One-time "Most Wanted" fugitive pleads guilty in 1983 death of Texas woman

AUSTIN, Texas -- A man who authorities had sought for decades in the death of a woman in Austin pleaded guilty Tuesday to murder and described himself as a “coward” for running so long.

Robert Van Wisse, 52, entered his plea as part of an agreement reached earlier with prosecutors. He’ll be imprisoned for 30 years.

Van Wisse in December was added to the FBI’s list of Top 10 Most Wanted Fugitives and a $100,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest. He was named in an arrest warrant issued in 1996, charging him with murder in the September 1983 strangling of 22-year-old Laurie Stout. She also was sexually assaulted.

Van Wisse was 18 when Stout’s body was found in an office building where she worked the night shift cleaning. Investigators say he was known to have been in the building registering for a course.

The FBI has said investigators initially believed the killing was done impulsively but later changed their findings to say it was premeditated, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The former University of Texas student was born and raised in Mexico and fled to that country after learning he was a suspect. A U.S. warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution was issued in 1997.

He surrendered to authorities in January at the Laredo border crossing to Mexico.

“I want to say that I have no answers for what happened in September 1983,” Van Wisse said in court Tuesday, explaining that he had never been violent before and was never violent in the years afterward.

Van Wisse’s attorneys, Perry Q. Minton and Rick Flores, said later that they had already negotiated the terms of his plea prior to his surrender to authorities in January.

They said Van Wisse married and had children but took steps to avoid detection, working farm jobs and other manual labor while occasionally doing low-level technical support like fixing computers.

The lead Travis County prosecutor in the case, Amy Casner, said negotiations that were held to have Van Wisse turn himself in were done with an eye toward avoiding extradition, which can be a lengthy and complicated process.

“I’m in my 25th year of prosecuting and this is my first and probably only case like this (involving such a longtime fugitive),” Casner said.