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Town Tires of Living in Fear as Search for Fugitive Drags On

September 26, 1986

WRIGHT CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Residents of this farm town were growing increasingly tense and angry Thursday knowing that a mentally ill man suspected in three slayings might still be in their midst after eluding a three-day dragnet.

Almost everyone had a gun, and didn’t hide it. Frightened families huddled behind locked doors, fearing the suspect might show up on their doorstep. Armed FBI agents rode school buses to protect children who hadn’t been kept home. Freight trains rolled slowly by officers hugging shotguns. Civic and social meetings were canceled. Business was slow except at shops selling groceries and ammunition.

Life has not been good in Wright City since Michael Wayne Jackson arrived Monday night in a stolen car and a blaze of gunfire.

″How can one man come in here and disrupt so many people’s lives?″ Karen Girondo asked. ″We used to be a friendly, quiet little town. We’ll be glad when it’s that way again.″

About 100 officers on Thursday swarmed the community and countryside, believing Jackson remained either holed up someplace that had a source of food or lay wounded and immobilized somewhere in a field or woods.

″We think he is out there, and we’re after him in full force,″ said Hal Helterhoff, FBI agent in charge of the St. Louis office. Authorities, however, said they had no solid leads on Jackson’s whereabouts.

″Tomorrow we will do very much what we did today,″ Helterhoff said at the end of Thursday’s search. ″We are committed to that.″

Jackson was last seen fleeing a stolen Cadillac on Monday night just minutes after he exchanged gunfire with two Wright City police officers. Authorities said Wednesday that they found blood in the car and were unable to find some of the bullets that hit the vehicle, leading them to believe Jackson was wounded.

Jackson, 41, is a suspect in three slayings that occurred Monday, two in Indiana and one in Missouri. He allegedly abducted five people and commandeered several vehicles while making his way from Indianapolis to Wright City, about 45 miles west of St. Louis. He’s also believed to have committed two robberies, armed with a sawed-off shotgun.

He has a history of drug abuse and mental problems and a long record. He lived like a hermit in a three-story dilapidated house that had been vacant for many years, his neighbors in Indianapolis said.

An older sister of Jackson’s, Oneita Ward, said her brother was ″a living dead person.″ She said he had gotten worse in recent weeks and relatives had warned authorities that he needed to be put in an insitution. On Wednesday, Jackson’s mother went on television in Columbus, Miss., to plead that he surrender.

Meanwhile, an entire town in Missouri has lived in fear since learning that Jackson had fled into the darkness.

″You never know when this guy might show up, and it’s making a lot of people, including me, pretty nervous,″ said Mayor Roland Springmeier. ″Since I’ve been mayor, I’ve been trying to improve the image of our town. We’re certainly on the map now, but it’s not the way I would have wanted to do it.″

Betty Zoeller runs a flower shop, and is sending the family dog along with people making her deliveries.

″Yesterday a fellow came in and I kind of watched him,″ said Mrs. Zoeller, 55. ″You’re suspicious of everyone. That’s not the way we usually are around here.″

Corwin Ruge, vice president of Farmers and Merchants Bank, said he’s not all that surprised something like this happened to his town. He’s been concerned for some time because Interstate 70 is nearby.

But in spite of the nightmare that gripped his town, Ruge saw a bright spot as he looked out a window of the bank and saw dozens of marked and unmarked police vehicles outside the command post for the manhunt.

″I think it’s made this bank the safest in the country, probably in the world,″ he said.

Meanwhile, services were held Thursday for Earl Finn, the O’Fallon, Mo., man who police say was shot and killed by Jackson while driving his car on Interstate 70 in north St. Louis County.

Police speculate that Jackson may have mistaken Finn’s 1984 silver-gray Ford LTD for an unmarked police car as Jackson was fleeing on the highway in a stolen car Monday night.

At first, police believed that the 47-year-old Finn was killed when his car struck a light pole. But an autopsy showed that his head wound was from a shotgun blast.

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