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FBI Agents Track Down Child Molester Who Was on the Lam for 12 Years : Crime: Ventura County’s oldest fugitive case is resolved with the arrest in Phoenix of a felon who had failed to show up for sentencing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ventura FBI office solved its oldest fugitive case Monday, when agents arrested in Phoenix a former Ventura oil field worker who fled the county in 1981 after being convicted of molesting an 8-year-old Ventura boy.

The arrest of Gary Lee Hampton, 49, ends a federal pursuit that included hundreds of interviews, spanned three countries and consumed parts of five FBI agents’ careers.

“We call these warrants old dogs. And definitely this is the oldest dog we’ve got,” said Special Agent John Kirk, who investigates all 20 fugitive cases from Ventura County.

Though his cases involve murderers, kidnapers and drug dealers, Kirk said the Hampton case was particularly important to him because it had defied solution for so long.

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“This is one I wanted to get for sure before I retire just because so many agents have had the case,” said Kirk, 55, who plans to retire in 1994.

Kirk himself has worked the Hampton case since 1991, pulling it out of his files when time allowed to follow yet another lead.

“I’m always working the case,” he said. “In the FBI we have to use due diligence. If it’s not hot I may not do anything for a few months, but I can’t just forget about it.”

Over the years, there were tips that Hampton was in Australia and New Zealand.

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The FBI sent flyers to every oil-drilling company in the United States, seeking clues about the whereabouts of Hampton, a “mud engineer” who specialized in the lubricant used on oil-drilling rigs, Kirk said.

Finally two weeks ago, Kirk found the family of an old friend of Hampton’s. “This was a person I’d never located, and I figured if anybody knew where (Hampton) is, it would be him.”

After tracking the friend to Nevada and Seattle, Kirk said he discovered that the fugitive was house-sitting in Phoenix and using the name Mark Common.

Hampton was arrested by FBI agents and sheriff’s deputies without incident Monday morning and booked into Maricopa County Jail, where he is awaiting extradition to Ventura County.

He faces sentencing for four felony counts of sodomy, oral copulation and lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14. Prosecutors said he could receive a maximum of 14 years in prison and a minimum of three years. He could also face additional charges for failing to appear for sentencing in 1981.

Hampton, a longtime Ventura resident, pleaded no contest to all four charges in 1981. He was released because he had no prior criminal record, but disappeared before he could be sentenced.

Neither the boy who was victimized nor his family have been contacted about the arrest, Kirk said, because they left the county and their whereabouts are unknown. No search is planned.

Kirk--also a bomb expert who was summoned to New York in March after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center--said he is pleased to check Hampton off his list of fugitives.

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It is unusual--though not rare--to solve a case after so long, he said.

“But once we get these warrants we don’t give up until the fugitives are dead,” he said, “or we’re notified by the district attorney that we can dismiss them.”


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