PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A couple who eluded arrest on multiple charges of child rape and sodomy in Oregon for nearly 20 years were finally discovered in Mississippi when the man died and his common-law wife used one of his aliases to make funeral arrangements, a law enforcement official said Thursday.
An undertaker in Mississippi entered the alias used by Leon Henry Shaw into his computer last week and realized Shaw was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, said Eve Costello, the Klamath County, Oregon, district attorney.
She told The Associated Press that FBI agents who have been trying to track down Shaw and his partner, Victoria Michelle Cravitz, since the pair fled Oregon in 2000 moved in and arrested Cravitz. She had been living under the name Jennifer Larsen.
Cravitz made an initial court appearance in Jackson, Mississippi, on Thursday on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and is expected to be returned to Oregon.
Michael Scott, a federal public defender who represented her during the brief hearing, did not return an email requesting comment.
The arrest marks the end of a sordid story that began in 1999 when people who said they had been abused by Shaw and Cravitz as children went to authorities and said they were worried that three other children still living with the couple would also be molested, Costello said. Investigators determined the abuse began in 1989 and lasted until 1999.
Klamath County authorities began an investigation and Shaw and Cravitz were charged with multiple counts of rape and sodomy for forcing two children under the age of 10 to have sex with each other, Costello said. One of the children was also raped by an adult, she said.
Costello, who was not the district attorney at the time, said she has not had time to review the entire 254-page discovery file and didn’t know if the children were the couple’s biological children or were runaways or kidnap victims.
At some point in the investigation, she said, another woman came forward to say she had been kidnapped by the couple at a young age and had borne a son fathered by Shaw. The young woman — who is not one of the two alleged victims in the current case — had escaped but her son remained in the house, Costello said.
The FBI took over the search for the fugitives and for years, there were no breakthroughs. At one point, Costello said her office was told they had moved to Alaska.
“They had been on the run for a long time. They always lived in rural areas,” she said. “They didn’t have a lot of contact with people and they moved constantly.”
The couple apparently had lived south of Greenville, Mississippi, for about 15 years and supported themselves through Cravitz’s work cleaning houses and Shaw’s woodworking art, which he sold locally, said Brett Carr, an FBI spokesman in Mississippi.
The case cracked open when Shaw, now 72, developed a serious infection and Cravitz took him to a Mississippi hospital, where he died of natural causes.
Cravitz used an alias while making his funeral arrangements, which triggered an FBI flag when the undertaker tried to prepare a death certificate, Costello and the FBI said.
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