Richard Lee McNair
|Richard Lee McNair|
December 19, 1958|
|Criminal charge||Murder, attempted murder, burglary, escape|
|Criminal penalty||2 life sentences|
|Criminal status||incarcerated at ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado|
Richard Lee McNair (born December 19, 1958) is a convicted murderer known for his ability to escape and elude capture. In 1987, McNair murdered one man and shot a second man four times during a botched robbery. He is currently serving two terms of life imprisonment for these crimes.
After McNair's arrest, he escaped three times from three different institutions using various creative methods. On his first attempt, he used lip balm to squeeze out of a pair of handcuffs. He escaped a second time by crawling through a ventilation duct. In his last escape from a federal prison in April 2006, he mailed himself out of prison in a crate. This resulted in his mugshot being featured a dozen times on the TV show America's Most Wanted, and made him one of the top fifteen fugitives wanted by US Marshals. McNair traveled to Canada twice in order to evade capture, traveling across the country for over a year before being apprehended in a random police check. Much of what the public knows about McNair's escape and his time as a fugitive is through McNair's prison correspondence with a Canadian journalist, Byron Christopher.
In November 1987, while attempting a burglary in Minot, North Dakota, McNair was surprised by two men and murdered one of them. McNair's murder of Jerry Thies occurred at a grain elevator operated by the Farmers Union Elevator Co. while McNair was a sergeant posted at the nearby Minot Air Force Base. A second man was shot four times, but survived. When the police called McNair in for questioning, McNair surrendered a concealed handgun. He was later sentenced to two life sentences for murder and attempted murder, and a thirty-year prison sentence for burglary.
McNair's first escape attempt occurred at the Minot municipal police station in 1988, shortly after he had been arrested. McNair's first period as a fugitive lasted only a few hours, after which McNair was quickly recaptured. After his initial arrest, McNair was handcuffed to a chair and left in a room with three detectives. McNair used lip balm, which he had in his pocket, as a lubricant to squeeze his hands free from the handcuffs. McNair then led police on a chase on foot through the town, eventually being chased up a three-flight stairway in an effort to evade capture. After becoming surrounded by police on the roof of a three-story building downtown, McNair attempted to jump to a tree branch to escape arrest, but the branch broke. McNair landed on the ground and hurt his back, after which he was easily apprehended. After McNair was released from the hospital, he was moved to the Ward County Jail in Minot. In February 1988, sheriff's deputies discovered another escape attempt when, after moving McNair to another cell, they found two cinder blocks partially chiseled out from the cell in which he was being held.
In October 1992, McNair escaped with two other prisoners from the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck, North Dakota, by crawling through a ventilation duct. One of the prisoners who escaped with McNair was apprehended within hours, and the other within days. After his escape, McNair grew out his hair and dyed it blonde in an attempt to disguise himself. Much of his time on the run was spent roaming the United States in stolen cars. McNair remained free for ten months, until he was eventually arrested in Grand Island, Nebraska, in 1993. After his second recapture, the North Dakota Department of Corrections deemed McNair a problem inmate, and requested that he be transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. McNair remained in federal custody until his final escape, over a decade later.
On April 5, 2006, McNair escaped from a United States Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana. McNair's duties in prison included work in a manufacturing area, where he would repair old, torn mailbags. He held this position for several months, throughout which McNair plotted his escape. McNair escaped by hiding himself in a specially-constructed "escape pod" (which included a breathing tube), which was buried under a pile of mailbags. The pallet was shrink-wrapped and forklifted to a nearby warehouse outside of the prison fence. After prison staff delivered McNair's pallet and went for lunch, McNair cut himself out of his "escape pod" and walked through the unsecured area to freedom. Federal investigators believed that McNair must have received help from other inmates to escape, but McNair has always maintained that he acted alone.
McNair's pallet was shipped out of the prison around 9:45am, and he was able to exit the pallet around 11:00am. McNair was aware that it would not be until 4:00pm that the prison would find him missing. McNair's plan was to go to the nearby town of Alexandria, Louisiana, where he would then steal supplies and transportation.
Hours after his escape from Pollock, McNair was stopped while running away on a railroad track near Ball, Louisiana, by police officer Carl Bordelon. This incident was captured on a video camera mounted in Bordelon's patrol car. McNair had no identification and proceeded to give Officer Bordelon the alias of Robert Jones. When asked again five minutes later, he gave a different alias, Jimmy Jones. Bordelon did not pick up on this. McNair laughed and joked with the officer, and even as the officer got a matching description of the inmate, McNair appeared collected and calm. He successfully convinced Bordelon that he was jogging and in town to help on a post-Katrina roofing project, allowing him to go back to 'jogging' within 10 minutes.
One factor that made it easier for McNair to escape arrest was that the photo provided to police was very low-quality and six months old. Another was that the prison had told police that they were not completely sure that McNair had escaped. Bordelon himself claimed that he let McNair go because the physical description of McNair given to police was completely different from how McNair actually appeared. Over the ten minutes that Bordelon questioned McNair, McNair remained cool and provided completely plausible explanations, eventually convincing Bordelon that his alibi was true.
McNair later wrote that he did not see the cruiser because it was blocked from view by trees, and that he planned to run if he was not able to convince Bordelon of his innocence. McNair later denied the suggestion that he would have assaulted the police officer if confronted, claiming that he had renounced violence after his initial arrest. McNair described his escape as a "get out of jail free card", and described his feelings after the confrontation with Bordelon as "relief, disbelief, bewilderment." McNair agreed that he did not resemble his prison picture.
Bordelon remained with the Ball Police department for the rest of his life, eventually becoming assistant police chief before his death in 2015 at the age of 51.
Fugitive in Canada
On April 13, 2006, US Marshals added McNair to their 15 Most Wanted list. They noted that McNair was the first prisoner to escape from a federal prison since 1991.
Later that April, about two weeks after his escape, McNair successfully crossed into British Columbia from Blaine, Washington. On April 28, 2006, RCMP in Penticton, British Columbia, confronted McNair while investigating a stolen car that he was driving, which was parked at a local beach. The officers asked McNair to step out of the car to be questioned, which he did, but he ran across a nearby field and outran the officers soon after being confronted. The police impounded the car, but did not realize the identity of McNair until two days later, when one of the officers recognized him from an episode of America's Most Wanted. Subsequent investigation found a digital camera full of self-portraits, which police determined were probably for the purpose of producing a fake ID. When authorities examined the car, they found McNair's fingerprints, confirming that he was in Canada.
After escaping arrest in Penticton, McNair rode a bike to Kelowna. Because it took several days for the police to confirm his identity, it was relatively easy for McNair to escape the area. In May 2006, McNair traveled back to the United States, when he drove a Subaru Outback from Vernon, British Columbia, to Blaine, Washington. McNair then traveled across the United States and eventually crossed back into Canada from Minnesota. After arriving back in Canada, McNair traveled through southern Ontario, then traveled west, to Vancouver.
Early on, McNair developed a plan to buy land in central BC, around Williston Lake, after seeing ads for the property. He changed his mind after visiting the area and finding that a drought and pine beetle infestation had devastated the area. The fact that there was only one road in and out of the property also made McNair feel uncomfortable.
In 2007, McNair travelled to eastern Canada. He drove through the Laurentian Highlands in Quebec, where he enjoyed mountain biking. He spent a lot of time around Lac Saint-Jean. McNair nearly attempted to cross back into the United States again at Derby Line, Vermont, but the high security on the American side convinced him that attempting to cross back would be too risky. He eventually travelled through Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick. McNair spent about two months in Fredericton, New Brunswick, before he was again confronted by police.
Attempts to avoid recapture
On April 8, 2006, three days after McNair's escape, America's Most Wanted ran its first profile of McNair. The program would go on to detail McNair a total of twelve times on television, and nine times on radio. The last time McNair was featured was November 24, 2007, a month after his recapture. Over the period of McNair's time in Canada, Canadian viewers made over 50 reports to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), confirming that the fugitive had been seen north of the border.
McNair watched America's Most Wanted intently, describing the show as a "thorn". McNair confirmed after his capture that whenever a new episode of America's Most Wanted aired, he would buy food and fuel his vehicle, "then if featured would keep it low for a couple of days".
Throughout his time as a fugitive, McNair tracked his own story on the internet. After his recapture, McNair commented that the ongoing coverage of him was "for the most part true". Louisiana Marshal Glenn Belgard attempted to capture McNair online with the help of a criminal profiler. McNair suspected that the Louisiana police had attempted to contact him by posing as a woman online, who said that "she would like to hide [McNair] in her basement." McNair was surprised by how much the media coverage focused on him, especially the eleven-page article that appeared in The New Yorker, written by Mark Singer, on October 9, 2006.
McNair owned several laptops while living as a fugitive. After having his laptop seized in Penticton, he began to store most of his information on USB sticks. With the help of a scanner, digital camera, Photoshop, and a pet ID website, McNair was able to produce a passable fake Alaska driver's license. He learned how to rig his video camera to his laptop so that he could cut his own hair. One of McNair's laptops was dedicated solely to monitoring a Louisiana-based website which closely followed all media coverage of McNair.
In order to support himself, McNair stole vehicles and cash from car dealerships. Because he had once worked as a car salesman himself, McNair knew where to find cash and keys at such dealerships, and how to avoid security. McNair only stole new vehicles: they had window stickers indicating whether a vehicle was equipped with a GPS-style tracking system (if it did, he wouldn't touch it). McNair avoided driving conspicuous-looking vehicles, preferring white vehicles that "everybody has". He once considered stealing a 3/4 ton truck/camper, "but one of the supposed sightings of [McNair] was in North Dakota (of all places) in a truck with camper", so he eventually settled on a van instead.
In one incident, while McNair was staying in a motel near Chilliwack, British Columbia, he left to buy something and returned to find the motel surrounded by a police SWAT team. McNair began to flee in his car, but later found on a local AM radio station that the police were responding to a hostage situation at the motel. McNair then returned to the scene and filmed the standoff with a Sony HD video camera which he had recently purchased. The episode lasted for another twenty minutes.
On October 24, 2007, near Nash Creek, New Brunswick, off-duty RCMP constable Dan Melanson spotted an expensive-looking white cube van with "crappy looking" tinted rear windows and an Ontario license plate. Suspecting that the van was stolen, and/or being used to smuggle alcohol or cigarettes, Melanson noted the plate number and that the van was headed to Campbellton, a nearby city. Melanson did not attempt to apprehend McNair, but his report alerted other RCMP in Campbellton of the presence of McNair's vehicle. (McNair had in fact tinted the windows himself in a London, Ontario park).
The next day, Constable Stephane Gagnon, a six-week rookie, spotted McNair's van by chance in downtown Campbellton, and pursued it. Following a low-speed car chase and a subsequent foot chase, McNair was successfully arrested by Gagnon with the help of his field coach, Constable Nelson Lévesque. In October 2008, the US-based International Association of Chiefs of Police awarded Melanson the Looking Beyond the Licence Plate Grand Prize for his role in apprehending McNair. McNair himself described his capture as simply the product of bad luck: as he put it, it was "just one of those days." McNair was transferred to the Atlantic Institution, a Canadian federal maximum security penitentiary in Renous, New Brunswick, while awaiting extradition to the United States.
Mounties later told the media that McNair was cooperative after his capture, and even joked with them. When one officer asked McNair what the reward was for his capture, McNair replied "$25,000." "That's not much," said the officer. McNair replied that was because "all of the government money is tied up in Osama Bin Laden's reward." McNair later described the Campbellton RCMP as "good men doing their job."
McNair (Federal Bureau of Prisons ID # 13829-045) is currently incarcerated at ADX Florence, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. ADX Florence has a reputation as "the Alcatraz of the Rockies". It houses some of the United States' most dangerous prisoners, who have been deemed too great a security risk for even a maximum-security prison. When McNair was captured, several law-enforcement sources told AMW that he would almost certainly spend the rest of his life at ADX.
McNair now spends most of every day in a 12-by-7-foot (3.7 by 2.1 m) concrete cell. He lives in a pod with five other prisoners. McNair has no access to the Internet. Prison staff screen and reject McNair's incoming mail if it deals with topics prohibited by federal regulations, such as escape plans.
In his media correspondence, McNair described his location as the "most secure section of the most secure prison in the world", but expressed reservations about discussing specific details of his incarceration. "Thank God for prisons," McNair wrote. "There are some very sick people in here... Animals you would never want living near your family or the public in general. I don't know how corrections staff deal with it. They get spit on, shit on, abused and I have seen them risk their own lives and save a prisoner many times."
In 2008, Byron Christopher, a crime reporter from the same New Brunswick town where McNair was captured, began a correspondence with McNair via mail. In his first letter, Christopher included a picture that he had taken of the town, taken near the place that McNair was arrested. He told McNair that he hoped the Campbellton Chamber of Commerce would write a cheque to McNair for all the publicity he had brought to the town, and wrote to McNair about the recent World Series and federal election. Christopher included three American dollars in order to cover the cost of paper and postage. The prison returned his money.
When McNair wrote back to Christopher, it was his first response to the media. The letter revealed many personal details about McNair's most recent escape which had previously been unknown. Revealing that he had spent time hiding in Fredericton, New Brunswick, McNair described Fredericton's residents as "very friendly and well educated." He revealed that his favorite serial was the Christian Science Monitor. Campbellton's local newspaper, The Tribune, covered the correspondence in detail.
In subsequent letters to Christopher, McNair revealed details about his escape and travels through Canada, providing most of what the public knows about McNair's time as a fugitive. McNair had an interest in discussing his story with a British TV reporter, but suspects that the correspondence may have been terminated by prison censors.
Christopher later compiled his correspondence, conducted additional research on the story, and eventually produced a book on McNair, The Man Who Mailed Himself Out of Jail. It was released via Amazon.com on June 20, 2013. The book is a follow-up to "The Running Man" series, published by The Tribune newspaper of Campbellton, New Brunswick, in 2009.
- Bayens, Stuart P. "Deadmonton - Richard Lee McNair". Archived from the original on 7 October 2011.
- "Richard Lee McNair" Archived 2012-09-16 at the Wayback Machine.. America's Most Wanted. September 18, 2008. Retrieved September 22, 2011.
- "Inmate Escapes from Pollock Penitentiary." Federal Bureau of Prisons. April 5, 2006. Retrieved on May 29, 2010.
- Christopher, Byron. "Richard Lee McNair Breaks His Silence" Archived 2014-03-15 at the Wayback Machine.. Last Link on the Left. May 14, 2009. Retrieved September 22, 2011.
- “Cop Tricked Into Thinking Prison Escapee is a Jogger”. YouTube video of police encounter with Richard McNair.
- "Mounties capture 'Most Wanted' killer in N.B." CBC News. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-10-25.
- "Federal Bureau of Prisons - Inmate Locator". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved 2009-04-11.
- "The Man Who Mailed Himself Out Of Jail [Kindle Edition]" Amazon.ca. 2013. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
- Video of McNair smooth-talking a police officer
- Criminal history
- McNair's U.S. Marshals Service wanted poster
- Calgary Herald, October 10, 2007. "U.S. killer may be on loose in Calgary" by Sherri Zickefoose, Calgary Herald.
- The New Yorker, October 9, 2006. "Escaped" (essay by Mark Singer).
- The Calgary Herald (Alberta) August 14, 2006. "RCMP sift through fresh tips after TV show on escaped killer: No confirmed sightings reported since end of April".
- The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia), August 5, 2006. "U.S. fugitive in Canada is focus of TV show".
- Daily Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana), July 11, 2006. "On the lam: McNair's continental adventure".