala Hodgkin, 34, and a related arson in Jamestown, New York. Authorities also accused him of abducting an older couple in Pennsylvania while trying to evade capture before his arrest in South Carolina. New York officials said they opted to let Pennsylvania handle the initial prosecution as they probe the killing and arson.

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Couple checking out barking dog leads to encounter with escapee, his recapture