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Vermont task force sets sights on fugitives

MONTPELIER — Earlier this month, a team of seven deputy US marshals, state police troopers, and other officers surrounded a mobile home after learning a man charged with murder in the killing of a Florida teenager might be living there.

When officers knocked on the front door, the rear door opened and a barefoot and barely clothed suspect ran out the back, where he stumbled trying to flee, said Deputy US Marshal John Curtis.

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‘‘Typically people love to run,’’ said Curtis, who was waiting outside and took Philip Barr into custody. ‘‘Fortunately for the marshal service we’re just taught well. For these people, they run and they’re caught.’’

Barr is now in a Vermont prison before being returned to Florida. His capture in Hardwick was a high-profile apprehension for the new Vermont Violent Offender Task Force, which began work Oct. 1. The unit consists of about 10 deputy US marshals working from Rutland and Burlington, a full-time state police trooper, and, when the University of Vermont is not in session, an officer from the UVM police force.

US marshals in Vermont previously focused on federal fugitives, said Marshal David Demag. ‘‘We’ve retooled. Now we’re dealing with the Vermont Violent Offender Task Force, which also focuses on habitual sex offenders.’’

The Vermont State Police commander, Colonel Tom L’Esperance, said task force members share the common goal of the apprehension of violent offenders and sex offenders.

‘‘The Vermont State Police benefit from access to the dedicated resources offered by the US Marshal Service, which allows us to get these offenders off the street while still providing day-to-day law enforcement services to Vermont communities,’’ he said.

Since Oct. 1, the task force has arrested about 30 fugitives, Curtis said.

‘‘We are looking for the worst of the worst,’’ said Curtis. ‘‘We’re looking for the cases that have violence, drugs and felonies. We want dangerous felons, that’s who we’re looking for, and those are the people we’re getting.’’

Besides Barr’s arrest, on Nov. 1, the task force nabbed Robert William Mulkern, a 48-year-old Hagerstown, Md., man facing a variety of sex charges, including 149 counts of child pornography.

Curtis said Barr’s arrest came after getting a tip from Florida investigators that he might be in the state. Vermont investigators had a years-old lead from someone now living in another state.

They used a variety of investigative sources, including social media, to narrow the search, Curtis said. But when they went to Hardwick last week, they still did not know whether they would find him.

‘‘It was such a shot in the dark,’’ Curtis said. ‘‘The information we had was vague and so old.’’

Mike Gandy, the supervising detective of the Charlotte County sheriff’s office cold case unit, did not want to say what led investigators to believe Barr was in Vermont, but investigators were glad to be able to call the victim’s mother to tell her the final suspect in her daughter’s slaying had been caught.

‘‘It was a long road to get there,’’ Gandy said. ‘‘It feels really, really good.’’

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