Convicted rapist on the lam had new look, multiple identities, authorities say

Police in Laramie, Wyo., assisted federal, state and Colorado authorities in apprehending John C. Buckley IV on Wednesday along Interstate 80. Buckley was captured after fleeing from the Sunset Inn, where he'd been holed up for about a week.
Police in Laramie, Wyo., assisted federal, state and Colorado authorities in apprehending John C. Buckley IV on Wednesday along Interstate 80. Buckley was captured after fleeing from the Sunset Inn, where he'd been holed up for about a week. AP

Last August, fugitive John Calvin Buckley IV told a friend he would leave the United States if he could avoid capture for one year, according to an affidavit unsealed in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

Two months before that deadline, authorities tracked Buckley down in Wyoming. Buckley, a former Army Ranger, hid out in multiple states, changed his appearance and assumed multiple identities while evading capture, U.S. marshals said at a news conference Thursday.

His arrest brought an end to a nationwide manhunt that began in Lexington on July 12, when Buckley escaped from the Fayette Circuit Courthouse while being tried on rape and sodomy charges.

Although a jury found Buckley guilty about an hour after his escape, Buckley's family has said in court filings and interviews they don't think he is guilty. Family and friends of Buckley have accused Lexington police and the Fayette County commonwealth's attorney's office of conspiring to prosecute Buckley maliciously.

"The commonwealth can be assured that I will do everything possible to fully prove those allegations if they are true," said Colorado-based attorney John Buckley III, the escapee's father.

The affidavit and news conference offered new details about the younger Buckley's time on the lam. However, authorities did not give specifics about how they tracked down the ex-Ranger, who had been staying at a Sunset Inn motel in Laramie, Wyo., for about a week before his capture.

Buckley's is a familiar face in Lexington. His mugshot was distributed widely to media after his escape and has appeared in Lexington's Most Wanted — a partnership between and the Fayette County Sheriff's Office — every week since.

That is probably why Buckley changed his look from the clean-shaven face and military-style haircut he wore at his trial, authorities said.

"He had very long hair and a beard," U.S. Marshal Loren "Squirrel" Carl said.

In addition to multiple identities, Buckley had several cellphones in his possession, Carl said.

Carl said Buckley had been spotted in Kentucky, New York, Georgia, West Virginia and Colorado. He was arrested in Laramie, about 20 miles north of the Colorado state line.

Authorities would not say how Buckley was able to support himself over the 10 months. However, Deputy U.S. Marshal Craig Smith, the agent in charge of the ongoing investigation, reiterated that authorities are investigating any possibilities that someone might have harbored, aided or abetted Buckley. More people could face charges if they assisted him, Carl said.

Smith said Buckley had not given a statement to investigators.

The affidavit unsealed Thursday was initially filed in August, after U.S. marshals received their first confirmation that Buckley had left Kentucky. The affidavit, filed by Smith, sought a warrant for interstate flight to avoid prosecution, a federal charge that allowed authorities to track Buckley across state lines.

According to court documents, an unidentified witness told Smith that Buckley called from a telephone number with a West Virginia area code and "asked for cellphones, cash and food, and that he said if he could avoid capture for a year, then he could leave the country."

It was unclear why Buckley wanted to wait a year before leaving the United States. His father said Wednesday he thought Buckley would have gone to Mexico, Brazil or Africa by now.

The federal charge against Buckley was dropped Thursday and he was transferred to Wyoming's custody to face extradition to Kentucky, according to court records. Smith said that's standard procedure during extradition proceedings involving state charges.

Buckley faces charges in Kentucky of escape and tampering with an electronic monitoring device, Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said. Police said he cut off an ankle bracelet that tracked his movement while he was out of jail on bond. Additionally, Smith said Buckley could face other federal charges.

Regardless, Buckley is likely facing a long time behind bars. The jury that found him guilty of rape and sodomy last year recommended 20 years in prison.

Buckley also has pending charges in Lexington involving another woman he is accused of raping. That woman — who was involved in a custody battle with Buckley over one of his three daughters — has since recanted, saying she was pressured by Lexington police and prosecutors to say Buckley raped her, according to court documents.

"I refuse to stand by their lie and keep in silence about how they took advantage of their position," the woman said in a letter submitted to the court by Buckley's uncle, Charles Kelly Buckley of Lexington.

However, prosecutors are continuing with that case based on statements the woman already had given to Lexington police detective Aundria Burkhart that Buckley tied her up, put a loaded gun in her mouth and sexually assaulted her, according to court records.

About the time the woman recanted, a grand jury indicted Buckley on an additional charge of witness tampering because he allegedly "practiced fraud or deceit with the intent to affect the testimony" of the woman, according to court documents.

The Herald-Leader does not typically identify alleged victims of sexual abuse. Larson said he could not discuss that case because it was ongoing.

Buckley and others said in court filings that his problems with law enforcement began in 2009, when he drew a gun on an off-duty Lexington police officer in self-defense.

The conflict started when the officer stepped into the street in front of Buckley's car and Buckley had to stop to avoid hitting him, according to a letter Buckley wrote.

The conflict escalated; Buckley pulled out a gun and forced the man to his knees. He did not know the man was an off-duty officer, the letter said.

A grand jury dropped charges in that case. Buckley's letter says police and prosecutors have had it out for him ever since.

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