After 16 Years in Caves, Fugitive Caught

Through a cave opening can be seen the distant Turkish town of Goreme.
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A fugitive murderer spent 16 years hiding in caves around his home village in northern Portugal before he was recaptured looking "like Robinson Crusoe," police said Thursday.

Manuel Cruz, 54, had a deep tan and a long beard when he was arrested in the forested hills where he once had been a shepherd, Inspector Carlos Gomes told The Associated Press.

"He wasn't very strong but he wasn't in very bad shape," said Gomes, who, along with 11 other officers, arrested Cruz in what police dubbed "Operation Cro-Magnon" Wednesday.

He "looked like Robinson Crusoe," Gomes said. "He was dirty and smelly."

Cruz had a guard dog and a gun with him but he didn't fire on police who approached on foot, according to Gomes.

"His initial reaction was very aggressive but he came peacefully once we had him," Gomes said.

Cruz was serving a 10-year sentence for murder when he fled during a weekend furlough in the village in 1993.

He was convicted after an argument over goats with a local woman during which Cruz pushed her and she hit her head on the ground, later dying, Ramalho Cruz said.

Cruz had been hiding in caves and hollowed-out banks of earth in "very hilly, very hostile terrain" surrounding Anisso, about 240 miles (400 kilometers) north of Lisbon, Gomes said by telephone. The village has a population of 312, according to the local council's Web site.

Manuel Ramalho Cruz, the president of the Anisso parish council and no relation to the arrested man, said locals had tipped off police several years ago that the fugitive was hiding in the area.

On at least one occasion he escaped a police operation to catch him, Ramalho Cruz said. Police did not immediately comment on that claim.

Family members and local people provided the fugitive with food and he had a dog that alerted him when people approached, Ramalho Cruz said in a telephone interview.

"He was a quiet person, he wouldn't hurt anyone. People liked him," he said. "He told people he was afraid of prison and wouldn't go back there."

Daily paper Publico reported that, apart from his dog, Cruz had only a battery-powered radio for company. Jornal de Noticias said he cut long grass to make his bed.

Police said Cruz was taken back to a prison in the nearby city of Braga to serve the remaining 7 1/2 years of his sentence.