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Police Capture Escaped Killer, a Transvestite

January 19, 1992 GMT

PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) _ A transvestite convicted killer who escaped from a Connecticut prison and later eluded FBI agents who found him in a motel was captured Saturday, authorities said.

Frank Vandever, last seen Thursday in Spring Valley, N.Y., was arrested as he walked to a stolen car in a Paramus shopping mall parking lot, New York state police investigator Mike Thomas said.

Vandever had returned on Saturday morning to the same Spring Valley motel he fled from Thursday night and stole the car from a woman who left it running while she went inside, Thomas said.

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Vandever was dressed as a man on Saturday, a witness said.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officers had blanketed the suburbs north of New York City searching for Vandever, 37, a former stockbroker from Guilford, Conn.

He had been serving a 40-year sentence for the 1988 murder of a client who discovered he was tapping into his investment funds. Hours after the killing, Vandever used the man’s credit card to go shopping at a boutique that caters to transvestites.

Vandever and Ronald Rutan escaped from a Connecticut state prison on Dec. 31. A woman who saw a report about the pair on a nationally syndicated television show Thursday night tipped off the FBI that they were at the motel in Spring Valley, 28 miles north of New York City.

But Vandever eluded capture by hopping a fence near the New York Thruway and running into woods, authorities said. FBI agents captured Rutan, 34, who was serving a 20-year sentence for burglary.

Despite the large manhunt, Vandever may have robbed a bank Friday in Nyack, N.Y. A man wearing heavy makeup used a fake bomb to steal $10,000 from a drive-up teller, authorities said.

About 2 1/2 hours before his arrest Saturday afternoon, Vandever was spotted in a 7-Eleven convenience store in Bergenfield, N.J., said John Kindergan, the store manager. Police came into the store a half hour later with a photograph of Vandever, which both cashiers recognized, he said.

Kindergan said Vandever was dressed as a man. He looked ″a little scroungy and was wearing a red flannel lumberjack coat, a scruffy beard and his hair looked uncombed,″ he said. ″The most outstanding feature about him, my cashiers said, was his hazel-green eyes.″

In 1988, Vandever shot and killed client Ronald Hiiri, who discovered Vandever had been dipping into his investment account.

Vandever, who had no prior criminal record, admitted planting transvestite literature and a sexual aid in Hiiri’s apartment to make it appear his death was a sex crime.

Investigators also discovered that on the day Hiiri was shot to death, Vandever used the victim’s credit card to buy himself a $164 outfit at a boutique that caters to transvestites.

Charles Peters, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Vandever on federal fraud charges after he was in prison for murder, estimated he took as much as $200,000 from 20 different accounts. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to an additional 10 years.

He and Rutan escaped from prison by sawing through the bars of a supply room and cutting through an electronic perimeter fence with a faulty alarm system. They hid in an office until the following day, then overpowered a cleaning couple and stole their car.