Find­ing a US ‘Most Wanted’ up­stairs

Mo­tel own­ers spot one of their guests on TV

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

JUPITER, Florida: It takes just a glimpse some­times to catch a fugi­tive.

As Amer­ica’s Most Wanted pre­viewed an episode about a Florida man ac­cused of killing four rel­a­tives at a Thanks­giv­ing din­ner, a cou­ple who own a re­mote mo­tel in the Florida Keys be­came alarmed. They recog­nised the sus­pect as one of their guests.

When the show aired just a short time later, about a week ago, armed au­thor­i­ties al­ready were qui­etly sur­round­ing the mo­tel. They busted through a slid­ing glass door and ar­rested Paul Mer­hige, a fugi­tive the po­lice had been af­ter for more than a month.

He is ac­cused of killing his twin sis­ters, a 79-year-old aunt and a six-year-old cousin af­ter a typ­i­cally fes­tive Thanks­giv­ing Day meal.

The mo­tel’s own­ers, Melinda and Paul Pfaff, were watch­ing a foot­ball game when the Amer­ica’s Most Wanted promo popped up. To be sure, Melinda checked the show’s web­site and re­alised Mer­hige had been stay­ing in one of their rooms for nearly a month. The cou­ple called the show’s hot­line, and within a few hours the pop­u­lar Fox se­ries had recorded its 1 099th cap­ture since it hit the air in 1988.

With about six mil­lion view­ers ev­ery Satur­day night, au­thor­i­ties said the show had been a cru­cial tool in catch­ing vi­o­lent fugi­tives for 22 years. It is di­rectly linked to the cap­ture of 17 peo­ple who were on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugi­tives list. The lat­est was Mer­hige.

The show’s first episode brought a tip that four days later led to the ar­rest of a con­victed mur­derer, also the first fugi­tive pro­filed on the se­ries.

“In to­day’s world, a fugi­tive can be across the coun­try in three or four hours,” said William Sorukas, chief of the US Mar­shals Ser­vice do­mes­tic in­ves­ti­ga­tions divi­sion in Wash­ing­ton, DC.

“ Amer­ica’s Most Wanted is prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant tool to law en­force­ment that’s been de­vel­oped in the past 20 years,” he added, not­ing he had deputies in the show’s hot­line room ev­ery week.

One of the most no­table cases solved with the help of the show was the 2003 ar­rest of Brian David Mitchell, charged in the ab­duc­tion of El­iz­a­beth Smart from her Utah home in 2002. She was re­turned to her fam­ily nine months later af­ter an in­tense search.

Host John Walsh, whose sixyear-old son was ab­ducted from a South Florida mall and killed in 1981, said the show had led to the cap­ture of fugi­tives in 35 coun­tries and had brought home alive more than 50 miss­ing chil­dren. Walsh said the key to the show’s suc­cess was putting a story to the crime and a face to the fugi­tive while pro­vid­ing an emo­tional con­nec­tion to the vic­tims. – Sapa-AP

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