'Robinson Crusoe' killer recaptured after 16 years in caves

A murderer on the run, who spent 16 years hiding in caves around his home village in northern Portugal, has been recaptured looking "like Robinson Crusoe", police said yesterday.

Manuel Cruz, 54, had a deep tan and a long beard when he was arrested in the forested hills where he had once been a shepherd, Inspector Carlos Gomes, leader of a 12-officer search team who mounted "Operation Cro-Magnon", said. "He wasn't very strong but he wasn't in very bad shape. He was dirty and smelly."

Cruz had a guard dog and a gun with him but he did not open fire on police who approached on foot, Insp Gomes said. "His initial reaction was very aggressive but he came peacefully once we had him."

Cruz had been serving a 10-year sentence for murder when he fled into the mountains during a prison outing to a nearby village in 1993. He had been convicted after an argument over goats with a local woman. Cruz had pushed her, she hit her head on stony ground, and died.

The fugitive had been hiding in caves and hollowed-out banks of earth in "very hilly, very hostile terrain" surrounding Anisso, about 240 miles north of Lisbon. The village has a population of 312, according to the local council's website. Manuel Ramalho Cruz, the president of the Anisso parish council, and no relation to the arrested man, said residents had tipped off police several years ago that Cruz was hiding in the area. On at least one occasion he escaped a police operation to catch him, Mr Ramalho Cruz said. Police did not immediately comment on that.

Family members and local people provided Cruz with food and he had a dog that alerted him when people approached, Mr Ramalho Cruz said. "He was a quiet person; he wouldn't hurt anyone. People liked him," he added. "He told people he was afraid of prison and wouldn't go back there."

Cruz has been taken to a prison in another town to serve the last seven years of his sentence. Police would not say whether the sentence was likely to be increased because of his escape. Apart from the dog, Cruz had only a battery-powered radio for company, and cut long grass to make his bed, according to local media.

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