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Oklahoma corrections officials, former escapee, others discuss challenge of keeping convicts locked up

A former prison escapee, warden and state officials discuss Oklahoma escapes over the years and how agencies work together to apprehend inmates.

BY TIFFANY GIBSON and MATT PATTERSON Published: December 11, 2011
/articleid/3631103/1/pictures/1584865">Photo - An inmate sticks his arms through the bars in the F Cellhouse at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
An inmate sticks his arms through the bars in the F Cellhouse at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Local and state law enforcement agencies are notified.

People who live near the prison and who have signed up for escape notifications are informed, usually by telephone.

Interviews are conducted with cellmates, prison friends and in some cases family members of the escapees. The files of the escapees are studied for clues such as what friends or relatives they might go to for help.

Emergency response teams of 15 to 40 members can be deployed quickly.

“These teams are made up of correctional officers who go through our academy and who are CLEET certified,” Massie said. “They’re trained on how to conduct roadblocks.”

U.S. Marshals help

U.S. Marshals also get involved. Hunt said the agency has working agreements with most law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma.

What follows is a whirlwind of activity. Everything about the escapee is explored.

“We examine their criminal history, their manner of escape, whether or not they had inside or outside help. We’re going to find out who might have helped them out,” Hunt said. “It’s a very quick, very intense period of information-gathering.”

Authorities check to learn about any area auto thefts or burglaries.

“Most of the time the escapee has very little on them,” Hunt said. “They’re looking to find resources very quickly, whether that’s breaking into a house to get clothes or stealing a car.”

High-profile escapes

Former Warden Jack Cowley saw his share of escapes in his 26-year Corrections Department career. He was warden at the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite when convicted murderer Randolph Dial escaped with Bobbi Parker, a deputy warden’s wife.

“There’s always escapes,” Cowley said. “They’re all a result of some staff error.”

Dial was sent to prison after turning himself in 10 years after he murdered a karate instructor in 1981.

Cowley said he was in the process of building an industry where inmates worked on pottery. He said he trusted Dial.

“Dial was allowed to work outside of the building in the deputy warden’s house while revamping the pottery program. He was out there making prototypes of what we wanted to do,” he said.

Everything was going according to plan until Dial left the house in a van on Aug. 30, 1994, with Parker. At first, it appeared as if Dial might have kidnapped Parker, but a jury thought otherwise.

Dial died in 2007, and Parker was sentenced to a year in prison Nov. 7 for helping an inmate escape.

“You never really know a hundred percent what people will do,” Cowley said. “When inmates escape, you always put out that they’re dangerous.”

Cowley said he had another high-profile escape on his hands in 1995 when two inmates escaped through a tunnel.

Adam Thomas Wright, 26, and Dale Bruce Wadsworth, 43, escaped by digging a tunnel underneath the old west cell house, he said. The two obtained access to the pipe chases by rigging the locks and were able to dig out of the prison, Cowley said.

Wright was serving two life terms without parole for killing an Anadarko wrecker service operator and his 4-year-old grandson in 1988. Wadsworth was serving a 10-year sentence for forgery in Comanche County.

After receiving a note from a trusted inmate who said they were digging a tunnel, Cowley said he asked staff to see whether it was true. He was told it wasn’t true, and two days later the two escaped.

“I learned later that he (a staff member) actually saw where they were digging,” he said.

The two kidnapped a woman near Elk City, stole her van, raped her and held her baby out of the car window while they were being pursued, Cowley said.

“It was a total disaster,” he said. “It was horrible.”

On Nov. 3, Wright committed suicide and was found hanging in his cell at the penitentiary in McAlester.

Creative attempts

Throughout the years, Cowley said he has seen numerous creative ways inmates will try to escape — attempt to climb over the razor wire, hide in garbage trucks, dress up as officers and hide in laundry carts.

“If a person loses their liberty, we’ve got to assume they’re going to think of a way to get it back,” he said.

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