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Model Citizen Seized as One of 10 Most Wanted in Maryland

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A convicted rapist and bank robber who was one of Maryland’s 10 most-wanted fugitives apparently lived as a “mild-mannered, polite” model citizen in Southern California for nearly 10 years--even helping set up a neighborhood crime watch--until his capture Monday, police said.

Moses Herman Fisher, 45, using the alias Michael E. Johnson, worked as an appliance salesman and had no criminal record in California, police said.

His wife of four years, who is seven months pregnant, was stunned when she learned that her husband was a wanted man after police and FBI agents knocked on the door of their Sun Valley apartment in the northeastern San Fernando Valley at 6:30 a.m.

“She had no idea,” Detective Eugene Edwards said. “She was quite surprised and upset. So was he.”

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Fisher has been sought by Maryland authorities since October, 1980, when he fled from the Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup, Md., while on a work detail, Edwards said. Fisher was placed on the the state’s 10 most-wanted fugitives list this year and described as possibly armed and dangerous, Edwards said.

Fisher had been serving a life term plus 15 years for two rapes, a bank robbery and three counts of attempted robbery with a deadly weapon, Edwards said.

Los Angeles police found him after authorities in Maryland received an anonymous tip on his whereabouts, Edwards said.

Fisher had lived at the apartment for two years and recently started work as a salesman at a discount store in Sun Valley, police said.

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Art Michener, manager of Discount Sales, said he hired “Johnson” earlier this month and was shocked to learn Monday that his new employee was a fugitive. “Surprise is not even close,” to describing his reaction, Michener said.

“He was a mild-mannered, polite guy. He would do anything I asked him to do. I thought I had found the ideal employee.”

Police said Fisher previously worked for several years as an assembler for Xerox in El Segundo and may have lived in that area and possibly San Diego, where a driver’s license under the name Michael E. Johnson was first issued in 1981. A Xerox spokesman, however, said “Johnson” worked there for only two months last year.

Wesley Gibson, Fisher’s next-door neighbor, took him to Discount Sales to apply for a job after he was laid off from Xerox.

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“It’s very shocking. I can’t believe he is who they say he is. People change and I don’t see Mike as being what they say he is. If it is true, it’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality.

“As far as I know, he is an outstanding citizen. We were setting up a community watch program at our complex. Everybody knew that if they had a problem they could come to him to get it fixed.”

He said Fisher put up signs in the complex encouraging residents to join the crime-watch group. “He has been a very good tenant,” said Jaga Ostapowicz, manager of the apartment complex where Fisher lived. “This is shocking. I said, ‘No, no, no, this can’t be,’ when I heard.”

Fisher was being held without bail in the Parker Center jail.

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