The FBI said Michael Ray Morrow, 70, who had been living under an assumed name for decades, was identified by fingerprints taken in a 1984 arrest, the Los Angeles Times reported. He was being held in Arkansas pending extradition.
The arrest is believed to have set a record at least for California in terms of the length of time an inmate was on the loose. A few escaped inmates who have not been apprehended have been at large for longer.
Garland County Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Joel Ware told ABC News he had mixed feelings about assisting with the arrest. Morrow, who lived in Arkansas under the name Carl Frank Wilson, is married with three children and is a grandfather.
"It's good to have him answer to justice, but to take an elderly person with medical issues, who has otherwise lived a quiet, peaceful life, never causing any problems, went to church every Sunday, it was bittersweet," Ware said.
Ware described Morrow as "super nice" during the arrest. He said Morrow told him he escaped from the California Institution for Men in Chino even though he would soon have been eligible for parole because there were people who wanted to kill him.
Morrow was in the fourth year of a 5-years-to-life sentence for a 1973 armed robbery when he escaped.
A neighbor in the rural area in Garland County where Morrow lived said there were a few hints of his past.
"We would always talk about how our dad worked at the prison and then their dad would maybe start cussing through the living room talking about guards," Jacob Edmunds told KTHV-TV in Little Rock.