Most successful prison breaks only make news for a few hours or days and then authorities put things back in order. It all comes down to the fact that most fugitives really have nowhere to go because authorities have information about their family and friends and most free citizens would rather stay free than protect a fugitive. Some people still manage to cheat the system and stay free for years, some never getting caught after escaping from prison. Here are cases of people that managed to elude authorities for the longest time after escaping from behind bars.
Marie Welsh: 34 years
This one made global news since she appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show to talk about her book, A Tale of Two Lives: The Susan Lefevre Fugitive Story. She was just 19 years old when she was arrested in 1974 alongside her boyfriend when they sold heroin to an undercover police officer. After being sentenced to 10 to 20 years in jail for possession and conspiracy, aged just 19, she knew her life was ruined. The prison was a torture chamber where her fellow inmates were getting raped and the guards told her they would break her.
After one year in Jail Lefevre coordinated with her grandfather to carry her after she escaped the prison by scampering the walls and jumping over the barbed wire. She moved to California and managed to elude authorities by Using her middle name Marie and a fake last name Day. She also worked only odd jobs to make ends meet and never keep a job for more than a year. She was rearrested in 2008 after police got a tip but a parole board released her in 2009.
Bobby Love: 38 years
In 2015, the FBI knocked on the door of Cheryl and Bobby Love in New York and arrested the man whose wife was shocked as he confessed that his name was Walter Miller. Miller had escaped from a prison in North Carolina in 1977, having lived in New York as a fugitive for nearly 40 years. He had been sentenced to 25 to 30 years for bank robbery in North Carolina but good behaviour helped him get moved to a minimum-security prison from where he escaped. The FBI caught up with him 37 years, a marriage and four grown children later and his family had no idea that he was a fugitive.
Judy Lynn Hayman: 37 years
This is another fugitive that managed to evade authorities for nearly 40 years after escaping from a prison in Michigan. She was only serving an 16-month sentence for attempted Larceny, but prison wasn’t her place so she escaped in 1977. It is not clear how she evaded the FBI for so long but the police caught up with her in San Diego where she had changed her name to Jamie Lewis and even had legal documents for her new identity. She had a 32-year-old son who had no idea that her mother was an escaped fugitive.
Frank Freshwaters: 56 years
This one was labelled the longest manhunt in the history of the US Marshall’s service. He was labelled the Shawshank fugitive after the film shot at the Ohio prison where he escaped from in 1994 titled The Shawshank Redemption. US Marshals captured him in Brevard Country, Florida in 2015 from where he was extradited back to Ohio. He was 79 years old at the time and in ill health, so a parole board approved his release a year later. He had a grown-up son whom he had fathered under the false name William Cox and the son said he would be happy to take his dad in when he was released from prison.
Linda Darby: 35 years
Darby featured on Ser Trevor McDonald’s documentary on the lives of women imprisoned in Indiana’s women’s prisons. She was arrested in 2016 in Pulaski, Tennessee, after living on the run for more than 35 years. She said that she was all scratched up and bloody when she escaped the prison by jumping over the barbed wire in 1972. She had been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her second husband. She managed to stay on the run by changing her second name to Linda McElroy and changing her Social Security Number by changing a single digit. By the time she was arrested with the help of the local sheriff who was her friend by the time, she had two grown children and eight grandchildren and none of them could believe that she was a fugitive.
Emmett Bass: 27 Years
Bass and his friend robbed a package store in Henry County, Georgia for which he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in 1975. In 1978, Henry escaped from prison while on a work detail by simply walking into the bushes and sleeping in a barn and the officers never came to look for him. He managed to stay on the run for more than 27 years, later saying he was happy that he managed to get away.
Robert Stackowitz: 48 years
This is one story that would remind escapees that the life of a prison escapee may not be any different from life in prison. Robert escaped from prison in Carrol Country, Georgia in August 1968 while serving 17 years for aggravated robbery. He then took a flight back to his home state of Connecticut and lived in the town of Sherman where he was known to neighbours as Bob Gordon until he filed for social security benefits in 2016. His crimes immediately caught up with him as authorities came for him instead of his paycheck. He was too sick to be extradited back to Georgia though and died just a few weeks after a judge ordered his supervised release on medical grounds.
Darko Desic: 30 Years
The covid 19 pandemic hurt many people and cash labourers were the worst hit with lockdown orders. One of those men was Darko Desic of Sidney, Australia, who had escaped from a prison in New South Wales in 1992. He had apparently used a hacksaw to cut the bars off his cell window and then used lock cutters to open his gates to freedom. However, with no cash in the middle of a pandemic 30 years later, he remembered that there was a free bed and food in prison. He surrendered himself to police to serve the remaining year or so of his 3-year sentence, he ran away from.
Lester Eubanks: Nearly 50 years
This is one of the most mysterious cases the US Marshals Service has ever had to deal with. Eubanks was sentenced to death in 1965 for murder and the attempted rape of a 14-year-old girl. The abolition of the death penalty in 1972 saw his sentence changed to life in prison without parole. He was moved to a minimum-security facility in 1973 for good behaviour and allowed to go Christmas shopping at a mall in Columbus, Ohio. He took the opportunity to escape and has been on the run since then. In 2019, the Marshal service named him in their most-wanted list offering $25,000 for information leading to his capture.
Clarence David Moore: 30 years
This was another fugitive that got tired of looking over his shoulder and decided that time was ripe to hand himself over to the authorities. He was serving a 7-year jail term in North Carolina for Larceny in 1967 when he escaped in 1971. He was rearrested but then escaped again until 1975 when he was rearrested in Texas. He escaped from detention in Texas in 1976 and then moved to Franklin County, Kentucky where he lived under an alias until 2015 when he called the authorities and said he wanted to get it all behind him.
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