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TV show leads to capture of fugitive killer

By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM

NEW YORK -- David James Roberts was the director of a homeless shelter until a wanted poster on a television show identifed him as a convicted killer and rapist on the lam.

Near his home in the Stapleton section of Staten Island, FBI agents nabbed Roberts about 4 p.m. Thursday, FBI spokesman Joseph Valiquette said. Agents took the 44-year-old unarmed fugitive who called himself Robert Lord into custody without incident.

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Authorities had been scouring New York and New Jersey for Roberts since Sunday night, when 'Most Wanted,' a Fox Television show, flashed his wanted poster on the air and the station's was flooded with calls. About 75 callers identified Roberts as Lord, the director of Carpenter Men's Shelter.

Valiquette said a fingerprint check after Roberts was taken into custody confirmed he was the man serving six life terms for five murders - including those of a 2-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy -- rape and arson. Roberts had escaped from guards of the Indiana State Prison in October 1986.

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Anne Ormsby, a spokeswoman for the City's Human Resources Administration which partially funds Project Hospitality to provide beds for the homeless, said Roberts first came to the shelter as a homeless man in 1986.

'The guy showed up sometime in 1986 as a homeless man and started working for them and worked his way up,' Ormsby said. 'He was a competent, congenial guy.'

Officials at the shelter and Project Hospitality refused to comment.

A man who answered the telephone listed under Robert Lord's name and address identified himself only as his roommate and expressed shock at the FBI's allegations.

'I guess everyone was surprised,' said the man who said he lived with Roberts for 'some time.'

'It seemed like they were talking about two different people,' he said. 'He did a good job, was diligent and conscientious and very well liked and very well-mannered.'

The bureau's fugitive unit had been searching for Roberts, a native of Perth Amboy, N.J., in the New York-New Jersey area.

'We've been running out leads all week and tracing him to this house was a natural outgrowth of those leads,' Valiquette said.

Using his alias, Roberts applied for a New York driver's license in the summer of 1987 and then registered a 1979 Chevrolet, using the address of the Project Hospitality outreach center in Manhattan, according to Department of Motor Vehicles records. He also held a taxi license.

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Roberts escaped from two guards taking him back to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City from an Indianapolis hospital where had undergone a lung examination. He pulled a replica of a gun on the two guards, and made his getaway after handcuffing the guards and driving them to Hammond, Ind.

Among his convictions was one for the 1974 murders of a couple and their 2-year-old daughter. He also was convicted in 1974 for the kidnapping and rape of an Indianapolis woman and the kidnapping and murder of her 6-year-old son.

In April 1987, Roberts became the 410th fugitive to be placed on the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitive list during the list's 37-year history.'

Each 'Most Wanted' episode spotlights a different criminal on the FBI's list of most wanted criminals and encourages viewers who recognize fugitives to call authorities.

The case was the second this month in which a TV program led to the capture of fugitives. Jerry Strickland, 26, and Melissa Munday, 17, were arrested Friday by Moses Lake, Wash., police after 15 to 20 residents called to say they recognized the two as suspects in a Waterford, Mich., slaying depicted on the NBC program, 'Unsolved Mysteries.'

In Washington, FBI Director William Sessions said that about one-third of all top ten fugitives are apprehended as a result of citizen cooperation.

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