Courts & Crime

After 20 years, former life catches up with Arizona fugitive

RALEIGH, N.C. — A knock on the door last week resurrected a past Robert Andrew LaRoche spent two decades burying.

A U.S. marshal flashed him a faded photo of Bobby Rea Irwin Jr., a broken, vulnerable man he abandoned two decades ago.

Irwin looked the marshal in the eye, asking: "What took you so long to find me?"

Irwin was a fugitive, wanted since 1991 for violating the terms of a probation a judge ordered after he gunned down a leader of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist group. Irwin says he was avenging a brutal kidnapping he endured the month before.

"I was out of my mind," Irwin said Friday in an interview at the Wake County jail, where he awaits extradition to his native Arizona. "I guess I did a pre-emptive strike before that sort of thing became fashionable."

Irwin's story is confirmed through police reports, court documents, newspaper clippings and interviews with law enforcement officials here and in Arizona.

At 55, Irwin doesn't look like a vigilante. He is a computer tech who carved out a quiet, simple life in North Raleigh a decade ago. He fixes herbal tea for his wife, Teresa, each night and straps coats on his dogs when he walks them in the rain.

The brown curls of his youth have thinned and faded to gray. He needs glasses to see, and a stent keeps his heart beating after a massive attack earlier this year. He weeps when he contemplates his predicament.

But the tattoos that stain his skin helped link LaRoche to the fugitive police hunted: a snake around a stake; the name of an old sweetheart scribbled through a heart. The pattern on the tip of his ring finger, unchanged after all these years, sealed his fate.

Now, Irwin's bound for Phoenix, back to the place and memories that nearly broke him.

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