Rookie Canadian Mountie credited with nabbing U.S. fugitive

By James MacPherson
The Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. A rookie with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is credited with capturing a U.S. fugitive killer and three-time escapee who has spent two decades dodging and taunting law enforcement.

Mountie Stephane Gagnon, who had been out of the RCMP's training academy just six weeks, tackled and arrested Richard McNair on Thursday after an attempted traffic stop and foot chase in Campbellton, New Brunswick, about 100 miles north of the U.S.-Canada border, Inspector Roland Wells said.

McNair told the young officer: "You have captured a big fish here you guys will be on the news tonight."

"I don't know if he (Gagnon) realizes the significance of the arrest," Wells said. "There are those that go 20 to 30 years or their entire careers without making a high-profile arrest."

"I did only my job," Gagnon said Friday.

McNair, 48, was convicted of killing Jerome Theis, of Circle Pines, Minn., in November 1987 during a burglary at a Minot grain elevator. Richard Kitzman, an elevator employee, was shot three times but survived.

McNair's crimes brought him a life sentence. His escapes landed him a list of the 15 of the nation's most wanted criminals.

Gagnon was on patrol with training officer Nelson Levesque when the two noticed McNair in a stolen van. McNair sped away in the van when the officers attempted to pull him over, but hit a dead end, the officers said.

McNair fled the vehicle, and was tackled by Gagnon after a quarter-mile foot chase down a dirt road and through a wooded area.

McNair fought being handcuffed but Gagnon "applied pressure points to make him comply," Wells said. "At that time we didn't know who he was - we thought he may have been a suspect in tobacco smuggling or drug smuggling."

McNair immediately told officers his true identity but later signed his fingerprints with an alias, "Troy Snyder," Wells said. Canadian authorities also found a bogus Alaska driver's license with the phony name and McNair's picture on it.

"We believe he produced it himself," Wells said.

Wells said authorities had positively identified McNair through fingerprints about an hour after his arrest.

Law enforcement officers have described McNair as smart and schmoozing - and in relative terms - even somewhat likable. McNair is a former military police officer and police informant.

Wells said he caught a glimpse of McNair's personality.

"He's quite an interesting guy to deal with," Wells said. "He told me, 'The officers are treating me in a professional manner.'"

Authorities in Pollock, La., said McNair smuggled himself out of the federal prison there in a pile of mailbags that were shrink-wrapped on a pallet on April 5, 2006. That day, McNair was stopped and questioned by a police officer who believe McNair's story that he was out jogging. The officer let him go, saying he did not fit the description of the escapee given by prison officials.

McNair was being held Friday in a prison in New Brunswick, Wells said. Canadian authorities were sifting through the van McNair stole and some computers found in it for any evidence of other crimes, he said.

Wells said McNair likely would be turned over to U.S. authorities soon.

"We want to make sure before he leaves this country that there were no other crimes committed," Wells said.

North Dakota Warden Tim Schuetzle said McNair likely will be returned to the state penitentiary to serve time. McNair and two other prisoners escaped from the North Dakota prison in 1992 through a ventilation duct. He was caught about nine months later in Nebraska.

In February 1988, he used a tube of lip balm to grease up his hand and slip out of handcuffs at the Minot police station. He was captured after he jumped from the third floor of a building near a Minot hospital.

Associated Press
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