'Thelma and Louise' end up deep in the arms of Texas law

DAVID USBORNE

New York

Two women who imitated the film Thelma and Louise by leading the FBI on a five-month cross-country hunt last year have come to the point where reality and the script part company: instead of a slow-motion plunge over a cliff in their car, their ending features the long-arm of Texan law.

In Houston, the trial has begun this week of Rose Marie Turford, 36, one half of a duo accused of operating a bogus dating agency in the American South-West which they used to trap men in motels or even in their own homes, strip them naked and then rob them of money, credit cards and even cars.

Ms Turford and her partner, 30-year-old Joyce Stevens, were finally arrested last March. Two months later, they jumped bail, leading Texas police, FBI agents and a bounty hunter across half the continent until their arrest in Toronto last October.

It was their journey in a rented Pontiac and their escapades along the way - there were reports that they variously disguised themselves as nuns and strippers - that so closely echoed the story of Thelma and Louise. An important difference, though: in the film, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis triumphantly evaded their pursuers by driving over the edge of a desert cliff.

The Texas pair hardly seemed cut out for the lives of outlaws. Ms Stevens, who has claimed she was forced into her crimes by a shadowy and as yet unidentified man, is the daughter of a Houston minister, while Ms Turford, who was originally from Ontario, was married to a computer executive with three children. They had met a psychiatric hospital in the city where they both worked.

A seven-page confession that Ms Stevens dictated last week in return for a reduced sentence of 10 years revealed how, through their sham company called Telecompanions, the pair would either rob men in the course of a supposed sexual tryst or burst into their homes masquerading as undercover police agents, handcuff them and then ransack their properties. In most cases, the men were too embarrassed to report them to police.

The main witness against Ms Turford is a Houston businessman, Javeed Gondal, 54, who described to the jury his own experience. "I was very happy," he said of his first contact by telephone with a woman who called herself Julia. "She was a nice person. Maybe we get together and I get a chance to marry someone".

But he told the court that when the women arrived at his home, they handcuffed him and one ransacked the house while the other held a gun to his head.

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