By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Washington state authorities believe they have unearthed the remains of an escaped Missouri prison inmate who eluded capture for over 25 years, apparently by living quietly on the West Coast before he died of cancer and was buried in his small-town backyard in 2012.
Dennis "Slick" Lilly was serving time for burglary and assault when he escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary on December 13, 1986, by donning a guard's uniform and walking to freedom.
He set out across the country and, together with his wife, eventually settled in tiny Gold Bar, Washington, about 45 miles northeast of Seattle, Snohomish County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said, citing information provided by the FBI.
Dennis and Mary Lilly changed their names, to David and Amanda Murray, acquired stolen Social Security numbers, and apparently settled down to a quiet life running The Mail Station, a small postal services store in nearby Monroe, Ireton said.
The FBI had for years sought Lilly, who was twice featured on the long-running television show "America's Most Wanted." But the mystery surrounding his whereabouts only began to lift last October, when Amanda Murray filed an application with an online stock brokerage that was rejected because her birthday and Social Security number did not match, Ireton said.
An alert employee of the brokerage contacted the FBI, which was able to link Murray to her past, as well as to Lilly, Ireton said.
Federal investigators recently confronted Murray at The Mail Station, addressing her as Mary, to which she replied that no one had called her that in years, Ireton said.
According to Ireton, Murray told federal investigators that she and Lilly had split several years ago, and that he had moved to California. He returned to Gold Bar in 2009 with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis and a professed to desire to live with her and their adult daughter, Murray told investigators.
Murray said that she had buried his body in her yard for fear that a formal burial would trigger the attention of authorities, she told investigators.
Sheriff's deputies unearthed human remains from the yard last Thursday, Ireton said. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office is working to positively identify the remains and the manner of death, she said.
Local authorities have no plans to charge Murray with any crime, Ireton said. The FBI did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Lilly's apparent identification by authorities was first reported on Thursday by The Herald, an Everett, Washington-based newspaper. Murray told investigators, according to the newspaper, that her husband was 64 when he died.
The age of his wife, who Lilly married while incarcerated, according to The Herald, was not given by authorities.
It may never be clear why Lilly, a hardened criminal, decided to put his past behind him and start over as an evidently law-abiding citizen after escaping from prison, Ireton said.
"It would be interesting to be able to speak to him and ask him," she said.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)