Police, FBI and U.S. Marshalls arrested murder suspect Sar I Wednesday outside a Cambodian grocery store, more than 400 miles away from Columbus in the town of Janesville, Wisconsin.
Police say Sar I had been in hiding ever since the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, 29-year-old Claudia Lopez Escobar, in March of 2012.
Detectives lost I’s trail for months, but then a tip came in a few weeks ago from a Cambodian community in Wisconsin that there was an Ohio man, 'running from some trouble,' police say.
In a matter of hours, one of the FBI's most wanted was spotted and in custody after nearly 20 months on the run.
"This has been a big break for us, and we're going to do everything we can to take advantage of it," said Columbus Police Homicide Detective Jay Fulton.
Det. Fulton says that starts with a trip to Janesville to interview Sar I in jail.
“We're going to try to get as much information as we can,” Det. Fulton said. “We know what happened in that apartment.”
Police found the blood of Claudia Lopez Escobar, a Mexican mother of two, all over her ex-boyfriend's apartment in southwest Columbus.
Soon after her disappearance, police secured images of Sar I buying cleaning supplies at local stores, and even a reciprocating saw and extra blades.
In the coming weeks, he was traced to northern Ohio, West Virginia, and Indiana - but then the trail went cold for more than a year, until a few weeks ago.
Det. Fulton says the key was re-interviewing possible acquaintances of Sar I and asking new questions about his whereabouts.
"We were made aware of a rumor that Sar I was in Madison, or the Janesville, Wisconsin area," Det. Fulton said.
When news of Sar I's arrest came down, we talked to one of Claudia's friends living here in the Columbus area.
“I am really happy, because now maybe we can get some answers, and maybe there's a chance that she could still be alive," said her friend, who we are not identifying because she still fears for her safety.
Det. Fulton says he does not think Lopez Escobar is still alive.
He says the bigger question - where is Claudia's body?
"We're still trying to put together that puzzle," Det. Fulton said.
"She's got family back in Mexico, and she's got children and we want to try to get her back to her people," Det. Fulton added.
Det. Fulton says he hopes people now come forward to provide more clues about Sar I's actions over the last 20 months.
“We don’t believe he did everything on his own,” Det. Fulton added. “We’re still looking for information from people who may have assisted him, either wittingly or unwittingly.”
Det. Fulton says the coordinated effort from the FBI, U.S. Marshalls and local police helped bring Sar I to justice.
“The federal agencies that have been involved in this have been extremely helpful,” Det. Fulton said. “They’ve given us what we’ve asked for and what we’ve needed, and in this instance, it’s really hit pay dirt.”
Det. Fulton hopes to have Sar I back in Ohio by next week, as the extradition process gets underway.
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