Armstrong escapee caught; murder charges pending
Suspected killer Robert Edward Crissman Jr. was captured Friday morning, a little more than 24 hours after he escaped from the Armstrong County Jail.
Police caught Crissman at 8:40 a.m., on Williamson Road near Pine Creek Road in Boggs Township after a seven-mile chase, which ended when he rammed a police cruiser with a stolen pickup truck, said District Attorney Scott Andreassi.
“We have him now, but this entire thing was a tragedy because of the death of Ms. Long,” Andreassi said.
Crissman is the prime suspect in the murder of Rayburn resident Tammy Long, who was found in her home at 2:45 p.m., Thursday afternoon by her boyfriend, Terry Slagle.
Coroner Brian Meyers said Long, 55, died after she was strangled and beaten. Her death remains under investigation, Meyers said.
Crissman, who is from the Templeton-Mosgrove area, had been in jail since July 24 for violating probation. He has a long history of drug and theft charges, according to court records, but no history of violence.
He had trusty status, which meant he was afforded some freedoms to work within the jail. Crissman had access to an unlocked exterior door at the jail, which he walked out of while distributing food trays to inmates Thursday morning.
Seeking a ride
After walking away from the jail, police believe Crissman ran to Long and Slagle’s home, which is less than a mile away.
According to court papers filed Friday, Crissman went to Long’s home seeking a ride into Kittanning. Slagle told police Crissman appeared very calm at the time. Neither Long nor Slagle were aware Crissman had just escaped from prison.
The affidavit states that Long agreed to give Crissman a ride because Slagle was getting ready to go to work.
Police believe Crissman waited for Slagle to leave for work then killed Long and stole Slagle’s truck, a maroon 1999 Chevrolet Silverado, Andreassi said.
Slagle told police he later saw news reports that Crissman had escaped from the jail and tried to call Long’s cell phone, but got no answer. He immediately headed home and noticed his truck was missing.
When he got into the house, he noticed his television and a .22 caliber rifle also were missing before finding Long’s body on the bathroom floor.
Slagle also found Crissman’s green jail pants, which he earlier had mistaken for gray sweatpants, and a white blood-stained T-shirt underneath a bed in the house.
Residents tip police
The Armstrong County 911 center began receiving calls from Boggs Township residents, who spotted Slagle’s stolen truck on Ridge Road, around 7:30 a.m. Friday.
About 30 minutes later, police received a call from a woman, who Andreassi would not identify, on State Route 1034, claiming Crissman had stopped at her home with a gasoline can, asking for help.
“She immediately recognized him, then slammed and locked the door, and called 911,” Andreassi said. “She stayed on the phone with the 911 operator until the police arrived. It was a very tense situation.”
While police were on their way, Crissman stole the woman’s white pickup truck, according to police.
Police chased Crissman on State Route 1034 and Route 28/66, with the pursuit ending on Williamson Road when he rammed a state police cruiser. Trooper Thomas Karlo of the Kittanning state police station suffered injuries to his hand and leg in the crash.
He was treated at a hospital and released. It was the only injury reported Friday.
Despite reports of sightings as far away as Pittsburgh, investigators believe Crissman stayed within a 10-mile radius of the Armstrong County Jail, Andreassi said.
“We can’t discount any sightings, but we don’t believe he went that far from the area.”
Stolen truck found
Mosgrove resident Chris Haley, 19, said his home is less than a mile from where Crissman grew up.
Haley said he worked a night shift Thursday and returned home at around 8 a.m. Friday to find the stolen getaway truck abandoned at the end of his driveway.
“I pulled in and there were cops blocking it carrying AR-15 rifles,” Haley said. “It was a sight.”
His dad, Kevin, searched the home to make sure it was safe.
He said neighbors gathered in their yards to talk as police searched the area.
“Everyone who knew (Crissman) said he was a genuinely nice guy,” Haley said.
But, he added, it was scary to think of him being armed and on the run.
“He made everyone lock their doors,” he said.
Crissman faces charges of homicide, theft, escaping jail and aggravated assault, and was to be arraigned by District Judge James Owen in Kittanning. He will be housed in the Butler County Jail.
“Considering he escaped, the Butler County Jail will be dealing with him appropriately,” Andreassi said.
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or firstname.lastname@example.org.