75 Oregon prisoners on the lam, dating back to 1945

75 Oregon prisoners on the lam, dating back to 1945
Oregon's Most Wanted escaped convicts (clockwise from uppper lefthand corner) Leslie Dawson, Chadwick A. Shores and Eduardo Hernandez.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The prison sergeant decided to do one more count to make sure all 20 inmates at a fire camp were tucked into their sleeping bags.

The inmates had been counted as they stepped onto vans just before midnight, finished with a long day of cooking for firefighters battling the Bland Mountain fire.

After unloading at their camp at the Myrtle Creek Airport, inmates brushed their teeth, set out their laundry and stepped into two tents for the night.

Except Chadwick A. Shores, then 32, who disappeared into the night on Aug. 24, 2004.

He was gone only moments when the sergeant's impromptu check found his empty sleeping bag. The camp stirred back to life, with guards questioning inmates and alerting police. Other guards hunted for the missing prisoner for two hours, moving throughout the camp and then into tall grass and blackberries in surrounding fields.

They never found him.

Shores, convicted in 2003 of burglary and coercion for terrorizing an ex-girlfriend, and two other escapees make up the state Corrections Department's "Most Wanted" list.

Few of those who got out in recent years stayed free for long. He joins Leslie C. Dawson, now 65, who slipped away from a work camp in 1986, and Eduardo N. Hernandez, now 54, who disappeared in 1990 while he was supposed to be feeding cows at a prison dairy outside Salem.

The Corrections Department lists 75 escapees, dating to 1945. That's when Frank V. Terrale walked away from a work gang outside the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. Inmate-218875 would turn 97 next month if still alive.

The trails of all 75, though, are long cold. Prison officials suspect some on the list, such as Terrale, are dead. Only a solid tip or sighting will bring aging and incomplete files back to life.

"We are short-staffed," said Mike Beagen of the agency's Fugitive Apprehension Unit. "We don't have a lot of time to work these cases."

At one time, case files piled up without action because prison officials left it to police to find escapees.

Then in 1992, the Corrections Department formed the fugitive unit just to find escapees — 800 of them. Investigators quickly cut the list in half, establishing that more than 400 were dead or in jail elsewhere.

They whittled away at the remaining list until they ran out of leads. The cold cases aren't forgotten, and prisoners still face arrest on special warrants valid for 100 years.

Such warrants are a relatively new tool, and the fact that one wasn't issued in 1986 may have allowed Dawson to evade capture, according to files released to The Oregonian.

Dawson went to prison in January 1986 for raping two teenage girls. Four months later, he was given a 1989 parole date, but he couldn't wait. That October, he disappeared from a prison work camp outside Tillamook.

Tips flowed to investigators for years. In 1989, an informant reported that Dawson had fled to the Philippines and was serving in the military. The state had no jurisdiction to grab him if true. Two years later, he was spotted outside Los Angeles. The FBI was willing to track him down, but it needed a warrant. None existed, according to the file.

The FBI put out its own "Wanted" poster that included photographs Dawson apparently sent to his parents in 1991. A relative later reported that Dawson was somewhere in Indiana or Illinois.

"Let's get him," one Corrections Department official wrote to an investigator.

But they didn't.

His file shows the most recent tip came last January, when someone thought they spotted Dawson on the Oregon coast. The witness was mistaken.

Authorities have had no trace of Hernandez.

A diver in Cuba before coming to the U.S., he went to prison in 1983 for robbery, taking $36 from a Gresham Circle K.

"I know I am guilty, and I know I will have to pay for what I did," Hernandez told a state counselor.

On the Fourth of July 1985, Hernandez was given a two-day pass to see his wife. He didn't return, and police picked him up a month later.

Despite that escape, Hernandez was assigned to the minimum-security dairy farm east of Salem. Records no longer exist to explain how Hernandez earned the transfer. But on the evening of Nov. 9, 1990, Hernandez disappeared when he was supposed to be feeding cows and cleaning stalls.

Investigators had no clue where he went. His file briefly came alive 10 years after the escape when Florida authorities thought they had Hernandez in a city jail. It proved to be a different Hernandez.

His prison file notes that Hernandez owes the state for the inmate clothing he had on when he fled.

Authorities had better luck tracking Shores, at least for a time.

Within three weeks of his escape in 2004, he was spotted in the Eugene area, where he was living at the time of his conviction.

He showed up at a charity kitchen for a free meal, still wearing his prison garb. He explained to an inquisitive worker that he had just been released and was headed for a job in Junction City. About that time, he paid a tattoo artist extra to change a tattoo after she asked for identification.

Investigators staked out the soup kitchen and a Junction City factory, hoping to catch Shores.

Four years later, prison authorities got word that Shores was hurt in a fight in a homeless camp in Hawaii. Police were told he was going by the name "Sea Shore" and "Anthony," that he had grown his hair long, and often wore a baseball cap backward. In March 2008, Shores' case hit the television show "America's Most Wanted."

Based on tips, Oregon authorities alerted counterparts in Hawaii with information about where and when they could find Shores. Island police didn't react, and "that's the last we heard of Mr. Shores," said Beagen.

Most escapees are caught, sometimes quickly.

Jason L. Magers was the last to try. On a Saturday evening earlier this month, he walked away from the inmate yard at the unfenced Mill Creek Correctional Facility outside Salem.

State police caught him in an adjacent field 30 minutes later.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

 

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.