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TEXAS SCAM SUSPECTS SOUGHT IN ONTARIO

TEXAS SCAM SUSPECTS SOUGHT IN ONTARIO

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Although they hadn't asked for a date with "Thelma and Louise," at least 10 men in Texas say they were ambushed, handcuffed, assaulted and robbed by two women now thought to be hiding out in Ontario.

Joyce Carolyn Stevens, 30, of Houston and Rose Marie Turford, 35, of London, Ont. -- dubbed "Thelma and Louise" after the characters in a film about two women on a crime spree -- have been on the run from American authorities since May 5, when they skipped out on the $500,000 bond posted by Ms. Turford's parents.

"They get all of what they do from movies and books," said Clement Romeo, the Houston bail bondsman who called his efforts to track them down "the most frustrating two months of my life."

Both women are charged with four counts of aggravated robbery and one of aggravated kidnapping in Texas, where Houston Police Investigator Todd Janke calls them "some of the best I've ever seen" at robbery.

Police say the two had a simple method. Most dating agencies require men to pay membership fees, while women can scan and respond to their messages for free. The women would collect the names and phone numbers of interested men and, after a thorough credit check, arrange meetings in hotel rooms and homes.

When the unsuspecting men arrived, the women would flash fake police identification and tell them they were investigating the abduction of several women who used the service.

The men, stunned into submission, would allow themselves to be handcuffed before they realized the women were crooks. Once they had the upper hand, the women would rob the men and disappear.

They also worked their scam in Las Vegas and planned to kidnap five Canadian businessmen for ransom, according to Houston police, who added the two netted about $250,000 in stolen cash, credit cards and cars.

Investigators in the United States and Canada agree the two slipped across the border in Alberta and made their way to Toronto, where a car rented in Ms. Stevens' name was returned Wednesday to a Toronto agency.

The two women met at a private psychiatric hospital in Houston, where Ms. Turford, a registered nurse, moved with her husband, a computer sales executive. Ms. Stevens, the daughter of a Methodist minister, was a part-time psychiatric worker at the hospital.

Ms. Turford "got sexually hung up" on Ms. Stevens, said Nancy Smith, a private investigator from Houston. With her husband "out messing around," Ms. Turford apparently decided to have her own affair.

Ms. Stevens even persuaded Ms. Turford's husband to build a loft in their home, and Ms. Stevens moved in.

Acting under orders from a mysterious "spy" named Avery -- who no one but Ms. Turford's parents believe is real -- Ms. Stevens spun out an elaborate tale of mental control before their crime spree began.

The bail bondsman believes Avery is a fictional character taken from "The Magus," a book by John Fowles later made into a movie with Anthony Quinn. In the movie, Avery tries to control the destiny of a man played by Michael Caine, Romeo explained.

"But in real life, Avery has a practical purpose," he said. If the women are caught again, they can claim they were forced to commit their alleged crimes because of Avery's threats, he added.

Since they came to Canada, the pair has been spotted several times, Metro Toronto police said.

They have been seen dressed as nuns, as strippers and even shopping for appliances in London, where Ms. Turford's three children live with their grandparents, said Metro Toronto Police Detective Steve Peconi.

"Someone saw them here. Someone saw them there. Someone has seen them everywhere," he said.

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