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Escaped Prisoner Caught After 27 Years

A man who escaped from a Virginia prison nearly 27 years ago was arrested Wednesday in northern Georgia, where he lived with his wife in a trailer park tucked in the woods of an Appalachian mountain valley.

Richard Paul Boucher told investigators his wife, Debbie, helped him and another inmate escape in 1982, and they abandoned their car in North Carolina and walked, sleeping in the woods, until they arrived in Murray County, Ga., said Capt. Rick Swiney of the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office.

The Bouchers stayed there and raised a daughter, now 25, who knew them only as Eric and Debbie Coleman, Swiney said.

Boucher, 56, was taken into custody on a fugitive warrant in Murray County, along the Tennessee line, said Gregory Jones, agent in charge of the FBI in Atlanta.

Jones said Boucher escaped from a prison in Chesapeake, Va., where he was serving a 10-year sentence for robbery.

He also was charged in Murray County with possession of a firearm by a felon because a rifle was found at his trailer home, where he lived with his 53-year-old wife. She was charged by local authorities with hindering apprehension of a criminal, Swiney said.

Authorities were questioning Boucher Wednesday afternoon, seeking a fuller account of his life on the run, Swiney said. He was held at the Whitfield County jail pending extradition proceedings.

"He kept to himself, pretty much," Swiney said. "He took odd, cash-paying jobs. He maybe would do some maintenance work around the trailer park, for cash."

Swiney said Boucher and his wife lived amid a small group of mobile homes on an isolated road near Eton, about five miles north of the Murray County seat of Chatsworth. The area is in a broad valley between mountain ridges of the Chattahoochee National Forest.

"He told our investigators that his wife picked him up after he escaped. They drove to North Carolina but didn't have any money, so they sold the car and started walking, staying in the woods, until they got to Chatsworth," Swiney said.

Whitfield County investigators recently received a tip that he was a wanted man, Swiney said. They determined that Eric Coleman was a false name and turned their information over to the FBI's Conasauga Safe Streets Task Force.

After the FBI traced his identity, surveillance was set up Wednesday morning, and after about an hour the Bouchers came outside the trailer and were arrested, Swiney said.

Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, said Boucher and Eddie James Bryan overpowered a guard at the entrance gate of Tidewater Correctional Unit about 3:30 a.m. Oct. 24, 1982. They took his keys and unlocked the outer perimeter door, locking the officer inside. The officer was able to use a telephone to call local police for help.

Both inmates fled to the waiting vehicle driven by Boucher's wife, and all three left the area together, Traylor said. Bryan was arrested in 1984 in Georgia.