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Crime News Snapped: Killer Couples

Couple Evades Police Multiple Times After Killing Longtime Friend — What Really Happened?

Police said Susan Barksdale betrayed her good friend, Frank Bligh, and helped her husband, Blane, murder and steal from him, before going on the run.

By Caitlin Schunn

A mysterious home explosion and fire in the middle of the night baffled police in Tucson, Arizona — especially when the ashes revealed the homeowner was missing. But the search for Frank Bligh led authorities to his best friend and her husband, starting a nationwide search for Blane and Susan Barksdale, who managed to go on the run and escape law enforcement not once, but twice.

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“Blane has a pretty checkered criminal history — he has a past — but how was he able to turn this lady, you know, who lived a very normal life for all these decades, now into being something else?” pondered Asst. Chief Deputy Van Bayless with the U.S. Marshals Service, on Snapped: Killer Couples, airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.

Frank Bligh Missing After Home Burns Down

The explosion and fire at Frank Bligh’s home awakened his Tucson neighborhood around 4 a.m. on April 16, 2019. By the time firefighters put the fire out, the home was destroyed — and the 72-year-old Air Force veteran was missing.

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One of Bligh’s vehicles was also missing from his garage, and the avid gun collector was missing dozens of guns from his gun safes.

Authorities determined arson was the cause of the fire.

A photo of Frank Bligh, featured in Snapped: Killer Couples 1707

A bartender at one of Bligh’s usual spots told police she’d seen him a few weeks previously with his friend, Sue. Bligh’s brother, William, confirmed that Bligh and 58-year-old Susan Barksdale had been good friends for years.

When officers talked to Barksdale, she said she last saw Bligh with her husband, Blane, on April 12, four days before the fire, at Bligh’s home, and didn’t know where he was.

Police then got their first break on April 17, when a Pima County Sheriff’s Deputy found Bligh’s missing vehicle parked on the side of the road, about 10 miles from his home. There were signs of blood in the trunk that DNA tests showed was Bligh’s blood. Police pivoted from a missing persons investigation to a homicide investigation.

Concerned Daughter Alerts Police To Possible Suspects in Bligh Case

One week after the fire at Bligh’s home, Susan Barksdale’s daughter called authorities to say she’d gotten a disturbing call from her mother.

“She’d called me from a random number, and she’s like, ‘I gotta go, I gotta leave town.’ It’s like you could hear it in her voice, she was panicked,” said Jada on Snapped: Killer Couples.

Jada told police she believed her mother was in danger from Blane Barksdale.

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“I believe Blane saw Frank as a threat,” Jada said. “He knew that Frank and my mother had been good friends for many years. Blane had a lot of control over my mom, and he was very verbally, emotionally, and eventually physically abusive with my mother.”

Jada also told police Bligh had confronted Blane Barksdale about his abuse of Susan previously and believed Barksdale had taken her mother hostage.

“I was really concerned that he would just kill her,” Jada said. “I believe her life was absolutely in danger.”

Officers located the Barksdale home, about four hours north of Tuscon in Show Low. But the couple appeared to have taken off before police arrived.

“By all appearances, it seemed that Susan and Blane were just walking away from that property, their vehicles, their dog, and never coming back,” Det. Josh Cheek, Tucson Police Department, told Snapped: Killer Couples. “It was clear to us at that point that Susan and Blane were going on the run.”


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Officers did, however, find cell phones in the home. Police said a phone belonging to Susan had deleted text messages concerning the whereabouts of her husband and his nephew, Brent Mallard, on the morning of the fire on April 16.

Mugshots of Blane and Susan Barksdale, featured in Snapped: Killer Couples 1707

When police interviewed Mallard, he had burns over much of his body. He admitted that in exchange for a gun, he’d agreed to drive his uncle to the Bligh home, where he claimed his uncle then forced him to set the house on fire. But he told police he’d never seen Frank Bligh during this time.

“This was huge because this was the first time we had anybody directly implicating Blane Barksdale in the arson fire that occurred at the residence,” Cheek said.

Susan and Blane Barksdale On The Run

Police believed the Barksdales had purchased an RV, and a nationwide search began for the couple and their vehicle.

On May 23, 2019, more than a month after the fire, the couple was spotted in New York while pawning items. Their RV was then found in a motel parking lot in the Westchester County area, and the couple was taken into custody.

Susan Barksdale immediately claimed to be a victim of her husband to police.

“Susan claimed she had been beaten by Blane throughout their trip across the country,” Det. Jeff Lockwood, Tucson Police Department, said on Snapped: Killer Couples.

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Susan Barksdale also told officers her husband had been stealing guns from Frank Bligh for a long period of time and selling some of the guns for money. She indicated that was what sparked Bligh’s death on April 12, 2019, four days before the fire. She alleged she was visiting Bligh at his home when her husband arrived, and the men got into a fight.

“Frank’s guns had been stolen,” Chris Ward, Pima Co. Prosecutor, said on Snapped: Killer Couples. “Frank confronted Blane about that. She says that Blane and Frank were having a discussion, or an argument.”

Susan claimed to police Bligh left the room and her husband followed, then she heard a loud thud.

“She described seeing Frank on the ground, bleeding from his head,” Cheek said. “And Blane standing over him.”

With Bligh dead, Susan told police her husband forced her to clean up the blood while he moved Frank’s body, and claimed she didn’t know where the body was taken.

“Susan says she was a victim of Blane, and was doing what Blane directed her to do,” Ward said. “Susan felt threatened.”

The Barksdales Escape Police Custody, Sparking Second Manhunt

In August 2019, while being extradited back to Arizona, the unbelievable happened. Police said in southern Utah, Blane Barksdale managed to lock the guards from the transportation company back into the vehicle, kidnap them for some time, and then escape with his wife in a red vehicle.

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“I was in complete disbelief,” Cheek said. “I’ve done this job a number of years, and I’ve never had anything even remotely like this happen. They were going on the run and they were going to try to put as much distance between themselves and investigators as possible.”

As police tried to track down Bligh’s missing guns — and figure out if the Barksdales had access to any of them while on the run — they discovered from a buyer that Susan Barksdale had sold some of the guns, not her husband.

“Both of them were committing criminal acts, both of them showed this greed that they needed to have more money, and they thought it was a good idea to get that money by selling Frank’s guns,” Lockwood said. “I think all those reasons are why Susan could look past and bypass the long friendship that she had with Frank.”

Officers eventually got a tip the notorious couple could be hiding in a remote area of northern Arizona, and set up a law enforcement perimeter around a home, taking the couple into custody for the second time.

Aftermath of Bligh/Barksdale Case

Susan and Blane Barksdale negotiated plea agreements. Blane’s included sharing the location of Frank Bligh’s body. On January 4, 2022, after a long search, Bligh’s remains were found over a cliff in Salt River Canyon in Arizona.

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“Everybody said, ‘Oh you must have closure now,’” William “Skip” Bligh, Frank’s brother, said on Snapped: Killer Couples. “You never have closure. You never will. Because you always sit there and say why did this happen.”

Blane Barksdale was charged with second-degree murder and will be released from prison in 2041 at the age of 77.

His nephew, Brent Mallard, pled guilty to arson and was sentenced to seven years of probation.

“My mother was under extreme duress during this entire time period,” Jada said. “The only reason my mom went anywhere with that man was in an effort to protect her family. I believe that Frank was trying to stand up for my mom, who was being terribly abused. And Blane ended his life for it.”

Susan Barksdale pled guilty to manslaughter, and will be released in 2023, after serving four years in prison, at the age of 63.

“Only Susan really knows how much of a victim she was,” Ward said. “And how willing or unwilling of a participant she was in Frank’s death.”

Watch new episodes of Snapped: Killer Couples on Sundays on Oxygen at 6/5c and in the Peacock or Oxygen True Crime apps.

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