Escaped killer lived in Carson Valley for 24 years

For 24 years, Bob Fargo lived and worked in Carson Valley.

He held a variety of jobs: River rafting guide, plumbing store employee, print shop worker, roofer.

He made friends, paid his rent, lived as "a good citizen" in Minden, Gardnerville, Chichester Estates, and for the last several years in a duplex on Kimmerling Road in the Gardnerville Ranchos with his girlfriend.

That law-abiding lifestyle ended abruptly Monday when Fargo was awakened at 8 p.m. by U.S. marshals knocking on the door to arrest Robert Charles Johnson, a convicted murderer who walked away from a Colorado correctional institution in 1976.

In an interview Wednesday from the Douglas County Jail, Johnson, 56, said he'd been anticipating for 31 years the day when his secret would be uncovered.

But he said he's a different man from the 22-year-old who shot a stranger named Michael Albert Lucas in Colorado in 1972.

"In 32 years, I haven't got a traffic ticket," he said Wednesday.

Johnson said his girlfriend and her 20-year-old son were shocked about his past, but as of Wednesday, he had not had an opportunity to talk to her since the marshals took him away.

"She had no idea," he said. "She was not aware of my past."

When asked what he would like to say to her if given the chance, Johnson replied, "What do you think?"

"I love her. I love our life, I love our family and our home," he said.

"The past decade of my life has been the most wonderful. We are not married, but we call each other husband and wife. I consider her son my stepson. She is the most wonderful woman. I have my wonderful stepson and our dog and our cats."

Johnson said nobody needs to fear him.

"I think people will be surprised about this, but they don't need to be concerned. I think people would say I am personable, polite, quiet and always ready to help out," he said.

Paul Washam of Woodfords said in an e-mail that he had known Johnson for years as "Bob Fargo."

"He was no dummy and showed good listening skills," Washam said. "He was down-to-earth and obviously compassionate to the plight of others."

Washam said he had his suspicions about Johnson's past.

"You would never imagine that he was a murderer, but at the same time, you knew something was cooking on the back burner in there," he said.

At various times in the past 20 years, Johnson told Washam he was a school teacher in South Lake Tahoe and dated a South Lake Tahoe policewoman.

"He was prone to take a wee nip when not working on the East Fork of the Carson and usually looked like he had been drinking, but he was seemingly always sober on the job," Washam said.

"If someone asked you what you thought of Bob, you would say 'nice guy, fun,' and walk away saying to yourself, 'there's more to this story than meets the eye.'"

Johnson said he escaped from a prison work farm because he was afraid he would not survive.

"At the time, I was being coerced by inmates to bring contraband in from the outside," he said. "If I would have told anybody, I would have been killed. I just turned 22 and I took a look around and thought, 'I could walk away from here.'"

So, he did.

Johnson said he walked to the highway and got a ride from a hay truck driver who took him to Las Cruces, N.M.

Johnson adopted the name Bob Fargo, which he "just pulled out of the air."

He headed west and got a ride with a "fellow who had a surf board on the top of his car" and took him to the coast.

Johnson loved the outdoors and found work as a water rafting guide. The only time he was arrested was in Angels Camp, Calif., in 1990 for being drunk.

"I thought, 'Well, this is it,'" he recalled.

He was fingerprinted under the name and phony identification of Bob Fargo. Technology nearly 20 years ago was much different and the fingerprint match didn't catch up until well after Johnson's arraignment a month after his arrest.

By then, Bob Fargo was long gone.

He worked in Bear Valley, but eventually settled in Carson Valley in 1983.

"I love the Carson Valley," he said. "I wish I could stay here and attend to this."

That's where law enforcement officers found him Monday night after a week of surveillance and background checks.

"I'd just spent a week on the river and got back Sunday. The trips are hard and Monday is 'recovery day.' There was a knock on the door and this man says, 'You're under arrest and I think you know what for.' I said I had no idea, but I really did. My girlfriend was just stunned," he said.

Since his escape, Johnson said he contacted attorneys twice about getting his "situation" cleaned up.

"They both said that I was overcharged by the prosecution and misrepresented in court," Johnson said. "The second attorney said if I liked my life, I should just keep doing what I was doing. He told me he could be disbarred for saying that."

Johnson said he expects anyone who has known him within the past 24 years will be surprised.

"I'm a good citizen " I'm a good American " and I know so many people in this town," he said. "Some of the deputies said they recognized me from when I worked at Penguin Plumbing."

Johnson says he feels guilty about the family and friends his arrest will hurt.

"I am sorry for anybody who's been adversely affected by this," he said. "I feel guilty every day for my family, friends and the people around me."

Johnson said if he could relive that day 35 years ago, he would do things differently.

He declined to talk specifics, but said the man he killed was a sexual predator.

That version differs significantly from what authorities say happened.

According to the Rocky Mountain News, Johnson was convicted of the 1972 murder of Michael Albert Lucas, a fellow marijuana dealer in El Paso County, Colo.

Deputy U.S. Marshal George Schroeder said Lucas made sexual advances toward Johnson, who agreed to a liaison in the woods. But it was a ruse, he said.

"When they got there, Johnson pulled out .38 caliber revolver and shot him once in the chest and twice in the head, and left him there to die," Schroeder said.

Johnson wasn't arrested for the killing until 13 months and one day after it happened.

"I panicked," he said. "I was morally incorrect. If I had it to do over, I would go straight to the local police department, but Colorado didn't have the kind of self-defense laws they do now."

Johnson was turned in for the original offense by a roommate looking to make a deal when he got in trouble.

He knows if he had served out his 10-15-year sentence, he would have been released decades ago.

"That's if I would have survived it," he said. "My life definitely was in jeopardy. I acted out of desperation."

He's not sure what the future holds.

"I know I have to pay for my past. I suppose they could make a real example out of me and treat me harshly," Johnson said.

Colorado authorities are to pick him up from the Douglas County Jail by Oct. 8.

"Once I am back, the maximum they can keep me is seven years. I will be out at age 64. Probably my family never will be available to me again. I'm expecting to die of cancer," he said pointing to lesions on his skin.

He said he's not a religious man, but lives by an inner spirituality.

"It's ironic," he said. "Just the other day " before I was captured " I was thinking about the here and now and how you have to make it count. At 56 years old, I thought I pretty much knew it all."

Johnson said going by his real name is taking some getting used to.

"The deputies here still call me 'Mr. Fargo,'" he said.


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