Enter Special Agent Mike Sanborn of the FBI’s Fugitive Task Force in Phoenix, a burly ex-Marine with a nose for hard cases. Sanborn studied Nova’s FBI interview, searching for clues. The couple often stayed in Super 8 Motels, so he sent photos of the pair to every Super 8 in the country. When Craig’s oldest son played in the state high school baseball playoffs, the stadium was swarming with FBI agents and local cops. But Craig never showed. "It was my feeling they weren’t in the country anymore," says Sanborn.
The special agent now believes that after Craig and Nova hooked up again, they fled to Belize. There they spent about eight months on the island of Ambergris Caye, a snorkeling and fishing paradise. With robbery money running low, Nova probably worked in a local restaurant, while Craig occupied himself day-trading. Eventually, agents say, Craig and Nova moved farther afield, spending time in London, Athens and Cyprus. After the September 11 attacks, Sanborn figures, the couple decided it would be too risky to re-enter the United States, given tighter security checks. But where in the world were they?
In July 2003, four years after Nova’s disappearance, Sanborn got a tip that the pair was seen at a nightspot in Cape Town, South Africa. The tipster said Nova was working at the Bossa Nova Club under the name Andi Brown. Sanborn thought it was far-fetched at first, "but several things made sense," he recalls. Nova had worked as a waitress before, and often used aliases that were "four-letter names." So he e-mailed the FBI’s legal attaché in Pretoria and asked about Cape Town.
"I got a one-sentence response," says Sanborn: "Cape Town is a fugitive haven." In less time than it takes to park at the airport, Sanborn "Googled" a website for the Bossa Nova that included hundreds of photos from theme parties, where costume-clad regulars and employees danced the night away. "I got to about picture 300, and there she was, plain as day."
The photo, labeled "Giorgos & Andi," shows an attractive, dark-haired woman, smiling cheek-to-cheek with club owner Giorgos Karipidis. But Sanborn had never met Nova in person, and he needed to be sure. "I sent the photo to the Denver agents who had interviewed her, and they said, ‘Hey, nice picture of Nova. Where’d you get it?’ "
Sanborn then assigned undercover agents from the FBI along with South African police to stake out the club. (South Africa has an extradition treaty with the United States.) Andi had an American accent, agents noticed, and a large sunburst tattoo on the small of her back—just like Nova’s. But Craig was nowhere to be seen. Then, Craig—or "Dane," as he was known around the bar—walked in. When he greeted "Andi" warmly, the jig was up. "The two of them hugged and kissed," says Sanborn, who was directing the stakeout via cell phone from Phoenix, 10,000 miles away.
Four nights later, South African police arrested Craig and Nova without incident as they were sitting down to a dinner of Chinese takeout in their $325-a-month sparsely furnished apartment in a mixed oceanside neighborhood. Cops found a pile of fake passports in the apartment, but no guns — or wads of cash. "They were living near the poverty level," one of the arresting agents observed.
Bossa Nova owner Karipidis, who says he frequently loaned cash to Craig and Nova, had become close with them during their two-year stay. When he heard they’d been arrested, "I thought it was a joke," he recalls. He says Nova managed the club and had access to his bank codes and accounts. "They could have taken close to half a million dollars," he explains. "It seems obvious to me they came here to change." They left in handcuffs—after a final embrace that Karipidis arranged through a friend in Immigration.
It was likely their last kiss. Nova, now in custody near Denver, pleaded guilty in May to three robberies and will get a sentence of up to 20 years, but could serve much less. The following month, Craig, while being held in Arizona, also pleaded guilty to three counts of armed robbery, as well as a gun charge. He is looking at 20 to 22½ years behind bars.
Karipidis says Craig and Nova’s crime-free life in South Africa should be considered by prosecutors or parole boards. "They’re not the same people they were," he says. "And they never hurt anybody."
Laurie Pulzato, who no longer works as a bank teller after being robbed at gunpoint herself, disagrees. "The mental duress during robbery is extreme," she says. "What flashes through your mind is your kids, and you’re just praying, Please don’t kill me." She says Craig’s real victims are their children, who’ve spent years being stigmatized in classrooms and on the same baseball diamonds where Craig once shone, because of their father’s misdeeds.
It’s not too much of a stretch to view Nova as yet another of Craig’s victims. "He feels responsible for her," says Karipidis, who spoke to Craig in prison. "He feels he’s the one who got her into trouble."
But Nova’s mother says blaming Craig is too easy. "Had she served the Lord and not strayed from what she knew," says Delores Guthrie, "this would not have happened." Nova’s brother Gerald puts it another way: "We all follow a path, don’t we? He had a life to lead, and she had a choice to follow."