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Prisoners Elude Police by Not Following Normal Patterns

November 11, 1985

HIGHLAND LAKE, Ala. (AP) _ Two escaped prisoners who held a pair of town officials hostage for 20 hours eluded a nationwide police alert Monday and surprised investigators by doing the unexpected, authorities said.

Blount County Sheriff J.C. Carr said the escapees suprised him when they kept their hostages nearly a day without contacting authorities and without harming the officials.

″It went on so long,″ he said, ″I expected someone would find their bodies in a week in the woods.″

The inmates did take their hostages to the woods, but tied them to a tree and left, the hostages said.

The sheriff said he also expected the inmates to abandon their stolen car after releasing the hostages, but said ″we have no reports of it.″

A manhunt was called off after the hostages were freed Saturday near Phenix City, on the Georgia border in south-central Alabama, 130 miles southeast of Highland Lake.

Carr said he believed the inmates were still headed south, and police in southeast Alabama, south Georgia and the Florida Panhandle had been notified to be on the lookout for their 1978 blue Ford LTD. A nationwide bulletin also was issued for the car, he said.

Timothy Mark Townsend, 25, and Newburn Ray Wilson, 37, escaped at 3 p.m. Friday from an unguarded, four-member prison work crew at the Highland Lake town hall, authorities said.

Frank Lucas, the town’s maintenance supervisor and former mayor, said the two grabbed butcher knives from the town hall’s kitchen and took him hostage. When Town Clerk Harriet Cornelius walked in, they took her hostage, he said.

The inmates took Cornelius’ Ford and forced the hostages to take a 20-hour drive along the back roads of Alabama and Georgia before tying them to a tree and abandoning, he said.

Lucas, a 46-year-old Navy veteran who has had four heart attacks and wears a pacemaker, said the inmates repeatedly threatened to kill him and Mrs. Cornelius, 48.

Prison system spokeswoman Debbie Herbert said Townsend was serving a 10- year sentence for burglary, and Wilson a 65-year term for two robbery convictions. Both men were assigned to the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Odenville, 15 miles south of Highland Lake.

Wilson’s escape was his third, authorities said. In 1976, he failed to return after being granted a three-day pass from Fountain Correctional Center near Atmore, and in 1977, he left an unsupervised work detail in Montgomery, Mrs. Herbert said.

Some of Lucas’ relatives have criticized prison officials for allowing Wilson to participate in an unguarded work because of his escapes. Lucas, however, defended the prison system’s inmate work program.

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