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Jail Interrupts Their Fairy Tale

Associated Press Writer

He sat behind the glass partition in the county jail, his years on the run finished.

Craig Pritchert leaned forward in his black-and-white striped uniform and rubbed his eyes. They were weary and damp with tears, the eyes of a man who could see the end.

The end of a good life, although a life based on a fake identity. Worse, this could be the end of a love. Not one built on lies and lawlessness, as police assert, but on sincere affection, he said.

“We had what most people strive for but can’t even touch,” Pritchert said. “It was ... the fairy tale. The only question now is the happily ever after.”

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But in a fairy tale, the hero isn’t an accused bank robber and his heroine the accused getaway driver. And happily ever after doesn’t include the possibility of prison for both.

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When their past finally caught up with them late one August night, Craig Pritchert and Nova Guthrie had become Dane and Andi Brown, a couple who enjoyed walks on the beach and dancing at the club where she worked near Cape Town, South Africa.

She was the manager of the Bossa Nova. Owner Giorgos Karipidis so trusted the woman he considers “like a sister” that he had given her keys to the safes.

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“Dane” was an Internet trader who spent his days inside their two-bedroom flat glued to a computer.

“We were happy. We were working,” Pritchert, 42, said in an interview. “We had stopped looking over our shoulders.”

“We were just two people starting a new life,” Guthrie added in a telephone interview from jail.

Friends such as Karipidis knew nothing of their real identities, nor of the nickname that turned the tale of their alleged escapades into a sensational caper worthy of Hollywood.

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In the United States, Guthrie and Pritchert had been branded a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, lovers accused of robbing half a dozen banks in Colorado, Montana, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington from 1997 to 1999. Pritchert is also charged with a solo job in Arizona.

But why would a woman from a devout Christian family who once considered medical school become the alleged accomplice of an armed bandit? Why would a man who had his own big dreams leave a wife and three kids and begin robbing banks?

“He seems like somebody who would rather take a shortcut as opposed to working for something ... who thinks, ‘The rules are for everybody but me,’ ” said Don Vogel, an Arizona police investigator who assisted the FBI in its probe.

As for Guthrie, 12 years younger than Pritchert, authorities and her family wonder if she was manipulated. “If she got involved in this, it was pressure from someone much older who had the keys to her heart,” said her brother, Gerald Guthrie.

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Pritchert grew up in Scottsdale in the 1970s. In high school, the blond-haired, blue-eyed teenager was handsome and popular. He dated one of the prettiest girls in school -- Laurie Gill, cheerleader, homecoming queen and, eventually, his wife.

Pritchert played outfield on the baseball team and harbored ideas of making it in the major leagues. He was given a shot as a walk-on at Arizona State University, but the outfield was filled that year with promising players, among them a recruit named Barry Bonds.

Although Pritchert earned a spot as designated hitter, he played little. By the end of the 1983 season, his baseball and college days were over.

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Already married with the first of three children, he started working for his father selling solar heating panels. But Pritchert suggests that pressure was mounting from his wife to bring home a better salary.

“If I was making $40 [thousand], she could spend $80,” he said.

While Pritchert traveled, supposedly to work, Laurie was evicted from their home and saw her car repossessed. Then one day, after she had begun divorce proceedings, she ran into her husband. “He was driving a Porsche and I was practically on welfare,” she said.

Only later did Laurie learn that her ex-husband had turned to bank robbery.

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Pritchert spent five years in prison after two 1990 heists outside Las Vegas. When released to a halfway house in 1996, he owed $55,000 in restitution and tens of thousands more in child support.

He got a job at a car dealership and did well, but was let go after the boss learned he had a record.

He turned to trading stocks on the Internet but wasn’t making enough to cover living expenses and all the money he owed. Those who stand by him say Pritchert feared delinquent payments would land him back in prison.

As Pritchert put it: “The odds were seriously stacked against me.”

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At 10:45 a.m. on Aug. 12, 1997, a man walked into Norwest Bank in Scottsdale, pointed a gun at the teller and yelled: “Give me all your money!” The teller filled his backpack with more than $32,000.

A tracking device led police to a car at a shopping mall. On the passenger seat was the backpack. Also found, according to court records, was a wallet containing Craig Pritchert’s driver’s license.

Pritchert wouldn’t be arrested that day. Destiny had something else in store. Soon, he would find himself in Farmington, N.M., having a drink with a woman named Nova.

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When they met it was like spontaneous combustion.

Nova Guthrie had moved to Farmington after college to sell cleaning equipment with her older brother, Gerald. Pritchert, claiming to be a vacationing trader, was introduced to him through a mutual acquaintance. The two men were dining one night when Gerald called and asked his sister to join them.

“I’d never met a woman like her,” Pritchert recalled. “She was something else.”

Guthrie was reared in Boone, Colo., a no-stoplight hamlet surrounded by horse farms and fields. She was the last of eight children born to Ralph and Delores Guthrie, a steelworker and schoolteacher.

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They took their children to church every Sunday and tried to instill good values. In college, Guthrie was a premed major and president of her sorority.

But beneath the straight-laced exterior was an audacious spirit.

Athletically built with brown hair and lively dark eyes, Guthrie enjoyed weightlifting, diving off bridges and riding motorcycles. The day after they met, she took Pritchert water-skiing -- and she never looked back. Where other boyfriends were threatened by her, Guthrie finally met her equal in Pritchert.

“I saw something in him that matched something in me,” Guthrie said. “I’ve never known a more kind or a more gentle man, or anyone who loved me better.”

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Not long after, on Oct. 31, 1997, a bank was robbed in Durango, Colo. Pritchert and another suspect still on the loose are accused of taking $64,600. Guthrie drove the getaway car, police say.

And so it went. According to investigators, Pritchert bought scanners, two-way radios, gloves, wigs and masks; he and Guthrie would scope out targets. They spent two months in Oregon, according to a court affidavit, before a 1999 bank holdup in Bend that netted $120,000.

In that robbery and others, authorities say, Pritchert entered the bank just before closing and ushered employees into the vault as Guthrie waited in a car, communicating by radio. Afterward, police say, Pritchert burned his supplies.

In all, authorities suspect the duo made off with more than $300,000 and lived it up at ski resorts or beaches in such places as Belize.

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Investigators’ first big break came shortly after the Bend heist -- when Guthrie, persuaded by relatives, turned herself in to the FBI. But authorities released her and she reunited with Pritchert, whom she’d told her brother Gerald that she couldn’t live without.

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Someone in the U.S. from South Africa saw the “Wanted” poster. It showed a woman who looked like the manager of the Bossa Nova. Check out the Web site, the tipster told authorities.

There, next to snapshots of birthday cakes and toasting barflies, was a smiling dark-haired beauty posing with her friend and boss, Karipidis.

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When Karipidis visited them in jail, the couple admitted their identities.

But what struck him were the questions they asked.

“How is Nova?” Pritchert asked.

“How is Craig?” Guthrie implored.

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Later, Karipidis found an e-mail that Pritchert had written to Guthrie only hours before their arrest.

He remembered it saying: “Thank you, princess, for always taking care of me. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Pritchert was extradited to Arizona to be tried in the Scottsdale robbery. He faces a 30-year maximum sentence, and charges are still pending in other states. He has pleaded not guilty.

Guthrie was taken to Colorado and booked in the Durango robbery. She faces up to 20 years, but is also indicted in the Oregon theft. She too pleaded not guilty.

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They said their goodbyes in a U.S. marshal’s van. As for any future contact, “that would be up to Nova,” Pritchert said. “I hope so.”

Guthrie responded: “It’s just a matter of time.”

“I’ve got something that every woman would want,” she said. “You don’t walk away from that.”

For now, they sit in separate jails in separate states, apart and alone for the first time in years.

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Their happily ever after is in the hands of the law.


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