Show Mobile Navigation
Crime |

10 Prison Escapees Who Eluded Capture For Decades

by Robert Grimminck
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Prison breaks are a pretty rare event. When they do happen, almost all of the fugitives are recaptured. For example, in California, 98.5 percent of all escapees between 1977 and 2005 have been recaptured—most of the time, within the first few hours or days after the escape. However, there are a handful of people who managed to get away from prison, get a new identity, and create a new life, often keeping their past a secret to those closest to them in their second life.

10Susan LeFevre
30 Years

Susan LeFevre

Photo credit:

In 1975, Susan LeFevre was arrested for selling a small amount of heroin to an undercover Michigan state trooper. She pleaded guilty and was given a sentence of 10–20 years at the Scott Correctional Facility in Wayne County, Michigan. One year and 19 days into her sentence, LeFevre climbed over a barbed wire fence and escaped. She was helped by her grandfather once she was outside the prison.

With just some clothes, a toothbrush, and $200, LeFevre fled to California. Once there, she changed her name to Marie Day. She worked at odd jobs, but any time she had to give her social security number, she was forced to quit. In 1984, eight years after she escaped from prison, she met Alan Walsh and they married 10 months later. Over the next 22 years, they had three children and raised them in an upper middle class area of San Diego.

Her new family wasn’t aware of her past, but LeFevre knew from relatives in Michigan that the net was closing in on her. In April 2008, she was working in her garden when federal agents confronted her. She was arrested and sent back to prison in Michigan, where she spent 13 months before being released on parole. After her experience, she wrote a book, was interviewed by Oprah, and appeared on the Today Show.

9Robert Charles Johnson
32 Years

2- johnson
In the fall of 1972, Robert Charles Johnson left his home in California and started hitchhiking to visit a friend in Colorado. Along the way, Johnson was picked up by 23-year-old Michael Lucas. Once in the car, according to Johnson, Lucas grabbed his crotch, leading to a brief scuffle. The car ended up in a ditch and Lucas pulled a gun on him. Johnson wrestled it away and then shot and killed Lucas. He fled the scene and was arrested in New Mexico the next year.

Since Johnson claimed that the killing was in self-defense, and since there were no witnesses, he agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a shortened term of 10–15 years. He was sent to Fremont Correctional Facility in Canon City. While in prison, Lucas’s family apparently offered $5,000 to anyone who would kill Johnson. Due to the bounty on his head, Johnson said that he feared for his life and, two years into his sentence, a sympathetic guard supposedly drove him past the prison fences and freed him.

From there, he went to his parents’ place in Berkeley, California and changed his name to Robert Fargo. Under his new name, he applied for a new social security card. He went to college, got a job at a factory, and fell in love with white water rafting. Eventually, he became a guide and held that job for 30 years, working in places like Alaska, California, and Oregon.

He was arrested once in 1990 for public intoxication, where he was fingerprinted and the police discovered that his name was actually Robert Johnson, but nothing happened. The police simply let him go and he went back to his life. In 1998, he got married and settled into a comfortable life on the California-Nevada border.

In 2007, a Colorado cold-case task force found Johnson and arrested him. He was brought back to serve the 10 remaining years on his sentence, plus extra time for the escape.

8Frederick Barrett
32 Years

3- barrett
In 1971, 20-year-old Frederick Barrett and an accomplice were hitchhiking when Carl Ardolino picked them up. At some point in the ride, Barrett and a friend attacked Ardolino and started choking him. Then they dragged him to a ditch and drowned him by holding his head under the water.

Barrett was given a life sentence at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida. Then, in August 1979, there was a power outage, and Barrett took his chance and ran for it. He climbed three large fences and was free. On the outside, he traveled around to different states before ending up in a remote area of Colorado, where he lived in a makeshift cabin. He lived there for decades without drawing any attention to himself.

In 2009, the state of Florida started a task force to look for wanted fugitives and, using public records and databases, they found out that Barrett’s name was now Neil Metzler and he was living in Colorado. On July 27, 2011, US Marshals wearing Forest Service uniforms approached the cabin and pretended to talk to Barrett about fire safety. Once they identified the tattoo that Barrett was known to have, he was arrested.

When the police looked around the house, they found some weapons and a small patch of marijuana. Barrett was sent back to Florida to finish his term, plus additional charges for the escape, the guns, and the marijuana farm.

7John Kalasansky
33 Years

4- kalansky
In 1954, 29-year-old John Kalasansky was sent to work on a prison farm in Green Springs, Ohio after he was convicted of being involved in a robbery at a convenience store in Cleveland. During the robbery, the store clerk was injured, but the wound wasn’t fatal.

Kalasansky was given a sentence of 10–25 years. He later said that he had no idea when he was going to get a chance to apply for parole, so in 1959, after five years in prison, he decided to escape. He fled the farm and was able to hitch a ride to Toledo. Once there, he changed his name to John Kalasoski, and he lived at the Salvation Army before securing a job as a truck driver. He cut all his ties from his past and never contacted his brothers, sisters, or even his son. Seven years after escaping from prison, he met the woman who would become his wife, then retired from his job sometime in the 1980s.

It wasn’t until December 11, 1992, 33 years after he escaped from prison, that Kalasansky’s past caught up with him. The revelation shocked his neighbors and wife, who had no idea that he was a wanted fugitive

6Paula Eileen Carroll
34 Years

5- carroll

Photo credit: CBS News

In 1975, 22-year-old Paula Eileen Carroll was sentenced to five years for theft and was sent to the Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, Florida. Forty-seven days into her sentence, Carroll escaped. It’s still unclear how she escaped—she was there when a guard checked the sleeping inmates but was missing an hour later.

Once on the outside, she adopted the name Sharon Edwards and used the social security number of a Sharon Edwards who lived in West Virginia. Carroll settled in Melbourne, Florida, where she met her husband and had three sons. She was involved in her sons’ Boy Scout fundraising and tended to her garden. As the years went on, she became a grandmother.

That was until April 20, 2010, when Carroll was recaptured after 34 years on the lam. She was turned in by an anonymous tipster, who claimed that Carroll wasn’t who she said she was.

She spent 11 months in prison, was released in 2011, and has since re-connected with the family members whom she lost touch with after her prison break.

5Michael Morrow
36 Years

6- morrow

Photo credit: USA Today

As a young man, Michael Morrow was arrested a number of times for robbery and fraud. In 1973, he was given a five-year sentence for two counts of armed robbery. Four years into the sentence, Morrow said that certain people in the prison wanted him dead, so, fearing for his life, the 34-year-old inmate scaled a prison fence at the California Institute for Men in Chino and escaped on August 27, 1977. At some point, he moved to Arkansas and changed his name to Carl Frank Wilson.

In 1984, Morrow was arrested on suspicion of murder and his fingerprints were taken. At the time, databases weren’t as good as they are now, so the police were not aware that Carl Wilson was actually the fugitive Michael Morrow. After he was cleared of the murder charges, he was released.

However, in 2013, those fingerprints came back to haunt Morrow. It’s unclear why, but the police finally matched the fingerprints and realized that Wilson was in fact Morrow. He was arrested on September 24, 2013, and charged with unlawful flight to avoid confinement. Morrow, who was 70 at the time of his arrest, said, “You’ve got me. I’ve been all around expecting this to happen.”

4Donald Johnson
36 Years

7- johnson
In 1966, 22-year-old Donald Johnson was convicted of burglary and sentenced to a term of up to 15 years at Sierra Conservation Camp in Jamestown, California. He only stayed six months before breaking out and making his way to Florida. In 1969, he was arrested again for breaking and entering and given a five-year sentence. Authorities in California were aware that Johnson was serving time in Florida, and they wanted a 60-day notice when he was going to be released. After his term, they would take him back into custody. However, they were never notified and Johnson went back to living his life after serving three and a half months in Florida.

After getting out of prison, he left Florida, went to Arkansas, and got married. He kept his original social security number and name and moved to Tomball, Texas, where he landed a job at a chemical company. Over the next 21 years, he worked himself up the ranks there.

Then, in 2004, after 36 years on the lam, the law caught up with Johnson and found the 60-year-old living with his ailing wife in a motor home. His wife of 28 years, who knew nothing about his escape, was devastated by the news, and Johnson was sent back to California. He served the remainder of his sentence and an extra 18 months for escaping before being released on parole.

3James Robert Jones
37 Years

8- jones
In 1974, James Robert Jones was in the army when he was convicted of killing an 18-year-old soldier and wounding another man. Jones and two friends approached several men looking to buy marijuana, then attacked the men with a knife. The killers were arrested a short time later, and Jones was given a 23-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas.

It’s unclear how Jones escaped from the prison, but in 1977, at the age of 23, Jones managed to get out. By 1981, he was living in Florida, where he was issued a driver’s license under the name Bruce Walter Keith. He married in 1983 and settled into a home in Deerfield Beach, Florida in 1984.

During that time, authorities with the army were still looking for him. Jones was finally tracked down when they used facial recognition software to match an old army photo of Jones to his driver’s license photo.

He was arrested on March 14, 2014. While he was being fingerprinted, he admitted that he was James Robert Jones. After living 37 years on the outside, 59-year-old Jones was sent back to Fort Leavenworth to do the rest of his term, with the possibility of facing more years for escaping.

2Ronald Carnes
41 Years

9- carnes 2

Photo credit: WCF Courier

In November 1970, 25-year-old Ronald Carnes was convicted of robbing a convenience store with a gun. He was given a sentence of up to 20 years, but he escaped after only about three. On the outside, Carnes got two different aliases—William Henry Cox and Louie Vance. Both were the names of five-year-old boys who died in the 1940s.

For years, Carnes lived in Washington state and worked as a deliveryman for a company that processed mail-in rebates for Office Max. He was even put in charge of collecting money for a parking garage that his boss owned. His boss later said that the books were always balanced and Carnes was one of his best workers. His boss also mentioned that Carnes wasn’t very social—he didn’t have many friends or family, although he was engaged for a short time.

In 2013, Carnes moved to Iowa and applied for driver’s licenses for both of his aliases. That turned out to be a mistake. The computer system at the Iowa Department of Transportation picked up the similarities between the pictures. Investigators then went to Carnes’s apartment and found documents that indicated his true identity. He was arrested in April 2014 and charged with misuse of social security numbers because he applied for benefits under both names. However, those charges were dropped and the 69-year-old was sent back to serve his original sentence. He managed to stay free for an astonishing 41 years.

What’s really odd is that, at the time of his escape, Carnes was able to apply for parole, so he’s still able to apply again.

1George Wright
45+ Years

10- wright

Photo credit: The Telegraph

On November 23, 1962, 19-year-old George Wright and three accomplices performed a series of armed robberies in the Ashbury Park area of New Jersey. In one of the robberies, a decorated World War II veteran was killed. Wright and his accomplices were arrested weeks later. In February 1963, he was given 15–30 years and sent to Leesburg State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey.

Seven years into his sentence, Wright and three inmates were able to escape from prison. Due to poor prison security, Wright and his cohorts simply walked out the front gate and stole the warden’s car.

On the outside, they went to Detroit, where Wright and another escapee joined the Black Liberation Army (BLA). As members of the BLA, Wright, dressed as a priest, along with two women and two men, boarded Delta Air Lines Flight 841 heading to Miami. Once on board, Wright pulled a gun from the hollowed-out Bible he was carrying. In Miami, they demanded that the FBI give them $1 million, which they did. Wright and his accomplices then ordered the plane to fly to Boston to refuel, after which they flew to Algeria, where they were given sanctuary.

Due to pressure from the United States, the Algerians confiscated the money and returned it to the American government, but they didn’t turn over the fugitives.

In May 1976, Wright’s accomplices were arrested in Paris because they were carrying fake passports. The United States wanted them to be extradited, but France refused and tried them for the hijacking of the plane. They did five years in a French prison before being released in 1981. Wright remained free.

Over four decades later, using fingerprint technology, the FBI matched Wright’s prints to the identity card of a man named Jose Luis Jorge Dos Santos who was living a short distance from Lisbon, Portugal. Wright was arrested in 2011 after 41 years on the run. However, since he was an official Portuguese citizen at the time of his arrest, the Portuguese government refused to extradite him, and he remains free in Portugal. He wants to write a book or make a film about his life.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian crime-fiction writer. You can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter, or visit his website.

fact checked by Jamie Frater