By AMY LINDBLOM
For 23 years and 11 months, Charles A. Winters lived in and around Reno, Nev., evidently a successful man.
He owned an automotive repair business called Auto Express at 9205 Lemon Valley Drive. He and his wife lived in a house in nearby Sparks.
Washoe County Sheriff Detective Tom Green used to live near Winters' business and said it was always busy.
But on Thursday, Green and five other law enforcement officers arrested Winters on suspicion of being a fugitive from justice. Green and the California Department of Corrections investigators said they believe Winters is really Sierra Conservation Center inmate Ray Wade Bell, who escaped July 5, 1979, while working outside the prison gates as a trusty.
"He visited with his wife the day before, and she was crying," said Terry Thornton, state Department of Corrections spokeswoman. "The next day, he escaped. He basically just walked away."
It is not known if the woman Winters was living with in Sparks was the same woman Bell had been married to when he escaped from SCC, near Jamestown.
Bell was serving a two-year sentence on burglary and attempted burglary convictions in Stanislaus County. He arrived at SCC on Dec. 15, 1978, and served a little more than six months of his sentence before walking away.
An anonymous tipster told Washoe County Sheriff's Department that Winters is Bell about two weeks ago.
Green said he and investigators from the state CDC Law Enforcement and Investigations Unit were convinced the tip was correct after matching Winters to a 1979 booking photo and Bell's fingerprints.
Winters had been arrested twice in Washoe County on suspicion of drunken driving, once in 1982 and again in 1990. But his fingerprints were never checked with those on file for any escaped inmates from California.
"When we arrested him, he kept saying we had the wrong guy and to call his lawyer, who would straighten it all out," Green said.