updated 5/20/2006 1:05:40 PM ET 2006-05-20T17:05:40

After 38 years, Michael Robert Smith figured no one was looking for him anymore.

He escaped from prison on June 7, 1968, while serving time for a robbery conviction, then headed to Nevada, then New Jersey and into a marriage that didn’t work out. Finally, five years ago, Smith moved to a tiny trailer in a heavily wooded area of Creek County, Okla.

It turned out the California Department of Corrections was still on his trail.

Authorities found him Thursday, his clothes paint-splattered from one of the few jobs he could hold without a driver’s license or other identification.

“He looked at the ground a little bit, then he looked up and said, ‘Yeah, that’s me,”’ Creek County Sheriff’s Detective Les Ruhman said Friday. “He didn’t dream people would be looking for him for so long.”

The case had long grown cold until December 2003, when Judy Foster, a special agent at the California corrections department who found another escaped convict in 2004, reopened the investigation.

Smith’s family and friends all denied knowing where he had gone, but Foster eventually discovered that Smith was using the his mother’s maiden name — Gallion — and living outside Sapulpa, 13 miles southwest of Tulsa.

“The truth is, we never stop looking for these people,” said department spokeswoman Terry Thornton. She refused to explain how Foster found the men, saying she didn’t want to tip off future escaped convicts.

A department report says 21 inmates escaped from prisons and camps last year, and 20 from community programs. Of those, 31 had been recaptured, the report said.

Smith’s case was unusual because he escaped from a prison, while most escaped convicts walk away from a work camp or community program, said department spokeswoman Elaine Jennings.

Smith, now 63, is being held without bond and likely will be shipped back to California within 10 days, after an extradition hearing.

He had served three years of a five years-to-life sentence at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, 67 miles southeast of San Jose.

“It’s just amazing he made it all these years and never had a run-in with the law,” Ruhman said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments