Minnesota fugitive Lois Riess signed a waiver of extradition in a Texas courtroom Monday, paving the way for authorities to take her to Florida to face murder charges, and possibly the same in her home state.
Judge Louis Sorola in Brownsville gave authorities in both states 10 days to pick up Riess. She will be extradited to the state whose authorities arrive first, most likely Florida, said Victoria Cisneros, a spokeswoman with the Cameron County District Attorney's Office.
Riess, 56, faces four counts in Florida: murder with a firearm, criminal use of identification, larceny and grand theft of an automobile. In Minnesota, she has been charged with one count of larceny; second-degree murder charges are pending in Dodge County.
Riess is accused of killing Pamela Hutchinson in Florida after killing her own husband, David, in Minnesota.
Her arrest came largely due to an alert employee in a South Padre Island restaurant who spotted her last Thursday and called authorities.
Riess flipped back her silvery hair as she walked into Dirty Al's just before closing time and stepped to the greeting station to look at a menu. That's all it took for manager George Higginbotham to know she was the Blooming Prairie woman on the run.
He had seen the seven-second video that showed Riess making the same gesture with her hair as she befriended a woman at an oceanside bar in Fort Myers Beach the week before. Now the woman described by authorities as armed and dangerous for her role in two killings was standing 5 feet away.
"I thought, 'I know this lady,' " Higginbotham said Monday. "She had a smile on her face like a vacationer, not really worried that people were looking for her. She flipped her hair and that is what made it kick in."
U.S. marshals arrested Riess at a restaurant down the street from Dirty Al's. Authorities recovered two pistols, one .22 caliber and one 9-millimeter, from her hotel room.
With South Padre Island being a tourist town just 3 miles from the Mexican border, Higginbotham said he sees a lot of white-haired women. He might not have even noticed Riess had his restaurant on State Park Road been busy. But at 6:57 p.m., as he was closing down the backroom of Dirty Al's, Riess opened the door. With few customers, he had time to get a good look at her as she checked out a menu. She was only there two to three minutes before apparently deciding not to eat there and walking out.
Higginbotham called police as she did, and another employee followed her and watched her get in a white vehicle and drive off to the north.
The whole time, thoughts raced through Higginbotham's mind. "Should I tackle her? No, she might have a gun. Don't get too close. What if I'm wrong?" he said.
He was right on target. About 20 minutes later, marshals caught Riess at the nearby Sea Ranch Restaurant, putting an end to her four weeks as a fugitive.
Thanks from victim's family
Law enforcement had been looking for "Losing Streak Lois" — as she was dubbed because of her penchant for gambling and visiting casinos — since March 23.
She is suspected of killing her husband in their rural Blooming Prairie home and then cashing $10,000 in checks that she forged. She was spotted at a casino in Iowa the next day but was gone by the time police arrived.
Riess surfaced in Fort Myers Beach on April 5 and was seen at the Smokin' Oyster Bar. Surveillance video showed her flipping her hair as she chatted with Hutchinson. Records show that Hutchinson paid for the dinner and drinks that night, the last time she was seen alive.
A day later, surveillance video showed Riess checking in at a hotel in Ocala, Fla., using Hutchinson's ID and credit card. She also had visited a Wells Fargo Bank to withdraw money from Hutchinson's account. Between April 7 and 8, Riess was spotted at casinos in Louisiana, including one where she hit a jackpot. She was also spotted near Corpus Christi, Texas, on April 8. It wasn't until April 9 that authorities found Hutchinson shot dead in unit 404 of the Marina Village condos.
The nationwide search included a billboard campaign and videos that circulated on social media. Higginbotham had seen them.
Authorities thanked Higginbotham for the tip that led to Riess' capture, and so did relatives of Hutchinson, the woman Riess allegedly killed in the Fort Myers condo because they looked alike.
Higginbotham hardly calls himself a hero, but he was to Hutchinson's family. They called and thanked him, he said.
"I just called [police], that is all I did," Higginbotham said.
"That was nothing like that guy in Tennessee," referring to the man who wrestled a weapon from a gunman at a Waffle House in Nashville on Sunday.
Higginbotham said he has seen lots of crazy stuff in his time in South Padre Island, but nothing quite like this.
"This was unreal," he said.