Lyndal Ritterbush

Lyndal Ritterbush is back in the Utah State Prison, and Robert Rhoden feels bad about it.

Ritterbush, 63, escaped from the Utah State Prison and was on the lam for 22 years before being captured in Oregon, living a quiet life as a husband, grandfather and neighbor known as Robert Collins Rhoden.

Rhoden, 63, is Ritterbush's brother-in-law. For all those years, he had no idea his identity had been assumed by the escaped convict. It doesn't really bother him, either.

"In 22 years, he never got a parking ticket. That part doesn't bother me because he didn't cast any doubt on my name. I reckon the part that bothers me is the whole thing blew up," Rhoden said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. "We found out he was still alive. I felt halfway responsible because he had been caught."

It was a problem with Rhoden's driver's license that led to Ritterbush's capture last year. Rhoden learned that his license had lapsed in Oregon. Rhoden lived in Nebraska, had never been to Oregon and reported his identity stolen.

When Oregon State Police picked up Ritterbush, a detective asked him under questioning if he was "tired of running." It was then, police said, Ritterbush revealed who he really was — and that he'd escaped from the Utah State Prison in 1985.

All the time that he was gone, Rhoden's wife had no idea where Ritterbush was or if he was still alive.

He never tried to contact them, Rhoden said. Ritterbush's parents had died a couple of years ago, and they had no way to tell him. When he was captured after 22 years on the run, the family was stunned.

"It was a hell of a shock, really and truly," Rhoden said.

When Ritterbush was arrested, it was revealed that he had lived in Salem, Ore., with his wife, Terri. She had adopted children, and he cared for his grandchildren.

"He's the best neighbor I have ever had, and he's one of the finest gentlemen that I have ever met," next-door neighbor Ed Bower told the Deseret News last October.

Now, Rhoden said they are starting to get to know Ritterbush's wife, Terri. She seems nice, he said.

"She's lost her business, and she's lost her home. She's living in a $4,000 trailer house. She's lost everything they had," he said.

Rhoden talks to his brother-in-law about once a week.

"He seems to be doing well," he said.

Because he has been gone so long, Ritterbush had to go through the prison-orientation process for new inmates and is now being housed in a maximum-security unit at Point of the Mountain.

"Our investigators have interviewed him about his time away, and where he's been and what he's been doing," said Angie Welling, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Corrections. "We're not entirely confident he's been truthful about where he's been all this time."

Ritterbush did not respond to a request for an interview.

The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole also has scheduled a 2012 hearing on the original sex-abuse conviction that sent him to prison in the 1980s. Ritterbush was convicted of incest in 1983, was released after a year, then returned to prison after a 1984 conviction of attempted sex abuse of a child.

Ritterbush walked away while picking up a delivery at the prison dairy. For the next two decades, he was on the run. He made the FBI's Most Wanted list once and is the second-longest escaped inmate in Utah corrections history. Only Robert Jackson, who escaped in 1981, has been on the run longer. Jackson has not been captured.

Rhoden said his brother-in-law's actions over the past 22 years have made him question if he really was guilty of the crimes that put him in prison.

"He didn't do anything of that nature while he was out," Rhoden said.

He's tried to get attorneys interested in re-examining the case. But Ritterbush was convicted — twice — on sex-abuse charges, escaped from prison, pleaded guilty to stealing his brother-in-law's identity and waived extradition to come back to Utah. Rhoden knows those facts, but he says, "Blood is thicker than water."

"I know the man's signed a confession, but he's 63 years old, diabetic; he's not a menace to society," Rhoden said. "As overcrowded as our prisons are, why can't we just parole him and let him be a halfway productive member of society?"


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com