Fugitive Tennessee murderer caught 32 years after her escape

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A convicted murderer has been captured nearly 32 years after she escaped from a Tennessee prison and assumed a new identity and life in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio, authorities said Monday.

Margo Freshwater, 53, was arrested Sunday by state and local authorities. Using the name Tonya McCartor, she and her husband worked there as truck drivers, said Brooks Wilkins, a special agent in charge with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

While a fugitive, Freshwater married several times, had three children and kept her criminal record clean except for minor parking and traffic violations, authorities said.

"We don't believe her current husband or the son who was with her at the time of her arrest knew anything about her past," said Larry Wallace, director of the TBI.

Freshwater was denied bail at an extradition hearing Monday in Franklin County. Authorities said Freshwater may not return to Tennessee for several weeks.

Escaped in 1970

Freshwater escaped from the Tennessee Prison for Women on Oct. 4, 1970, when she and another woman "broke formation" and scaled a single perimeter fence, Department of Correction authorities said.

She had served just 1 1/2 years of a 99-year sentence for the first-degree murder of a Memphis liquor store clerk. The other woman was recaptured in the early 1990s, Department of Correction spokesman Steve Hayes said.

For years, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation traced women of similar age and physical description to Freshwater.

They got a break about a month ago when their research led to Tonya Hudkins, the name Freshwater was using before her most recent marriage, Wallace said.

Police arrested her Sunday at a hotel whose health club she was using, said Franklin County, Ohio, prosecutor Ron O'Brien. He said she embraced family members who were with her and did not act surprised.

Freshwater was one of the fugitives placed on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's original Most Wanted list on May 5, 1993, and is the 104th person apprehended since the program's inception. She was featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted" in 1994.

She was the only woman on the TBI's Top 10 wanted list, and only two other Tennessee escaped convicts have been missing longer -- one since 1957 and the other since 1965.

"This is a message for other fugitives," Wallace said. "If you're out there, we'll continue to hunt you down. We will not stop searching for escapees regardless of how long they've been gone."


On the Net:

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation: http://www.tbi.state.tn.us/Fugitives/fwater.htm

Tennessee Department of Correction: http://www.state.tn.us/correction/escapees/escapees.html

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