By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California prison inmate who escaped 36 years ago while serving time for armed robbery has been recaptured in Arkansas, becoming California's longest-sought fugitive inmate to be caught, a prisons spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
Michael Morrow, 70, was taken into custody without incident on Monday by FBI agents and sheriff's deputies at his residence in Jessieville, Arkansas, where he had been living under an assumed name, said Terry Thornton of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Tracked down using new leads developed by the agency's special service and criminal analysis units, he initially tried to deny his true identity when confronted. But "since the arrest he has been cooperating with law enforcement authorities," Thornton said.
He was booked under a fugitive arrest warrant into the Garland County Jail, and California corrections officials have begun the process of extraditing him back to the West Coast to finish serving his sentence.
Morrow escaped from the California Institution for Men in Chino, east of Los Angeles, on August 27, 1977 - the same summer the original "Star Wars" movie opened - after serving four years of a five years-to-life sentence on two counts of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm.
Thornton said there was little information about the circumstances of his getaway, but she said Morrow, then aged 34, turned up missing after apparently having scaled the fence to the prison yard.
He had remained at large ever since, although he was arrested in 1984 by authorities in a central Arkansas community southeast of Little Rock on suspicion of murder and later released with no charges filed in that case, Thornton said.
At that time, he was going by the name of Carl Frank Wilson, the same alias he was living under when arrested this week, and California authorities were unaware then that he had been taken into custody elsewhere, she said.
"Databases weren't as automated in 1984 as they are today," she said.
Morrow was one of more than 19,300 California prison inmates to have escaped or walked away from their facilities since 1977, when the corrections department began compiling such records, but 98.5 percent of those inmates have been recaptured.
He became the longest-escaped state inmate to have been apprehended, Thornton said.
About 200 other escaped California prisoners remain on the lam, including Robert Ham, who got away in July 1965 and holds the record as the fugitive inmate still on the loose.
(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Ken Wills)