Fugitive killer captured in Gardnerville
An escaped murderer, on the run for 32 years, was arrested Monday night at his residence in the 1300 block of Kimmerling Road in the Gardnerville Ranchos.
Robert Charles Johnson, 57, had been living at the residence for at least four years as Robert Neal Fargo, and working as a whitewater rafting guide, authorities said.
He was serving a 10 to 15-year sentence in Colorado for a 1973 second-degree murder conviction when he escaped in 1975.
Deputy U.S. Marshal George Schroeder said when officers showed up at 8 p.m. Monday, Johnson denied his identity.
“It was just like they taught us in the academy,” Schroeder said.
“When people know they’re caught, their eyes go down and their head goes down. He did the same thing, then he caught himself and said, ‘I am not Robert Johnson. I am Robert Fargo.'”
Schroeder said Johnson continued to maintain his innocence even after he was taken to Douglas County Jail with the assistance of U.S. Marshals from Reno and Las Vegas and two deputies from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. “I said to him, ‘Let me tell you a story,’ and relayed to him how everything matched,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said after Johnson’s escape in 1973, officials lost contact until he showed up at Angels Camp, Calif., working for a river rafting outfit. Schroeder said he was arrested after a fight, but was using the assumed name and a different birth date and Social Security number.
By the time officials got back fingerprints, Johnson has disappeared.
“The trail was cold for 16 or 17 years, and apparently the Colorado Department of Corrections came to the U.S. Marshals Service in Denver and requested help in attempting to locate Mr. Johnson,” Schroeder said.
Through information, officials were able to track down Robert Fargo with the same date of birth living at the address on Kimmerling, he said. “We went to Gardnerville and performed some surveillance and talked to previous employers and identified him as the subject. He had gone on several whitewater tours in the last year and year and a half,” Schroeder said.
Marshals were given the suspect’s employee file with a Social Security card with the number of Robert Fargo in 1990. Signatures matched as well as photo identification cards, he said.
Schroeder said authorities were able to positively match Johnson’s fingerprints with the man calling himself Fargo. “Now, he’s just sitting in Douglas County Jail awaiting extradition proceedings,” Schroeder said.
He is to appear in East Fork Justice Court today. “This is the first time in my 15 1/2 year career with the Marshals Service that we’ve caught someone on the run for as long as he was with such a serious record,” Schroeder said. “It’s satisfying to get somebody like him back in custody.”
Johnson was convicted of the 1972 slaying of Michael Albert Lucas, found dead from a gunshot wound on a hiking trail in El Paso County, Colo.
Investigators said the men were involved with others in marijuana distribution in El Paso County.
“He was arrested for first-degree murder but convicted of second-degree,” Schroeder said.
The marshal said the investigator working on the case in Colorado was a classmate of his from 1992.
“And here we are 15 years later,” Schroeder said. “This has been a thorn in their side for years.”
Schroeder said Johnson was the subject of a July 23, 2003, domestic dispute investigated by Douglas County deputies.
“He and his girlfriend apparently just had a verbal dispute,” Schroeder said. “There was no physical contact between the two. They were just referred to family counseling services.”
He was using the name Robert Fargo with the false birth date and Social Security number.
Schroeder said Johnson was still living with the same woman.
“I spoke with her after his arrest and I don’t think she had any idea he was a wanted fugitive. She had always known him as Robert Fargo. She had no idea he was a convicted murderer,” Schroeder said.