WASHINGTON (AP) — It was approximately three hours after Alabama sheriff’s officers discovered the disappearance of a capital murder suspect and a senior prison official who took him for a mental health evaluation, when Sheriff Rick Singleton called the US -Marshals called.
At first, law enforcement officials believed the suspect Casey White may have kidnapped Vicky White, the assistant director of Lauderdale County Correctional Facilities and a 17-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. (The two weren’t married or otherwise related.) But they quickly discovered that their cover story was bogus — the mental health rating was fabricated — and a manhunt began.
US Marshal Marty Keely put the Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force into action. The fugitive hunters took to the streets and quickly began collecting leads.
Keely’s account of the 11-day search in an interview with The Associated Press is the most detailed and comprehensive account yet of the US Marshals Service investigation into a nationwide manhunt that ended in the death of Vicky White, Casey White back in custody and before Court enforcement officials are trying to figure out how the escape could have happened.
The task force got its first lead early in the investigation, when a fellow prisoner reported that Vicky White called her and asked the colleague to pick her up at an Academy Sports + Outdoors store in Florence, Alabama. White said she locked her keys in her car and needed a ride to work, Keely said. The employee found that strange, she later told investigators, but wanted to help out a friend.
In the sporting goods store parking lot, investigators found Vicky White’s squad car — the same vehicle she had left the sheriff’s office in hours earlier, with a handcuffed Casey White in the back seat, Keely said. There, surveillance video also showed that she had staged a getaway vehicle, an orange Ford Edge that she had bought with a handful of cash just days before the escape.
Investigators interviewed family members and associates, reviewed financial and other records, and learned from other inmates that Vicky White had a “special relationship” with Casey and the two were involved in a “prison romance,” officials said. Weeks before the escape, she sold her home for $95,000, well below market value, sold her car and filed for retirement, Keely said. She had also purchased an AR-15 rifle and shotgun to add to her 9mm duty handgun and a .45 caliber handgun which investigators believe she had.
Other leads surfaced as well: She bought men’s clothing at a local Kohl’s store and had also visited a store that sold sex toys.
They also learned that Vicky White had previously left the prison with Casey White in what investigators believe was a dry run for the escape, two law enforcement officials told the AP. They got him out of jail for about 40 minutes, officials said. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation.
The search for a hulking fugitive, a jailer and their orange car was underway. But investigators had no idea the duo had already made it out of state, nearly 200 miles (322 kilometers) away.
Tips went to the Marshals Service and sheriff’s officers, but nothing came of it until a tow truck driver called from Tennessee. He had towed the Ford Edge three or four days earlier and it was still at his towing yard, Keely said.
Task Force investigators rushed north to Williamson County, Tennessee. They had the right car, but the next question was, where were Vicky and Casey?
Authorities searched rural Tennessee for leads and produced photos of Vicky and Casey. They spotted a house with a few cars and trucks for sale on the lawn, Keely said. The homeowner immediately recognized a photo of Casey White and helped authorities figure out what happened. He told investigators he sold White a Ford F-150 pickup truck for cash. The truck had no license plates, but White didn’t care, the man told authorities.
“He’s like, ‘Yeah, I sold him a truck,'” Keely said of the homeowner. “And that’s how we found out he sold him a truck the same day they escaped from the Lauderdale County Correctional Facility. And it was only a few hours after they fled.”
During the sale, a woman in an orange Ford pulled up and the two drove away in a row, the man told authorities. And the homeowner provided another clue — the pickup truck’s vehicle identification number, or VIN, according to Keely.
The two exited the Ford Edge and headed to Evansville, Indiana, where Casey White eventually abandoned the pickup truck in a car wash bay.
In Evansville, investigators believe the two paid a homeless man to use his ID to rent them a hotel room, paying cash upfront for a 14-day stay. They lived at the motel under the assumed alias and had acquired a third car, a Cadillac sedan.
The car wash manager first noticed the abandoned pickup truck on May 3 and realized something was wrong when it was still there the next morning. He called the police and an officer came out, checked the license plates, took a report and left. The car was not stolen and there was nothing the local police could do.
There was an interruption on Sunday because the officer had written the VIN number on a report. Keely’s team discovered it while checking databases. The refugee team came to Evansville and worked with other Deputy Marshals in Indiana.
Surveillance video from the car wash showed the Cadillac. Task force investigators began driving around checking motel and restaurant parking lots, Keely said.
Eventually, they found the car at a local motel and placed it under surveillance. Vicky White soon showed up in a wig alongside the 6-foot-9 Casey White, Keely said. They got into the Cadillac and drove off while the marshals secretly gave chase, but according to Keely, the officers were seen.
The brief pursuit ended when officers rammed the car. The Cadillac rolled over and at one point Vicky White shot herself in the head, authorities said.
As officers pulled her from the rubble, Casey White blurted out, “Please help my wife, she just shot herself in the head,” Keely said. It wasn’t clear why he referred to Vicky as his wife. Investigators quickly handcuffed him and began assisting Vicky as medical teams rushed to the scene.
The manhunt was over. Indiana sheriff’s officers said the two had about $29,000 in cash, four handguns and the AR-15 rifle. Vicky White was pronounced dead at the hospital and Casey White was returned to Alabama Tuesday night where further charges are awaited, in addition to the murder case and the 75-year sentence he was already serving on attempted murder and other charges. If convicted in the murder trial, he faces the death penalty.
He told investigators he was ready to stage a shootout with police when he was arrested, officials said. An attorney representing White in the murder case, Jamy Poss, declined to comment.
“This case was solved just by boots on the spot, good police work,” Keely said.
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