Durant (Okla.) Daily Democrat, Friday, May 19, 1978

Manhunt Ended After Mistaken ID Revealed

Officers today scratched off Thursday's massive 18-hour manhunt for murder suspects Claude Dennis and Michael Lancaster as another in a mile-long cases of mistaken identity they've had to check out the past nine days.

Two men "identified" as the McAlester prison escapees at a Milburn store turned out to be Johnston county residents; a car that got away from Colbert city marshal Herman Hitchcock was a scared woman who didn't know who was chasing her.

Officers frankly admit they haven't the faintest idea where the fugitives are now and many, including sheriff O.W. Highfill, are convinced they've left the area.

But the two reports Thursday brought over 100 officers - even a U.S. Customs airplane in addition to two Oklahoma highway patrol planes - into the search.

The whole thing was called off at midafternoon when Johnston county sheriff Bud Reed found out the men that stopped at Moore's store in Milburn weren't the right ones.

"Jimmy Buckner, the young man who went into the grocery, was talking to his dad," Reed said, and the two figured out Buckner and a friend were the "suspects" the store owner identified from photographs.

Reed called the sheriff's office here.

"I understand the boy's cousin" - former Durant policeman Kenny Erwin - "answered the phone and relayed the message on to sheriff Highfill," Reed said.

The group went to the Milburn store, cleared up the identification, and the search was called off.

Highfill said store owner Ernest Moore "told me he was sure the night before that the man was Lancaster, but matching the picture with the man who made the purchases - they just don't look alike."

Hitchcock's sighting of a car in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, which shifted the  search to southern Bryan county, also turned out to be mistaken identity.

"A Mrs. McGehee called me this morning," Highfill said. "She said she lived at Platter and was going to work, when Hitchcock tried to stop her she was scared. Her car was a 1969 Plymouth and was green. The tag number wasn't even close to the one we were looking for.

"That pretty well clears this lead up, but we still have to find the escapees and that will be hard to do.

"I don't think they're still in the area - Dennis is too smart for that - but as long as citizens keep reporting sightings we have to check them out," Highfill added.

At 3 a.m. today officers here were called to help search a train that night dispatcher in Denison saw two men boarding.

Don Jones, night dispatcher for the Katy in Durant, helped city police and Bryan county deputies search the train after it was stopped in the downtown area here. It turned up two hoboes asleep in a boxcar.