19-year fugitive from Hoopeston, Ludlow caught in Thailand
DANVILLE — Authorities in Thailand have arrested a former Hoopeston man and Ludlow superintendent who fled the United States about 19 years ago to avoid prosecution on charges that he sexually abused a 13-year-old boy, according to Vermilion County sheriff's authorities.
Dennis G. Catron, 60, was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, on Wednesday by Thailand police, immigration authorities and U.S. embassy officials in that country, according to Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn.
"We have been actively pursuing him since he left," said Hartshorn, who added that the department has always believed that he was in Thailand since his disappearance in 1992 while on bond. In 1994, he was tried, convicted and sentenced in absentia to more than 20 years in prison in Vermilion County Circuit Court.
"We have not given up on this," Hartshorn said. "We have worked with several federal agencies to try and locate him, and we're happy that the U.S. Marshals this time were able to get cooperation from the Thailand government."
Hartshorn said Catron was working in schools in Thailand teaching English and was arrested outside a condominium he was living in and readily admitted he was Dennis Catron and was wanted in the United States.
Hartshorn said Catron will be extradited back to Vermilion County, where the sheriff's department will take him into custody for his transfer to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Catron was arrested in June 1991 at his home in Hoopeston after a Ludlow boy's father and stepmother filed a complaint with the Hoopeston police department, who then went to Catron's home and found the boy there. The charges accused Catron of sexually abusing the boy during six months in 1991.
Before his arrest in Vermilion County, Catron was the focus of an investigation in Champaign County, which eventually led to his firing as superintendent in Ludlow in March 1991, a few months before his arrest in Vermilion County.
Eventually charges were filed against Catron in Champaign as well, where he was arraigned in July 1991 on charges that he molested two Ludlow boys: the same 13-year-old who was the victim in the Vermilion case, and a 6-year-old boy, too. He was later acquitted in Champaign County on the charges involving the 6-year-old.
About five months after his arrest, Catron was free on bond on charges in both counties when he failed to appear for his trial on the sex abuse charges in Vermilion County. A warrant was immediately issued for his arrest. He also failed to appear for a later court date in Champaign County.
Authorities searched for him for months with no luck until July 1992, when Catron turned himself in to Vermilion County authorities.
At that time, the Champaign County State's Attorney and Catron's defense attorney had a plea agreement that would have kept Catron in jail, but Judge John DeLaMar refused to go along with the plea bargain, because he was afraid that agreeing to a guilty plea on lesser charges in Champaign County would prevent Catron from being tried on more serious charges in Vermilion County. The rejection allowed Catron to post bond again, which he did on Aug. 19, 1992 — posting $20,000 cash on all pending charges in both counties.
And one month later, in September 1992, he again failed to appear for a court date in Champaign County and was never officially seen again until his arrest this week.
The Vermilion County State's Attorney's office moved forward with its prosecution anyway, and in May 1994, a Vermilion County jury found him guilty in absentia, and in August 1994, he was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.
Hartshorn said he expects the U.S. Marshals to transport Catron from Thailand to the U.S. once the extradition process is complete, and the sheriff's department will take custody wherever he lands. He said there may also be an appearance in local circuit court for some "housekeeping" on bond and other issues before he's sent to prison to begin his sentence.