New Vermont fugitive task force sets sights on ‘worst of the worst’

Saturday November 24, 2012

MONTPELIER (AP) -- Earlier this month, a team of seven deputy U.S. marshals, state police troopers and other officers surrounded a mobile home after learning a man charged with murder in the killing of a Florida teenager might be living there.

When officers knocked on the front door, the rear door opened and a barefoot and barely clothed suspect ran out the back, where he stumbled trying to flee, said Deputy U.S. Marshal John Curtis.

"Typically people love to run," said Curtis, who was waiting out the back and quickly took Philip Barr into custody. "Fortunately for the marshal service we’re just taught-well. For these people, they run and they’re caught."

Barr is now in a Vermont prison before he is returned to Florida. His capture in Hardwick was a high-profile apprehension for the new Vermont Violent Offender Task Force, which began operations Oct. 1. The unit is made up of about 10 deputy U.S. marshals working out of Rutland and Burlington, a full-time state police trooper and, when the University of Vermont isn’t in session, an officer from the UVM police force.

U.S. marshals in Vermont previously were focused on federal fugitives, said Marshal David Demag. "We’ve retooled. Now we’re dealing with the Vermont Violent Offender Task Force, which also focuses on habitual sex offenders."

The Vermont State Police commander, Col. Tom L’Esperance, said task force members share the common goal of the apprehension of violent offenders and sex offenders.

"The Vermont State Police benefit from access to the dedicated resources offered by the U.S. Marshal Service, which allows us to get these offenders off the street while still providing day-to-day law enforcement services to Vermont communities," he said.

Since Oct. 1, the task force has apprehended about 30 fugitives, said Curtis.

"We are looking for the worst of the worst," said Curtis. "We’re looking for the cases that have violence, drugs and felonies. We want dangerous felons, that’s who we’re looking for and those are the people we’re getting."

Besides Barr’s apprehension, the task force on Nov. 1 nabbed Robert William Mulkern, a 48-year-old Hagerstown, Md., man facing a variety of sex offenses, including 149 counts of child pornography.

Curtis said Barr’s arrest came after his office received a tip from Florida investigators that he might be in the state. The Vermont investigators had a years-old lead from someone now living in another state.

They used a variety of investigative sources, including social media, to narrow the search, Curtis said. But when they went to Hardwick on Nov. 14, they still didn’t know if they’d be able to find him.

"It was such a shot in the dark," Curtis said. "The information we had was vague and so old."

Mike Gandy, the supervising detective of the Charlotte County sheriff’s office cold case unit, didn’t want to say what led investigators to believe Barr was in Vermont, but investigators were glad to be able to call the victim’s mother to tell her the final suspect in her daughter’s death had been caught.

"It was a long road to get there," Gandy said. "It feels really, really good."


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