Investigators believe they are getting close to a fugitive who raped, shot, and murdered a 14-year-old girl in 1965 before escaping prison years later while on an honor leave to do Christmas shopping.
Lester Eubanks, who escaped prison in 1973, was at one point faced with the death penalty for shooting Mary Ellen Deneer in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1965.
His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and so charmed the guards at Ohio State Penitentiary that they let him go unattended to a mall in 1973 to do Christmas shopping.
Eubanks had arranged to meet an accomplice at the mall he escaped from. He has not been seen or heard from since then.
Now, after decades unsuccessfully trying to find him, Deputy U.S. Marshal David Siler believes Eubanks could be in California.
“We think he may never have left the Los Angeles area,” said Siler, who leads a cold case squad focused on catching the killer. ABC news
Investigators believe they are getting close to a fugitive who raped, shot and murdered a 14-year-old girl in 1965. Lester Eubanks (pictured) escaped from prison in 1973 while on an honor leave of absence to do Christmas shopping with other inmates as a reward for good behavior
Eubanks was sentenced to life in murder of Mary Ellen Deneer in Mansfield, Ohio in 1965
“We’re just hoping for that one piece of the puzzle that will bring us to his front door,” added Siler.
Authorities said Eubanks fled to Los Angeles and worked under the name ‘Victor Young’ after escaping from prison.
They believe he lived on and off with a woman named Kay Eubanks between 1975 and 1996.
According to ABC, Eubanks has lived in Gardena, South Central, Long Beach and North Hollywood.
Authorities say he worked as a janitor at St Francis Hospital in Lynwood in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
“We know he has a footprint there, we know he has employees all over the area, we just need to talk to those people,” Siler told the network.
Authorities recently obtained photos from after his escape showing him working and living in the area.
Some of those images show employees of the waterbed factory in Gardena, where Eubanks worked.
Joy Springer, who ran the factory at the time, told authorities that Eubanks was hired “in the early waterbed era and that we were going to shoot big guns.”
“You had a heartbeat, we would hire you and put you to work,” Springer told ABC.
Springer said he rode his bike to work, and if it rained, she sometimes offered him a ride to his Gardena apartment building on El Segundo Boulevard.
She recalled that he wore “a lot of cologne” and that the company “took the whole crew for lunch at Shakey’s Pizza.”
Springer noted that her business partner would take pictures of the crew, but Eubanks “wasn’t in it, not one.”
Siler said they have a clue about a person who may have been his girlfriend by the name of Renee. Siler told ABC, ‘We hope the viewers in Los Angeles can identify some of these people. I mean they have no problems at all. ‘
US Marshals believe that Eubanks also had help from within his family. Their suspicions are reinforced by the fact that in 2015 many of his relatives refused to help them find him.
Eubanks is one of the 15 most wanted fugitives of the US Marshals, and detectives are offering a $ 50,000 reward for his capture.
Eubanks was 22 when he committed the murder. He is described as ‘restless’ at the time
Eubanks was an inmate in the famous Ohio State Penitentiary, where The Shawshank Redemption is set
The FBI is also circulating a composite picture of what it believes Eubanks might look like now – 47 years later.
Eubanks was sentenced to death in 1966 for first degree murder and rape. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1972.
It is not clear why his sentence was commuted.
Eubanks was in his early twenties when he attacked Mary Ellen. Eubanks picked her up from the street and took her to be raped, but she fought him. He shot her and clubbed her with a stone to make sure she was dead.
He was arrested not long after the murder after police compared his footprints to the crime scene.
Eubanks confessed to the crime and was sentenced to death.
He would be electrocuted at Ohio State Penitentiary, where the Shawshank Redemption takes place, but his sentence was commuted to life without parole.
On December 7, 1973, he and a handful of other trusted inmates were allowed to go unaccompanied to the mall to do Christmas shopping.
Dale Fortney, a former police officer in Mansfield, Ohio, said it was “ridiculous” that he had been given so much freedom.
Lester went from death row to life in prison, until then, a year or two later, now he’s such a prisoner of honor that he can be left unaccompanied in a mall to do Christmas shopping.
“I don’t think normal people can comprehend that this can really happen,” Fortney said earlier.