The following articles were found on the front page of the June 20, 2000, Lowell Tribune:
Escaped Convicts Had Nothing To Lose
The two Mississippi convicts who escaped a maximun security prison and led Northwest Indiana law enforcement on a stressful chase last week had nothing to lose in their bid for freedom, according to their history.
John Woolard, 37, and Roy R. Harper, 42, both have long records of criminal activity and incarceration, and both were unlikely to ever see the outside of prison walls unless they escaped.
Woolard had been serving two life sentences plus five years for murder and kidnapping at the time of his May 28 escape, while Harper was serving two consecutive 44-year sentences for armed robbery with no chance of parole. Both men were reportedly also wanted in other states had they ever been considered for release from their Parchman, Mississippi cells.
Woolard's incarceration in Mississippi followed his earlier escape from a Florida prison. It was during that escape that he shot and killed a park ranger and took another person hostage, earning him the double life sentence.
" We knew these guys had 'survivalist' knowledge and could still be in the area," said an Indiana State Police officer. "They didn't plan to be taken alive."
After their escape in late May, having used a cutting tool of some kind to remove a plate in the wall of their cells and sneaking past a guard tower and cutting their way through a double stretch of razor-tipped chain-link fence, the duo disappeared into a Mississippi Delta pecan orchard. They had a 12-hour head start on authorities, who did not discover they had bunched their bed linens to make it appear they were sleeping until about 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.
That same day, they allegedly broke into a Webb, Mississippi, home and surprised an elderly couple, Robert and Lanelle Abbey, who were returning home from church. They tied up the couple, who were found dehydrated on the floor by a delivery person two days later, and escaped with 11 firearms, ammunition, about $100 and the couple's Chevrolet Caprice.
Heading into Charleston, West Virginia, they put stolen Kentucky license plates on the car and later confronted a Lebanon, Indiana salesman, Bruce Prise, 56, as he was entering his motel room, They stole his 1989, brown Ford van at gunpoint, but did not injure Prise, and apparently headed north.
Police believe the duo spent some time in Indianapolis, judging from some store receipts found in the van along with a number of photographs, a camera, prison garb and other items that are being analyzed.
They attempted to disguise the brown van with blue spray paint, said local authorities, and it was that van they were driving about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 14, when Lake County Sheriff's Police Officer Raymond Corman, 31, stopped them for speeding while on routine radar patrol.
Parked in the median of I-65, Corman clocked the southbound van at 75 mph in a 55 mph zone at 113th avenue and pulled the vehicle over.
As he approached, his training led him to stop just at the door handle at the driver's side door, and he saw a hand wrapped around a double-barreled shotgun.
As the suspect, believed to be Woolard, fired, Corman ducked down and slipped on loose gravel, hearing the concussion of the bullet and feeling the heat. He emptied all eight shots from his revolver into the van as it sped off, and believes that kept the suspects from sticking around "to finish me off."
Corman quickly called for back-up, not knowing who the suspects were, and chased them to the U.S. 231 Crown Point/Hebron exit, where they suddenly veered off and headed east toward Hebron.
After apparently becoming stuck in a ditch, they began backing up toward Corman, who did the same after retrieving his back-up weapon, another handgun, from the trunk of the patrol car he had borrowed after taking his police vehicle in for maintenance work earlier.
Meanwhile, the passenger in the van, allegedly Harper, shot out the rear window and continued firing a shotgun at Corman's car.
The van re-entered I-65 southbound, but another officer responding to the pursuit threw several Stop Sticks onto the highway and they blew out both driver's side tires of the van. The van then exited at State Road 2 and turned east, quickly veering into the Petro Mart Truck Stop on the south side of the road.
Pursued by a number of police cars and cornered, the suspects drove around the restaurant/store building and stopped in front of a number of parked semi-trailer trucks, where they again fired at police.
Mindful of innocent bystanders and wary of who else might be in the van, police tried to wait out the suspects, but after several minutes found they had slipped out of the van and taken off between the trucks into a cornfield south of the parking lot.
That's when police called for helicopters, more officers, and blocked out an area bounded by Mississippi St. on the west and Clay Street on the east to search.
They searched farmhouses, barns and outbuildings for about 12 hours, said Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, before exhausting all leads and suspending their search until the next day.
Meanwhile, the FBI and other agencies moved in and continued working the case, as reports came in of sightings in downtown Lowell and at a Hebron supermarket.
None of those leads panned out, and the fugitives were not heard from again until Thursday evening, when they were discovered by a homeowner in his shed at 141st and Grant St. (Nine-Mile Stretch) at about 7:30 p.m.
The two fugitives were armed but did not fire at Mike Demik or his friend Bill Barclay of DeMotte, who had gone to the shed looking for flower pots.
As Demik and Barclay ran in different directions, Woolard and Harper jumped into Barclay's conversion van and took off, eluding police who arrived on the scene within minutes to search the area and moved their target area north into Crown Point and Cedar Lake.
Two Fugitives Captured After Two-Day Manhunt
Local Police Key To Peaceful End To Chase
After two days of intensive searching throughout south Lake and Porter counties by over 200 law enforcement officers, including the FBI and the Indiana State Police, it was local police who were instrumental in the capture of Mississippi fugitives Roy Harper and John Woolard last Friday morning, June 16.
The two men, who escaped from a maximum security state prison in Parchman, Mississippi, on May 28, were apprehended separately on Friday, one in St. John and the other in rural Lowell.
Both were immediately charged with two counts of attempred murder, two counts of attempted battery and resisting law enforcement, said the Lake County Prosecutor's Office, with additional charges pending. They were jailed separately in solitary confinement cells at the Lake County Jail, under 24-hour surveillance. In addition, due to comments he made to police, Harper is being kept under a suicide watch.
At initial hearings held separately for the men several hours after their capture, 'not guilty' pleas were routinely entered by Lake Superior Court Magistrate Kathleen Sullivan, who appointed public defender Karen Coulis to represent Harper and public defender Rich Wolter to represent Woolard.
Bond has been denied for both men, added Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, who vowed to handle their prosecution personally.
The drama came to a close Friday after the two men were spotted walking northbound along the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks just south of Joliet St., east of U.S. 41.
St. John Police Officer Steve Rudzinski first saw them walking, but wasn't sure of their identity, as he left an industrial park where he had been checking businesses on the off chance the fugitives were nearby in the van they had stolen in rural Crown Point on Thursday night. He radioed his shift partner, Officer James Turturillo, who was also in the industrial park, and Turturillo circled back and caught sight of the pair as they emerged from a wooded area at about 7 a.m.
"We searched, but couldn't (immediately) see anything," said Turturillo, who then headed for a nearby Super Wash car wash to check for the suspects as Rudzinski called for back-up.
"They came out of the woods and were just nonchalantly walking towards me. They saw me," stated Turturillo, who got out of his car but used his training to hold open the door as a partial shield.
"Woolard had a dark green sweatshirt on and had the hood up, so I couldn't see him very well, but I saw Harper and I thought, 'It could be him,'" continued Turturillo.
The officer spoke to the men while observing them. "I said, 'Hey fellas, what's going on?' and when I looked down, I saw they had clothing tied around their feet and no shoes, and I knew it was probably them. They were carrying clothing and other stuff."
Turturillo trained his gun on the duo and ordered them to drop their baggage and put their hands up, then told the men, just a few feet away now, to put their hands on the hood of his patrol car.
"Harper put his hands on the left fender, and Woolard on the hood, but then Woolard looked Harper right in the eye and said, 'I'm running.' I stayed with Harper (as Woolard took off) and called in and gave a description.
"Harper's right hand started to move as Woolard took off, and I said to him that if he moved, I'd drop him right there, and I asked him if he understood me. He said 'Yes sir' and stayed still," added Turturillo.
"They tried to distract me . . . they wanted me to go after Woolard, and then Harper would have shot me," Turturillo surmised. "But I was not even sure it was Woolard, what if it had been another accomplice they picked up who hadn't done anything serious? My training told me to stay with Harper, and I was lucky."
Once he searched Harper, Turturillo found a pistol tucked in the suspect's front waistband, under his sweatshirt and out of sight.
"Everything worked out, and no one was hurt, thank God," added Turturillo, who quickly became the object of attention while working the rest of his 12-hour shift Friday and regular shifts again Saturday and Sunday.
"I think we've each gotten about 12 hours of sleep since Thursday," said Turturillo's wife, Marcia, who got a quick call from her husband Friday to assure her he was safe. "I was really worried, so I'm relieved it's over. Jim doesn't think of himself as a hero, just a police officer doing his job."
After Woolard left Turturillo, he headed straight for the nearby Super Wash and accosted retired Lake County police officer Donald Kasper, a St. John resident who was washing his van. Woolard demanded Kasper's keys, and once he realized what was happening, Kasper told the stranger that they were in the vehicle.
Woolard got in and drove off in the van with the rear gate open, and Kasper was concerned because his possessions were falling out as the vehicle sped away.
As Woolard headed south on U.S. 41, another local police officer, Patrolman Richard Neal of the Lowell Police Department, had heard the radio call and was heading north to lend assistance.
He saw a vehicle matching the description given heading in the opposite direction with the rear gate swinging open, and turned around to give chase. That caused Woolard to turn west onto 181st Avenue and then north on rural White Oak Avenue in West Creek Township, where he abandoned Kasper's van and fled on foot into the nearby woods.
"Officer Neal probably stopped Woolard from leaving the area, so he was a key to the capture," offered Turturillo, a former Lowell reserve officer who joined the Cedar Lake Police Department before heading north to St. John several years ago.
Lowell Police Chief David Wilson said Neal does deserve credit for his keen eye and quick pursuit, which probably boxed Woolard in before he could elude authorities again by disappearing onto rural roads.
Once law enforcement learned Woolard's approximate location, they set up a perimeter around 181st Avenue, White Oak and the surrounding area, evacuating about 35 homes and detaining other residents in their rural homes.
A water bottle and a sponge that could have been tied to his foot were found near an outdoor faucet at the John Wein residence on 181st Avenue during a search, and there was speculation Woolard had been filling the bottle from the spigot alongside the garage but was startled when Wein opened the garage door from within the house early Friday. "Police think he took off north into the woods behind the house, and that's where they caught him," said Wein, who was taken with his wife, Marie, by police wagon to nearby Lake Prairie Elementary School to wait out the search.
"The police did a very thorough job of searching the house and grounds, but it was frightening," added Marie Wein.
Helicopters and tactical officers in heavy body armor searched the woods and homes for about two hours before rookie Indiana State Police Trooper Mark Overpeck, waiting at the edge of the woods in a backyard, saw "a shade of green not consistent with the grass," he said, and then noticed the green color was on a shirt worn by someone lying on their back in the tall grass. "He looked at me and I said, 'Show me your hands,'" recalled Overpeck, on duty since completing training last March, at a press conference Friday afternoon.
Overpeck called over fellow Trooper Jeff Cooper, keeping his gun trained on the prone suspect, and Cooper came over to handcuff Woolard.
Overpeck said Woolard repeated, "I give up, I give up, I'm tired of this" as he was quietly led away to a waiting police car. He had mud smeared on his face as camouflage and had cuts and bruises from his ordeal, and reportedly also had remnants of wheat stalks in his pocket, having apparently gotten hungry enough to chew on the raw grain for nourishment.
"I want to say that the cooperation exhibited here over the past 54 hours . . . it's just amazing how they worked together, from local to state to federal agencies," said Lake County Sheriff John Buncich on Friday afternoon. "Law enforcement was on a mission on this . . . one of our own was fired upon, they attempted to kill one of ours and some officers went without sleep for 24 hours during the hunt."
Robert Reilley, the FBI agent-in-charge of the Indianapolis office echoed Buncich, saying he believes one of the reasons Harper and Woolard remained in the area for over two days was because of the concerted efforts of law enforcement, the media and the public to keep the pressure on the fugitives. "That led to a successful effort to apprehend them," he noted.
This June 27, 2000, Lowell Tribune article was found on page 1:
Local Police Officers In The Limelight
"Just doing their job" was the way local police officers responded this month after their efforts led to the capture of two 'armed and dangerous' Mississippi prison escapees, but that's not the way their communities saw it.
St. John Police Officer James Turturillo, along with fellow officers Sgt. Mike Fryzel and Officer Steve Rudzinski, were publicly honored last week by the St. John Town Council, who presented them with letters of commendation for their discovery and apprehension of fugitive Roy Harper after a two-day manhunt throughout south Lake County.
With "extreme pride and gratitude," said Town Council President Kathy Willman, the St. John officers were recognized for their "alertness, efficiency and tenacity," leading to the arrests of Harper, and later John Woolard.
The situation "could have led to the loss of lives," noted Willman, "but two criminals were arrested and no one was injured."
Turturillo, who accosted both fugitives as they emerged from a wooded area that Rudzinski chased them into on the east side of U.S. 41 south of 93rd Avenue, had plenty of family members on hand to share in his finest moment.
"His uncle Tony Turturillo from Florida, who Jim hasn't seen in 30 years, called and asked if he could come," said Officer Turturillo's wife, Marcia, who hosted a cake and coffee reception for her husband at Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church after the Town Council tribute. "He was visiting his son in the area, saw all the reports in the news, and here he is."
While Rudzinski, who was out of town and missed the Town Council meeting, was the first to spot Harper and Woolard about 7 a.m. June 16, Turturillo ended up with his gun trained on the duo after Rudzinski radioed Turturillo and warned the two men were headed south along the railroad tracks.
As the duo walked up to Turturillo's patrol car, which he parked at the south end of the wooded area near a lumberyard, he ordered them to put their hands on his car, while he trained his gun on them, which both did.
But when Woolard took off running, in an apparent attempt to distract Turturillo and give Harper a chance to draw his concealed gun on the police officer, the St. John officer did not flinch.
"My training got me through it, I did what I had learned to do, and I stayed focused on Harper, and told him not to move," said Turturillo, a former accountant who learned his law enforcement moves as a reserve officer with the Lowell Police Department, where he was trained in Defensive Tactics by Officer Shane Tucker, also on hand last Wednesday evening to congratulate Turturillo.
Once Turturillo radioed for back-up, he also let the police dispatcher know that Woolard had carjacked a van from a nearby car wash and headed south on U.S. 41.
Frysel, off-duty but just a block away in his squad, quickly joined Turturillo and secured Harper while Turturillo kept his gun pointed at the prison escapee.
"Then I went over to Don Kasper, the retired police officer whose van had just been taken by Woolard, and made sure he was all right," said Fryzel.
Meanwhile, Lowell Police Officer Richard Neal learned of the sighting of the two fugitives and headed west on State Road 2 to U.S. 41, where he first set up at the intersection before deciding to head north to make sure the escaping Woolard did not turn off onto a side road.
He soon saw a purple minivan meeting the description of Kasper's vehicle heading south, with the tailgate swinging open, as reported. As Woolard spotted Neal and speeded up, the Lowell officer turned around and gave chase, forcing Woolard to turn onto 181st Avenue and flee on foot into the woods, where he was captured after two hours later.
When Neal had the Lowell radio dispatcher phone his wife, Heather, who works as a typesetter at Pilcher Publishing Co., to let her know he was safe, she didn't even know he had been involved in the pursuit. "I asked 'Why wouldn't he be safe?'" she recalled.
The Lowell Town Council, proud of their entire department's participation in the capture, honored the personnel by name with a letter of commendation for their files, and presented Neal with a plaque that honors him for "exemplary performance of duty" that led to the safe "apprehension of a dangerous fugitive."