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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 mpatterson@opubco.com, tgibson@opubco.com Modified: December 11, 2011 at 10:26 am •  Published: December 11, 2011

Witness Andrew Porter, 19 at the time, testified he picked up Spurgin, 27, in Oklahoma City on June 19, 1982. He said Ellis was in the car with him and Spurgin had offered to buy them beer if they would take him to Lake Thunderbird.

Porter said they went to the lake and drove around for half an hour, drinking. He said his friend Johnny was with them and had a gun. Spurgin also had a firearm, and Porter said they all took turns firing the guns. Later, they went to the Little River Bridge on the Harrah and Newalla Road.

Porter told authorities Ellis said," Going to rob this guy. Is anyone going to stop me?"

Spurgin told Ellis "not to kid around" and made a move for the pistol, Porter testified. Ellis then shot Spurgin in the chest and told him to walk toward the vehicle's trunk, Porter said.

According to court documents, Porter's friend said he heard Ellis tell Spurgin to jump off the bridge and when he leaned forward, Ellis shot the hitchhiker in the ear. Spurgin's body was dumped in the river and $20 stolen from his wallet, Porter testified.

Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Ellis on June 27, 1982. He pleaded guilty that September and was sentenced to life in prison.

Search continues

Deputy U.S. Marshal Chad Hunt said finding escapees like Garcia and Ellis becomes harder over time. Garcia would be 68 today and may have returned to Mexico. Ellis would be 47.

Officials have received information Ellis might be dead but have not been able to confirm it, so the search continues.

"From a technological standpoint we have advantages now that we didn't have 10 or 20 years ago," Hunt said. "But when we start looking for people that go that far back often any reports that were generated at the time of their arrest are sitting in some warehouse."

Even finding people who know the escapee can be difficult as time passes.

"We have to treat finding their family and friends a little like looking for the fugitive themselves because they might have moved," Hunt said. "We have to sometimes interview retired law enforcement officials. That's not to say it's impossible. We do things like that all the time, but it definitely makes it more challenging."


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