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Mother's request leads FBI to fugitive on run for 36 years

By Lateef Mungin, CNN
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Fugitive nabbed 36 years after escape
  • William Walter Asher III is sentenced to life in prison
  • He escapes from a prison camp in 1975
  • The FBI tracks Asher to Canada but cannot find him
  • Someone tells the FBI that Asher's mother requested a favor right before she died

(CNN) -- It was the deathbed request from the mother of a longtime fugitive that finally led the FBI to William Walter Asher III.

For 36 years, Asher had been on the run -- ever since he escaped from a prison camp in 1975 rather than serve time for a deadly robbery.

But last week, federal agents caught up to him. He had changed his name, worked for a trucking company and lived with a woman who had no idea about his criminal past.

"After 36 years of looking over his shoulder William Walter Asher III, now 66 years old, is finally back where he belongs -- in prison," the FBI trumpeted in a press statement released Monday.

For years, it seemed that the FBI would never nab Asher.

In 1966, he and three accomplices robbed a San Francisco bar, shooting and then beating the bartender to death, authorities said.

Asher was 20 at the time. He fled to Chicago, hiding out for a year before he was caught.

He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The file would have closed there. But eight years into his sentence, Asher escaped from a prison in El Dorado County, California -- aided by a female accomplice.

The FBI tracked Asher to the Northern Territories of Canada. They learned he had assumed a different name, that he worked as a long haul trucker, that he had married and raised a family.

He eventually separated from his wife, and she didn't know where he went next.

"Interestingly enough, several years ago one of Asher's daughters contacted the FBI for information on the location of her father," the FBI said.

The trail grew cold until 2005. Shortly before she died, Asher's mother asked relatives to get in touch with her son.

"She asked various family members to assist her in using the 'secret' number to call 'Billy,'" the FBI said. Agents had been tipped off about the conversation by a source.

Armed with that information, agents scoured phone records of people who they believed may have helped fulfill the mother's request.

They found two phone calls made to a home in Salida, California, to a man named Garry Donald Webb. The calls had been made two days before the mother died.

Agents looked at Webb's driver's license photo. It resembled an older, thinner Asher.

Authorities placed the home under surveillance. They also kept a watch on a trucking business where he was said to work.

On Friday, agents saw Asher leaving the home and confronted him.

"After some initial discussion Asher admitted his true identity," the FBI said.

He had been living with a woman for more than a decade. She was unaware of his fugitive status, the FBI said.

Asher was taken into custody and to a Tracy, California, facility that processes inmates newly committed to state prison.

CNN's Scott Thompson contributed to this report