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The bizarre story of Richard Lee McNair, the man who escaped by mailing himself out of prison

We’ve all read stories about the most bizarre ways people have escaped from prison. Be it bulldozers, make-believe shopping trips, or a terrifying amount of laxatives, several inmates have previously tried to Shawshank Redemption their way out of jail at least once during their sentence. In the case of convicted murderer Richard Lee McNair, however, his extraordinary list of prison escapes has made him more notorious than the actual crimes that incarcerated him.

It all began back in 1987 at the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota when a robbery gone wrong saw McNair shoot and kill a man and injure a second. After the police brought McNair in for questioning, he was seated in a room with three detectives, handcuffed to a chair. It was at this moment that the to-be convict had his first brush with getaways.

Managing to get ahold of a detective’s lip balm, McNair lubricated his hands enough so that he could slip out of the handcuffs when the officials left him alone. Although the escape resulted in a foot chase around the town, the man was quickly cornered into a building where he reportedly jumped from the third floor, landed on the ground, and injured his back—making it much easier for the cops to detain him.

McNair was then given two life sentences for murder and attempted murder, on top of a 30-year sentence for burglary. But this was just a warm-up session for the inmate, whose prison break attempts grew more daring over time.

In October 1992, McNair was held at the North Dakota State Penitentiary when, along with two fellow convicts, he pulled an Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption and slipped out through a ventilation duct. While the other two men were nabbed quickly, McNair was recaptured in Nebraska over nine months later in July 1993 and shipped to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Oak Park—a Level 5 prison that no one has ever managed to escape from.

After a number of years at the facility and the realisation that he would not be able to jump the secure cell, McNair participated in a sit-down strike that witnessed his return to North Dakota and his later transfer to the Florence High Penitentiary in Denver, Colorado—before being moved again to a maximum-security federal prison in Louisiana.

Here, McNair’s job was to repair torn mailbags so that they could be shipped out to post offices for use. After months of plotting yet another escape plan, the inmate jumped prison for the third time on 5 April 2006 after hiding in an “escape pod” he DIY-ed out of the materials available to him—complete with a breathing tube. Buried under a pile of mailbags, McNair’s pallet was shrink-wrapped and forklifted to a nearby warehouse outside of the prison fence. When the staff left for lunch, the escape artist merely cut himself out of the pallet and walked free.

“He is about the smartest person I’ve ever met,” McNair’s brother once said, adding, “He was a good guy that I always admired—until he made bad choices.” What McNair didn’t know at the time was that perhaps the most astounding part of his getaway was yet to come.

Hours after his prison break, a cop saw McNair jogging on a railroad track near Ball, Louisiana. Briefed about an escape nearby, the officer halted and questioned him about his whereabouts. Despite not having any identification on him and matching the description of the escapee that the officer had received before stopping the inmate, McNair still managed to talk his way out of the confrontation. He convinced the officer his name was “Robert Jones” and that he was just a man in town to help with a post-Katrina roofing project. When he slipped and said his name was “Jimmy Jones” five minutes later, the officer didn’t notice the change in his alibi.

“You know the bad thing about it, you’re matching up to him,” the cop said, referring to the description of the escapee. “Well, that sucks, doesn’t it?” McNair replied. The officer then advised him to carry some ID next time and the two shared a laugh before McNair jogged on to freedom. What’s more is that the officer’s dashboard camera captured the entire exchange:

McNair went on to use a number of fake names during the year and a half that he was free and even went as far as to send Christmas cards to the jail he was supposed to be locked up in. However, he was later recaptured on 24 October 2007, 100 miles north of the border in Campbellton, New Brunswick.

Today, the 63-year-old resides in a concrete cell at the super-maximum security prison ADX Florence, which also houses notorious criminals like the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and “Shoe Bomber” Richard Reid. He has also described his new home as the “most secure section of the most secure prison in the world.”

Caught in the act: 15 serial killers who were captured in the most ridiculous ways

Serial killers are a subject of gruesome interest for many people around the world, with numerous popular documentaries focused on detailing some of the worst the world has ever seen. More often than not however, our interest in their spine-chilling behaviour diminishes just before they get caught, when they get messy. Notorious for being hard to track down, these sly individuals will go to any length to avoid capture—but that can also lead to their downfall in the most bizarre and hilarious ways.

So grab some popcorn, dim the lights and get comfortable as we list off the 15 funniest ways that serial killers have been caught.

15. The BTK killer: technical difficulties strike again

Dennis Lynn Rader—known as the BTK killer—was an American serial killer active between 1974 and 1991 who murdered ten people in Wichita and Park City, Kansas. He would send gruesome letters to the police and newspapers detailing the horrific nature of his crimes. Towards the end of his reign of terror, Rader started to send care packages to the police, but quickly realised this was an inefficient means of contact. This is where his cockiness got the better of him. He asked the police if floppy disks could be traced and, naturally, the police told him with a big wink that they were completely safe. They then proceeded to track the disk to where it was last used—Rader’s church, under an account with his own name. Tough luck, buddy.

14. The Grim Sleeper: too much pizza is bad for your health

Terrorising Los Angeles between 1984 and 2007, the Grim Sleeper—real name Lonnie David Franklin Jr—killed over ten people and was responsible for one attempted murder. He got his nickname after taking a 14-year break from killing between 1988 and 2002. Police had the DNA of the killer but couldn’t trace it to anyone until 2008 when a young man was arrested on weapons charges. When he was entered into the database, it just so happened that he was a relative of the mysterious murderer they so desperately needed to catch. Thanks to a slice of pizza found in a rubbish bin, police were able to narrow down their search to the boy’s father, the real Grim Sleeper. See what happens when you sleep on the job?

13. Golden State Killer: a DNA disaster

Another serial killer, another DNA debacle. Joseph James DeAngelo Jr—-known as the Golden State Killer—commited 13 murders, 50 rapes and over 120 burglaries across California between 1974 and 1986. His nickname was coined by crime writer Michelle McNamara who heightened awareness of the case in 2013 through her book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. Investigators eventually traced DeAngelo Jr after decades of dead ends when they decided to check through genealogy websites and found a member of DeAngelo Jr’s family. Naturally, this led to the capture of the Golden State Killer. That’ll teach you to not post everything about yourself online, eh?

12. The Night Stalker: vigilante grandmas

https://twitter.com/navthjz/status/1520827367387762689

Imagine thinking you were the cream of the crop of serial killers, having gotten away with countless cases of murder—among many other horrific crimes—only to be outed by a group of grannies.

Well, that’s what happened to Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker. Ramirez was out of town when he was initially identified. When the prolific serial killer entered a convenience store, a group of elderly ladies pointed at him and began shouting ‘El Matador’. Ramirez noticed his face on the front of a newspaper and immediately tried to flee, only to be followed by the angry pensioners. This chase picked up momentum as more and more furious locals joined in, and by the time the police showed up many were giving him the beating he deserved. Talk about a citizen’s arrest!

11. The Son of Sam: the blue meanies strike again

We’ve all been there. You park up and pop to the shop just to get some milk and by the time you’ve come back, boom, you’ve got a parking ticket. Leaves you frustrated, right? Not as frustrated as the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz. The killer who pleaded guilty to eight shootings was caught when, during one of his murders, a witness heard the gunshot and then saw Berkowitz holding the gun. He fled in his Ford Galaxie and it could have ended there, however the witness recalled seeing a parking ticket on the Son of Sam’s car. Police checked their record, found the offending car—and its owner—and promptly arrested Berkowitz. For once, a parking ticket came in handy.

10. The Night Caller: eh, what’s up doc?

Remember those old Looney Tunes cartoons you watched as a kid? Bugs Bunny would always outfox Elmer Fudd’s plans to catch him and it would leave us all in stitches. Now imagine Elmer Fudd is Eric Edgar Cooke—the Night Caller—and the police are Bugs Bunny. You can see where this is going. In 1963, Perth, Western Australia, police found a rifle discarded in a bush which they were certain belonged to Cooke. They replaced it with a replica, tied a nearly invisible fishing line to it and waited in a makeshift hide for him to come back and retrieve it. 17 days later, Cooke appeared and was arrested. That’s all, folks.

9. Ted Bundy: dude, where’s my car?

Remember back in 2019 when Netflix released its documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and everyone decided that he was attractive? Yeah, what a weird time to be alive. Turns out that the smooth-talking serial killer wasn’t as smart as he liked to think. After escaping prison for the upteenth time, Bundy stole a car and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was over before it had even begun. A police officer noticed the car being driven erratically and ran the plates, discovered it was stolen and pulled Bundy over. The crafty criminal continued to try it on by giving the officer a fake ID and for two days they thought they had someone completely different before Bundy pulled a Scooby-Doo and revealed his true identity.

8. Jeffery Dahmer: midnight snacks bite back

Everyone knows the name Jeffery Dahmer. If not because of his notoriety as a serial killer and cannibal, then at least from the popular Ke$ha song. It seems however that Dahmer bit off more than he could chew with his last would-be victim, Tracy Edwards. Edwards somehow managed to get in Dahmer’s good books as the two spent a rather peculiar night in the cannibal’s apartment watching The Exorcist III with Edwards handcuffed so as not to try anything funny. But try something funny he did as when asking if he could use the bathroom, Dahmer agreed and removed the handcuffs. Edwards took this smallest of opportunities to give the Milwaukee Cannibal a hefty whack and fled the apartment through the unlocked front door.

7. Albert Fish: you’ve got mail!

We’re taking a trip back to the 1920s with this one. Albert Fish was a prolific child murderer of the time who commited a minimum of three murders, but was suspected of many more. Fish felt unstoppable, which is probably why he got cocky and decided to send an anonymous letter to his last victim’s parents, describing in gory detail what he had done to her. This letter is what would lead police straight to him. The envelope Fish had used was that of a private chauffeur company. A janitor who worked for the company and lived in the rooms prior to Fish had taken some stationary home and left it in the residence when he had moved. Upon following the lead, police found Fish had checked out days before, but a trap was set, Fish was lured back, and police arrested him. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

6. The Co-ed Killer: you’re joking, right?

With all the controversy surrounding police at the moment, not many of us want to talk to them, let alone be friends with them. But Ed Kemper had other ideas. The Co-ed Killer took the old saying “keep your friends close but your enemies closer” a little too seriously it seems. He hung out in bars frequented by police and became so friendly with them they even gave him his own nickname, ‘Big Ed’. His ruse was so convincing that even after confessing to being the Co-ed Killer, his police chums thought it was all just a big prank. It wasn’t until he divulged information that only the killer would know that they believed him and took him in. A true member of the Prank Patrol.

5. Dennis Nilsen: honey, get the plunger!

Everyone knows you should only flush bog roll down the toilet. Dennis Nilsen, however, didn’t get the memo. Convicted of 15 murders, residents of the apartment block he lived in, and even Nilsen himself, filed complaints of clogged and stinky drains. It seems Nilsen had forgotten about all the body parts he had flushed down there…

4. Geovanni Borjas: spit, don’t swallow

Good manners cost nothing. But it appears Geovanni Borjas couldn’t afford them. Police were sure he was linked to some cold case murders they were looking into but needed his DNA to confirm it. So they just followed him around until he spat on the pavement and collected the evidence. Case closed.

3. Danueal Drayton: swipe left, swipe right

With the invention of dating apps, it’s become easier than ever for serial killers to select their victims. It does however leave you with a rather big digital trail as Drayton found out when he was arrested for holding women he had met on a dating site captive. Police soon connected him to a whole host of other victims, not a difficult feat mind you, as they were all in his Tinder history. Swipe game weak.

2. Israel Keyes: your card has been declined

Credit card fraud has devastating consequences for the people being defrauded, but little did Israel Keyes know that using his last victim’s card—at a public ATM no less—would grant him a one way ticket to the slammer. CCTV footage, common at most ATMs, helped identify the killer. Card declined.

1. The Manson Family: herbie fully loaded

We all know Herbie, the lovable sentient Volkswagen (VW) beetle. But when Charles Manson and some of his ‘family’—they weren’t real family, just crazy followers in his cult—were arrested for a spate of VW beetle thefts which they planned to convert into dune buggies (what is this, Mad Max?) the police discovered something far more sinister. At the same time, the authorities had been investigating a group of high profile murders, and it wasn’t until Susan Atkins, one of Manson’s followers, bragged about tasting one of the victim’s blood that they put two and two together.