Fugitive caught in West Virginia cocktail lounge Bartender helps end 11-day hunt

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Randy Eugene McBee had a reputation as a survivalist and man of violence. But during a four-day crime spree in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, McBee, at times relied on his victims for meals and a warm, dry place to stay, authorities said.

In the end, McBee, who reportedly had vowed to take on the police in a shootout, was arrested without incident by West Virginia troopers Saturday night as he sat drinking in a tavern on the outskirts of Martinsburg, W.Va.

Since his escape March 23 from the minimum-security Eastern Pre-Release Unit in Church Hill, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, McBee, 38, has been linked to three rapes, a kidnapping, several burglaries and an armed robbery in a two-state crime spree.

In West Virginia yesterday, Morgan County Magistrate Bonnie Riffle ordered McBee held without bail on charges of kidnapping, armed robbery, grand theft and burglary. McBee was also arraigned in nearby Berkeley County on a charge of being a fugitive.

State Police Sgt. L. D. Bradley, who coordinated the manhunt, said he would be presenting 19 charges against McBee to the Morgan County grand jury tomorrow. McBee was being held in the Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg.

Maryland authorities have charged McBee in warrants with sexual assault, three counts of burglary, robbery and auto theft.

At the height of the manhunt, McBee was being sought by about 50 officers from West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia using helicopters and dogs, said Sgt. J. K. Riffle, of the Martinsburg state police barracks.

McBee returned to his native Berkeley Springs area, where a trail of violence snaked its way through rugged terrain and small towns in Morgan and Berkeley counties.

"We're all greatly relieved that he's been captured," said Pam Jones, co-owner of the Mountain Springs Cafe on Berkeley Springs' main street. Miss Jones said McBee had turned the quiet, relatively crime-free town known for its warm springs and spas upside-down since the escape.

Sergeant Riffle said he had kept track of McBee through a logbook of crime, beginning around noon on Tuesday, when Morgan County deputies found a tan 1990 Volvo, reported stolen from Maryland, near the CSX railroad tracks across the Potomac River from Hancock.

The car belonged to one of three people McBee allegedly held hostage for three hours in Church Hill. During the ordeal, he allegedly raped a woman and stole several weapons.

Sheriff's deputies and state police, using a helicopter, searched the area where the car was found, but McBee had eluded them.

According to Sergeant Riffle, McBee broke into the home of his first West Virginia victim outside Berkeley Springs, in Morgan County, Wednesday afternoon and held two men hostage until 9:30 that night. He left taking money and a 1989 Ford Escort.

The Escort was found early Thursday in Virginia, about four miles from the West Virginia state line, near the village of Reynolds Store.

McBee reappeared in West Virginia on Thursday, allegedly breaking into a home about 11 a.m. on Route 522, a half-mile south of Cacapon State Park. He held a 20-year-old woman hostage for about four hours, raping her and forcing her to feed him, according to authorities. He left after four hours, taking the woman's 1982 Oldsmobile and several weapons, authorities said.

During the manhunt, heavily armed police set up roadblocks to check cars for McBee and searched empty buildings and mountain cabins as possible hide-outs.

Authorities reported that area residents were arming themselves. Police were advising people to stay indoors and to keep their homes locked.

"People were tense with this individual running around," said Sergeant Bradley. "We were very concerned that with people arming themselves, an innocent victim might get hurt."

Miss Jones said she got several calls for dinner reservations from tourists staying at local bed-and-breakfast inns who asked if they should arm themselves before venturing out. The manhunt was all customers talked about at the cafe, she said.

Fear caused women in and around Berkeley Springs to leave work early and before dark, and to ask male co-workers to follow them home, Miss Jones said.

McBee's next victims, Sergeant Riffle said, were an elderly couple in Ridersville, a small town five miles from Berkeley Springs.

He allegedly broke into the couple's home about 7:30 Friday morning. He forced the couple to feed him and left around 10 p.m., after allegedly raping the 79-year old woman and stealing the couple's 1987 Buick. Police found the stolen Oldsmobile belonging to the first rape victim a few hundred yards from the Ridersville house.

McBee apparently spent the night traveling the back roads of Morgan County before ditching the stolen Buick in a remote area where police found the vehicle about 6 a.m. Saturday, Sergeant Riffle said.

Police spent the day tracking McBee with dogs through the heavily wooded hilly terrain. That afternoon, they received a tip that McBee might be heading for the Jolly Joker Tavern in Martinsburg. Sergeant Bradley would not say who provided that information.

Saturday evening, McBee showed up at the home of an acquaintance who -- fearing for the safety of others in the house -- suggested they go out for a drink, Sergeant Bradley said.

They arrived at the Jolly Joker, just off West Virginia's Route 9, about 6 p.m.

"They ordered Jim Beam and Coke and sat down at a table away from the bar," said barmaid Carolyn Neely. "When I cleared the table and brought them more drinks, I had the feeling the other man wanted to tell me something."

He did. And he spotted a woman he knew, Beckie Cunningham. drinking at the bar. While McBee used the restroom, the man motioned Ms. Cunningham over and told her he was with the man who police were looking for, that McBee had a gun, and to call the police.

Ms. Cunningham walked into the kitchen and told bartender Dennis Owens what she had heard, said Miss Neely. Mr. Owens called police with the information confirming that earlier tip. He also described the layout of the bar and how police could get in without McBee noticing. Mr. Owens kept the police on the phone until state troopers arrived.

"I tended the bar trying to keep things appearing normal," Miss Neely said, "because I was afraid McBee might go off and pull out his gun if he knew we were on to him."

Around 10:30, six plainclothes troopers rushed into the back door of the tavern. They moved through the bar area, approaching McBee from behind. A trooper pushed McBee's tTC head onto the table where he sat, according to police and witnesses. The officers then handcuffed the fugitive and pushed him to the floor, seizing a .38-caliber revolver from his pocket.

"Police told all the customers to put their hands up until they could determine that McBee had no accomplices with him," Miss Neely said.

Police said McBee's companion was taken into custody, but was released after questioning.

"People have been calling the bar thanking us for getting this guy captured," said Miss Neely. "One lady from Berkeley Springs called and said we were all heroes and that everyone will sleep good tonight . . . ."

Maryland correctional officials said that McBee has been a fugitive before, escaping twice from West Virginia facilities where he served time for rape and armed robbery.

Correction Commissioner Richard Lanham has ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding McBee's latest escape.

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