Judy Lynn Hayman, 60, was being held in a San Diego County jail awaiting extradition to Michigan, where she escaped from a prison in Ypsilanti in 1977 while serving time for attempted larceny, San Diego police Lt. Kevin Mayer said. He did not know if she had retained an attorney, and no court date has been set.
Acting on a tip from the Michigan Department of Corrections, San Diego officers went to an apartment in the city's Hillcrest neighborhood Monday afternoon and a woman fitting Hayman's description answered the door.
She identified herself as Jamie Lewis and produced government documents with the name, Mayer said.
But officers remained suspicious because of inconsistencies in her story and her resemblance to the old Michigan mug shot they were holding.
"Her eyes gave her away," Mayer said. "The eyes in the picture matched the eyes of this woman."
The officers took her to a police station, where she eventually acknowledged being Hayman, Mayer said.
It was not clear how long the woman had been living in the home or in San Diego, Mayer said.
Her 32-year-old son had been visiting when police arrived, and officers said he appeared stunned by their questions.
"This seemed very much a surprise to him," Mayer said.
He did not have the son's name, and public listings for the residence under the name Jamie Lewis did not include a phone number.
Neighbors said Hayman had lived in the complex for several years and mostly kept to herself.
Neighbor Maria Lopez, 60, told the U-T San Diego newspaper that Hayman did not appear to work. She said people came by Hayman's house to do her laundry, and she had frequent visits from her son.
It was not yet clear what evidence led Michigan investigators to the location of Hayman, who was 23 years old and about halfway through a sentence of 16 months to two years when she walked away from the Women's Huron Valley Correctional facility about 36 miles west of Detroit.
Mayer said he was wowed by the investigators' ability to "put some dots together" and provide San Diego officers with the right address after nearly four decades.
"I commend them for their tenacity," he said. "This is a very old case."
The case bears striking similarity to that of Marie Walsh, who also escaped from a Michigan prison, in 1976, when she was known as Susan LeFevre. She was also found living under an alias in San Diego, in 2008.
Walsh spent 13 more months in prison then returned to San Diego where she resumed her life with her husband of more than 20 years and wrote a book called "A Tale of Two Lives" about her ordeal.