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@body:It's the weekend before Christmas and Sheryl and Milton are still on the run, hiding out from everyone and everything they've known for the past two years. They live in Las Vegas in the kind of apartment hotel that boasts "low weekly rates, utilities included." The cars parked outside are old, banged up, rusted. Just downstairs from where Sheryl and Milton are staying, a man is leaving a room, smiling. In the doorway is a woman wearing only a button-down shirt. She smiles a "come again soon" look and closes the door. WarGames is on TV in the twins' cramped, $129-a-week room. The two lie on a bed--other than a chair, it is the only place to sit. The room's walls are plywood and there's a makeshift kitchen in the corner. The bed sags in the middle. The two have come to Vegas, they say, to "settle down" and get "real jobs." Since they were arrested in January of 1991, they've shuffled from cheap motel to cheap motel, from mobile home to mobile home. They've lived in their car, slept in a storage facility and camped in a tent in the desert. They've lived in Bullhead City, Laughlin, Page, Needles, even Oregon. Even though they've been burned by the cops repeatedly, they continue to take undercover jobs. Their most recent one ended just last month.

It wasn't always this way. The two were born three days apart in 1961, and they grew up down the block from one another in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in California. Neither went to college. She worked as a secretary; he worked in construction operating heavy equipment. Both were married and divorced (her marriage lasted only three months) before they came together. Sheryl wears tight blue jeans over white-lace pantyhose, dark eyeliner and bright lipstick. It's not hard to believe she could get a job in a nude bar. Milton's beard blends with his long, wavy hair. His gut hangs over his belt; he sports a tee shirt from the Mustang Ranch and steel-tipped boots. Both say they've never had a drug conviction, although Sheryl admits she's had her share of DUIs and has been in five car accidents; one almost killed her. Milton, a former kickboxer, says he's had minor brushes with the law. They begin to talk about the series of events that led them to the situation they're in now. As they are talking, Sheryl pulls a former occupant's gray, high-heeled shoe from under the bed; she later finds broken glass in the corner of the room near a window. "This place is a dive," she says. Most people have bad luck, but theirs is on a different level altogether.

When Sheryl was poisoned by what she says was "bad crab" in 1990 in California, her dream of becoming rich came true. She was awarded a $56,000 insurance settlement from the grocery store she bought the crab from, and she went out and paid $13,000 cash for a brand-new Mitsubishi Eclipse. She and Milton decided they would invest in property. Why not Bullhead City, Arizona? Land was cheap, the area was growing fast and the casinos were just across the river. By the time Christmas 1990 had rolled around, the two had used her money to buy "brand-new everything": two TVs, a VCR, tools. They weren't working, but they gambled constantly. By the time her last settlement check came in, they'd already blown the first two.

They figured they'd take one last trip to Reno. "Spur of the moment, late night, we just took off," Sheryl remembers. On the way back, they were pulled over and thrown in jail. Their version of what happened differs from the police story. They say the drugs were planted on them. That claim is bolstered by the fact that none of the drug charges they were arrested on was ever filed, and a paraphernalia charge was thrown out of court.

When the twins finally got back to Bullhead City--without their car or cashier's check--the locks had been changed on the house they were renting. After staying with a neighbor, they woke up to find their landlord cleaning out the house, throwing their things away. After the twins were arrested, Nevada investigators had informed MAGNET of the supposed drug find. MAGNET quickly got a search warrant and rummaged through the house, but found nothing. But somehow, a door had been left open, and the place was robbed. The TVs, VCR, tools and all of Sheryl's underwear and pictures from her modeling days were stolen. A police report filed with the Bullhead City police department states that there was no sign of forced entry. The landlord told police he found the back door open to the house a few days after MAGNET had searched it.

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Dave Newbart