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Missing for decades: Investigators pursue leads to find Oklahoma escapees

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections employs fugitive investigators who follow up on prison escapes in hopes of tracking down the missing inmates. The searches can last for years or even decades.
BY MATT PATTERSON and TIFFANY GIBSON Staff Writers, Modified: December 11, 2011 at 10:26 am •  Published: December 11, 2011

It can take months, years or even decades to catch an Oklahoma prison escapee. But fugitive investigators never give up on their manhunts.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said investigators review older cases annually, searching for fresh leads.

Jose Garcia and Teddy Ellis represent two types of escapees. Garcia was a nonviolent offender who couldn't handle five years in prison on a drug offense and vanished. Ellis was serving a life term for the robbery and shooting death of a hitchhiker and escaped with four other inmates after serving only four years of his sentence.

Here are their stories:

Jose Lazaro Garcia

Timothy Brown knew something was amiss when he flipped the light switch inside Sweet Leona's Lounge in Oklahoma City and noticed three empty beer bottles on the floor behind the bar.

According to court documents, it was about 1:25 a.m. on June 26, 1972, and Brown was there to clean up the place. He checked the restrooms and found no one inside.

Brown went to the office and found the door ajar and the light on. Someone was standing behind the door, breathing heavily. He kicked it open and confronted Jose Lazaro Garcia, 28.

The intruder was holding something underneath his shirt as if it were a gun, but Brown didn't buy it. He subdued Garcia and called police.

At the time, Garcia had a suspended five-year prison sentence for possession of methadone. His probation was revoked and he was sent to the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite.

And that's where he stayed until Oct. 18, 1973. He was brought to what is now OU Medical Center for treatment and walked away from correctional officers. He has avoided recapture for nearly 40 years.

But his profile remains on the DOC website, listed among other escapees.

If Garcia were caught today, he would be in just as much trouble as he was in 1973, Massie said. "Like everyone on the list he'll stay on until we find out he's dead."

Teddy Lynn Ellis

Ellis has been missing since May 24, 1986, when he and four other inmates escaped from Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy through a storm drainage tunnel. Authorities say the Norman man was involved in a motorcycle gang.

He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in June 1982 in the shooting death of hitchhiker Dale Eugene Spurgin.

Court records show Ellis was 17 at the time of the shooting and was sent to a hospital in Vinita to determine competency. Hospital staff said Ellis didn't need psychiatric care and turned him over to the court.

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