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Man Convicted in 4 Murders Escapes

August 3, 1999

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Police in central Pennsylvania were looking today for an escaped murderer whose killings of four teen-agers in a rural crime ring were the subject of the 1986 film ``At Close Range.″

Norman Johnston, 48, opened the window of his cell, sneaked across a grassy yard and wriggled through a fence of a maximum-security prison sometime after 1 a.m. Monday, officials said.

Police reported the escape nine hours later, after workers at the State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon noticed the fence was loose and Johnston’s cell window broken open, prison spokeswoman Diana Baney said.

The section of yard Johnston crossed was in a blind spot and could not be seen from any of the four guard towers on the prison grounds, she said.

The prison’s 1,833 inmates were confined to their cells Monday, but that lockdown was lifted today, Baney said. The last escape there was in July 1993.

Johnston, from southeastern Pennsylvania, was convicted in March 1980 of killing four teen-age boys in 1987 to cover up a multimillion-dollar burglary ring he ran with his two brothers. The ring also operated in Delaware and Maryland, police said. The four teen-agers gave the Johnstons stolen car parts to re-sell.

Johnston had been held at the prison since April 1987. He was serving a life sentence for one of the murders and would have had to serve life sentences for the other three if the first was ever overturned, Baney said. His brothers also are serving life sentences.

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