South Carolina fugitive found in Dover after 40 years

Jose Romero

DOVER — After more than 40 years of freedom, an out-of-state fugitive was captured in Dover on the first day of 2020, police said Thursday.

Jose Chico Romero, 64, had been wanted since Dec. 13, 1979, when he escaped from a work crew in Anderson County, South Carolina, authorities said. He was serving an 18-year-sentence for an armed robbery conviction there at the time, officials said.

Following last Saturday’s local arrest involving a trespassing complaint at a convenience store, Romero was identified through fingerprints as a wanted convict from South Carolina two days later, Dover Police spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.

Jose Romero from his police photo from 1979.

Romero was initially released on his own recognizance pending a future court date before his true identity became known, police said. He was then re-arrested on Jan. 1, 2020 by officers searching near Willis and White Oak roads here.

The long-time fugitive had been staying in the Dover area, according to authorities. South Carolina’s DOC described him as “living under an assumed name and identity.”

Romero was being held at the former Anderson County Stockade when he fled from custody, South Carolina Department of Corrections spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said.

“The building was being used to house short-term local inmates and SCDC inmates assigned to work in the county as part of the designated facilities program,” according to a news release.

“Romero was one of several SCDC inmates assigned to live and work there. Under current classification rules, he would not have qualified for this work-release program.”

Cpl. Hoffman had no knowledge of a fugitive ever being apprehended after four decades and described it as a “very rare” situation.

“SCDC thanks the Dover Police Department and Delaware Attorney General’s office for their cooperation and diligence in apprehending and returning this criminal,” the news release said.

Romero’s time as a fugitive before capture was the state’s fourth longest ongoing stretch — escapees from 1973, 1974 and 1977 are still sought in South Carolina.

Any available information or photos regarding Romero had been posted on South Carolina’s official website, Ms. Shain said. He was described as a 5-foot-5, 114-pound male with black hair, brown eyes and an olive complexion. Occupation information referred to plumbing, pipe fitting and sprinklers.

Ms. Shain said Romero has waived extradition. The Delaware Attorney Generals office will determine how to proceed with the local case, according to Cpl. Hoffman.

Charges from the Dover incident include public intoxication, loitering, third-degree criminal trespass, second-degree forgery (four counts), and criminal impersonation.

Romero must serve the rest of his original sentence in South Carolina, about seven years, along with any time added for the current escape after conviction case, Ms. Shain said.

Delaware arrests detailed

The Delaware sequence began last weekend when Mr. Romero was taken into custody at approximately 12:38 p.m. at the business on White Oak Road. He was arrested during investigation into alleged public intoxication and trespassing at the time, police said.

Romero identified himself to officers as “Arnaldo Figueroa” and showed them a Delaware State ID card with that name, police said. During the arrest process he signed documents with the name “Arnaldo Figueroa,” authorities said.

A Delaware Bureau of Identification fingerprint check indicated that the person arrested was actually Romero, according to Dover Police. Local authorities were notified on Monday.

When spotted while walking at approximately 12:54 p.m. Wednesday, Romero was “quickly taken into custody without incident,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

Romero was arraigned through Justice of the Peace Court 7 in Dover, given an $18,000 secured bond and held at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown. Extradition to South Carolina is to be determined.