Durant (Okla.) Daily Democrat, Monday, April 24, 1978

Convicted Murderer Of Countian Escapes From Prison

Carl Eugene Dennis, convicted of murder here and manslaughter in deaths of a Stephens county couple, escaped Sunday afternoon from the McAlester state prison.

Sheriff O.W. Highfill and a small army of officers spent the night watching homes of Dennis' wife, who lives in the Caddo area, and his brother-in-law, near Mead.

Dennis was convicted of second degree murder here last fall in the shooting death of Arthur Lake Jr., Bokchito, in a rural area north of Mead. The conviction carries an automatic sentence of 10 years to life. He also is under a 50-year sentence for manslaughter in Stephens county, where he was convicted in the shotgun deaths of a couple in a farm house near Marlow where he once lived.

"He's dangerous," sheriff Highfill said. "He's been convicted of killing three people, for no particular reason. He made indirect threats - to the other prisoners when he was in jail here - that he'd "get" me and Joe Paul Johnson," one of Highfill's deputies. Jailer Jess Lambert also recalled Dennis once said he'd blow up the Bryan county courthouse if he ever got a chance.

Dennis and a fellow escapee, Michael Lancaster, 26, apparently crawled through a prison tunnel. They stole three guns from a prison guard's house and held his wife hostage.

Highfill's staff, along with Sheriff's Posse members, three off-duty Durant policemen and Civil Defense volunteers, roamed northern Bryan county during the night, stopping vehicles and watching relatives' homes.

"I think he'll come back if he has a chance," Highfill said, "but there's no indication at this time he's in the area.

Teams of prison, county and state officers were concentrating a search north of the prison this morning after a fruitless air and ground search Sunday evening for a blue Datsun 210 car, also taken from the guard's home.

Officials first believed the inmates scaled the wall, but later decided they went into the utility tunnel under the abandoned power plant in the industrial area and came out on the other side of the wall, John Grider, deputy director of institutions for the Department of Corrections, said.

Originally, two tower guards were thought to be negligent because they could have seen the inmates go over the wall, but Grider said officials no longer believed negligence was involved.

Corrections director Net Benton said in Oklahoma City, officials first learned the inmates might have gone into the utility tunnel when they talked with the prison officer's wife who was held hostage.

"The correctional officer's wife who saw them said they didn't have on shirts or shoes and that they smell," Benton said.

Grider said the inmates still had to go over two chain link fences, topped by barbed wire, with dogs between the fences.

The escapees broke into the home of Lt. Sam Key about one block north of the prison minutes after Key had left to go to the prison to prepare his guard crew for a 4 p.m. to midnight shift.

Mrs. Key told officers one of the men held a knife on her while the other went into a bedroom where he got a .357 magnum pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun, a 30-30 rifle and ammunition for the weapons.

The inmates threatened to take her 10-year-old daughter with them, but she said "over my dead body," officers said.

She scuffled with the inmates and then grabbed her daughter and ran to a neighbor's house, they said.

Grider described both Dennis, convicted of a second-degree murder and manslaughter, and Lancaster, serving 25 years for armed robbery, as "highly dangerous."

Lancaster and Dennis both have previous escape records. Lancaster escaped in 1970 from the Oklahoma State Reformatory at Granite and Dennis escaped in 1976 from the Stephens County jail, where he had been transferred for court proceedings.