Slain former Missouri couple's family hopes fugitives are soon caught

Saturday, August 14, 2010 | 7:56 p.m. CDT
This photo provided by the family shows Gary and Linda Haas. Authorities have linked Arizona prison escappes and their accomplice to the couple's murder on a remote ranch near Santa Rosa, NM.

SANTA ROSA, N.M. — Lost in the Bonnie and Clyde tale of Arizona fugitives on the run for two weeks is the grisly slaying of an Oklahoma couple whose bodies were found in a burned-out travel trailer on a remote ranch in eastern New Mexico.

Police have linked the deaths of Gary and Linda Haas last week to the inmates and the woman who helped them escape, but they are keeping a tight lid on what happened as the couple traveled to an annual camping trip with friends in Colorado.

Family and friends said they have no idea how the Haases' paths would have crossed with escaped convicts John McCluskey and Tracy Province and their accomplice, Casslyn Welch. Blood inside the couple's pickup — found days later in Albuquerque — makes the family certain of one thing: The 61-year-olds put up a fight.

"So much of the story has been the bad guys this and the bad guys that," said Cathy Byus, the Haases' daughter. "That's important, too. We want them out there, too, but we don't want people to forget the human side of this."

Authorities said Welch helped McCluskey, Province and Daniel Renwick escape from the Arizona State Prison in Kingman on July 31 by throwing wire cutters over a fence. Renwick and Province have since been captured, but McCluskey and Welch — who are cousins and also engaged — are still on the run. They're being featured on Fox's "America's Most Wanted" Saturday night, and investigators were focusing their search Saturday on western Montana and the border with Canada.

Renwick split off from the group before the Oklahoma couple was killed; New Mexico police said the rest of the group has been linked through forensic evidence to the deaths.

The Haases had made the trip to Pagosa Springs, Colo., for the past 11 summers, the family said. After leaving their home in Tecumseh, Okla., their first stop would always be the campground at Santa Rosa Lake State Park in New Mexico, where they liked to camp at the back near the lake for a night or two before heading north.

Always along for the ride were the Haases' three small dogs — Prissy, Roxie and Bear.

If it hadn't been for Prissy, the family said, they still might not know what happened.

A rancher found the charred travel trailer Aug. 4 behind an old barn in a remote area northwest of Santa Rosa and called Guadalupe County Sheriff Michael Lucero. Inside the trailer were the remains of two people, and nearby, the sheriff found two dogs, both sunburned and one with burns on her back and paws.

Prissy's tag listed Byus' phone number, and the sheriff called her.

The Haases' truck was tracked to Albuquerque through its OnStar vehicle communication system about 100 miles away, and a few days later, the remains found in the trailer were positively identified as Gary and Linda.

"Even after hearing about the trailer and everything, I was still in denial," said Byus, who recently got married and is expecting her first child, a boy who would have been the Haases' first grandchild. "I kept thinking I was going to wake up. I was walking around like I was in a dream and that they were going to find them."

Byus and the rest of her family have been in Santa Rosa for more than a week, helping investigators and making regular trips to the site where her parents were found to search for the dog, Bear, who is still missing.

Ranch hands moving cattle across the vast, dusty plain said they have seen no sign of the little black dog, but the family isn't giving up.

"I want to go home with the whole family — Mom and Dad, Bear and everybody here," Byus said, holding back tears. "That's my biggest thing. I just want everybody home together."

They're angry, hurt, frustrated and exhausted, but sharing memories of Gary and Linda help pass the time in Santa Rosa.

Gary and Linda Haas grew up in Southwest City, Mo., and were high school sweethearts. Gary joined the Air Force and was trained as an expert electrician; Linda earned her teaching degree from Missouri Southern State University. By 1969, the two were married.

The couple retired a few years ago after working for nearly three decades for General Motors. They loved fishing and traveling, the family said, with Gary jealous because his wife always seemed to catch the bigger fish — with one exception.

"In their bedroom, there was this picture of Gary with this huge fish and he was smiling ear-to-ear," said Gary's younger sister, Linda Rook of Joplin. "That was probably the one time he caught the bigger one."

The family also talked about Linda Haas' love for photography — she's the one who took the picture of Gary and his fish — and of her days of teaching elementary school. She was a stickler for good grammar and good cooking, and was well-known around the campsite for spectacular meals made in her cast-iron cookware.

As they wait for investigators to finish with the couple's remains so Gary and Linda can be properly cremated and returned home, Santa Rosa residents have treated them like family. People have brought enchiladas and homemade tortillas; businesses are giving them discounts; and many people have stopped by just to pray with them or give them hugs.

On the way out of the hotel where the family has been staying, one visitor clasped the hand of Gary Haas' 80-year-old mother, Vivian Haas, and told her he hoped authorities would catch whoever was responsible for the deaths.

She thanked him, and Rook added, "If it weren't for people like you, it wouldn't be bearable."

The family said the past week-and-a-half has been a roller coaster of emotions. Among those is concern for law enforcement officers and other travelers since McCluskey and Welsh remain on the loose. Province was serving a life sentence for murder and robbery; Renwick was serving two consecutive 22-year sentences for second-degree murder; and McCluskey was serving 15 years for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm.

"That has been our prayer, just please don't let it happen to anyone else," said Sheila Walker, one of the Haases' best friends. "We don't want anybody else dealing with a situation like this."

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