Police arrest escaped convict who was on the run for 31 years

Posted June 29, 2012, at 9:55 a.m.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Ending a fugitive’s 31-year run, Seldovia police arrested a man on the lam from Wyoming since 1981 while he ate dinner Tuesday at a restaurant in the small Kachemak Bay community.

The man, 57-year-old Joseph Welch, escaped from the Wyoming Department of Corrections’ custody when he was just 26.

According to the corrections department, Welch was convicted of robbery and forgery in Carbon County and sent to prison in late September 1980. He served several months of his time at a state penitentiary, then attended drug and alcohol counseling at a state hospital about a four-hour drive down the highway, said Wyoming corrections spokesman Tim Lockwood.

“He was transferred to the state hospital and that’s where he made his escape,” Lockwood said. “In the past, they used to have a secure portion of the hospital but I don’t know if that’s where the treatment occurred.”

A warrant for Welch’s arrest was entered into a national database soon after the escape but Welch was long gone, Lockwood said.

Welch married and moved to Alaska, according to his wife, Donna, who said she had no idea her husband was a fugitive from justice.

“We’ve been married about 23 years and he’s been good that whole time,” she said Thursday. “I knew he’d gotten into some trouble before.”

The couple lived in Wasilla. Welch, a construction superintendent, traveled for work, Donna said. His frequent absences were part of the reason they were in the process of getting a divorce, she said.

“I don’t hate the guy or anything, we just weren’t getting along,” she said.

According to troopers, Welch’s file with Wyoming corrections landed on the desk of a clerk in the department’s records office, who did a quick check and saw Welch had an Alaska driver’s license. Wyoming officials contacted troopers about the case, and troopers started looking for Welch on Monday. His wife said they talked to Welch’s son. The investigators soon learned Welch was working in Seldovia and sent his picture to the police there, troopers said.

Seldovia Police Chief Shad Haller said he found Welch at the Tidepool Cafe on Tuesday.

“He was just eating dinner,” Haller said. “I made contact with him and made the arrest.”

Donna Welch said the arrest came as a shock to both her and her husband.

“It upset me quite a bit, because I had no idea,” she said. “It’s a big mystery to all of us, except maybe him, and he’s not being forthcoming about it. He said, ‘Oh well, it is what it is.’ He assumed nothing was coming of it since it’s been so long. He was pretty surprised.”

Wyoming authorities are making plans to have Welch flown back to the state, Peters said. Alaska corrections records show Welch was residing at Wildwood Pretrial Facility in Kenai on Thursday.

Donna Welch says she plans to help her husband, even after he becomes her ex-husband.

“I’m not going to leave him hanging,” she said

©2012 Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska)

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