Disguised fugitive found in Spokane after 4 years

SPOKANE — A 71-year-old woman who escaped from a California prison camp four years ago and disguised herself through plastic surgery was arrested Thursday after authorities received a tip.

At the time of her August 1998 escape, Astarte Rice-Davis was serving a 15-year federal sentence for embezzling from her husband's estate.

James Rice disappeared from his Virgin Islands home in 1986. The Contra Costa, Calif., developer's body was never found and he was declared dead in 1988.

Rice-Davis, whose surgery reportedly made her appear to be a woman in her 40s, had been featured on several television shows, including "Unsolved Mysteries," "A Current Affair" and "America's Most Wanted."

A second "Unsolved Mysteries" episode aired about her in September, said Jason Wong, task-force coordinator for the U.S. Marshals Service.

Tuesday, a Spokane informant who recognized Rice-Davis from the episode led authorities to her. She was captured early Thursday as she drove away from her house.

Her fingerprints proved she was the fugitive, Wong said.

Rice-Davis walked away from a Dublin, Calif., prison camp. Prison officials discovered her missing during a routine roll call.

Wong said authorities are investigating what Rice-Davis did in Spokane, where she apparently held several jobs.

Dave Wiyrick, a spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff's Office, declined to say where Rice-Davis was living, except that it was in an affluent part of the South Hill area of Spokane.

Her escape from the prison camp wasn't her first foray as a fugitive.

According to court records, 24 hours after her husband disappeared, Rice-Davis filed a false deed conveying his St. Croix house and undeveloped lots to her and significantly lowered the price to quickly raise funds.

The next day, she held a garage sale and sold her husband's pickup, cement mixer, two 40-foot trailers, furniture and construction gear at bargain rates, records show. After her indictment on the embezzlement charges, she fled house arrest in the Virgin Islands and lived for 18 months under a fake name in Santa Barbara, Calif.

While on the lam, Rice-Davis wrote a 1989 letter to a newspaper denying she had anything to do with her husband's death or any embezzlement scheme.