Durant (Okla.) Daily Democrat, Thursday, May 25, 1978

Hunt For Fugitives Shifts Back To Texoma Area

A station wagon owned by a murdered Alabama woman turned up at Lake Texoma last night, setting off a huge manhunt for suspected killers Claude Eugene Dennis and Michael Lancaster.

Neither has been seen, but officers were going on the assumption one or both are bottled-up in a wild, rugged area of northwest Bryan county.

Occasional fishermen and campers were being advised to leave the area.

"It couldn't have come at a worse time," a Corps of Engineers ranger said, "with the Memorial day weekend coming up." The holiday normally draws a third of a million visitors to Texoma, although comparatively few use the north end of the reservoir.

Most of the crimes Dennis and Lancaster are suspected of have occurred in isolated areas, where only one or two people were present.

dennis2.jpg (7880 bytes)   lancaster2.jpg (7323 bytes)
OLDER PHOTOS OF fugitives Claude Eugene
Dennis (left) and Michael Lancaster were
distributed by authorities today to give searching
officers a better idea of what they look like with
longer hair.

The cream-colored station wagon belonged to Stacy Beavers, 68, whose throat was cut Monday night when she returned to her rural Cuba, Ala., home after a church social.

It was discovered behind a rest room in the Kansas Creek area of of the lake Wednesday evening by a ranch employee. Highway patrol Lt. Mike Williams said the Alabama tag had been removed. A crime computer check of the car serial number showed it to be Mrs. Beavers.

Kansas Creek, a resort area in Texoma's earlier days, is at the south end of the Cumberland cut, near the Bryan-Marshall county line. Silt from the Washita river filled in most of the lake area, leaving it little more than a picnic-camping spot maintained by the Corps of Engineers.

It's about a half-mile off SH 199 and east of the Fort Washita area.

The station's wagon engine was cold, leading authorities to believe it may have been abandoned as early as Wednesday morning - 48 yours after discovery of Mrs. Beavers' body in eastern Alabama, more than 500 miles away.

But absence of stolen vehicle reports from the lake area was enough to convince officers that Dennis, Lancaster, or both are inside their dragnet - and arrangements were being made for a two to three-day siege if it's necessary.

The fugitives, who escaped from the McAlester prison just over a month ago, are believed heavily armed.

They're believed to have a 12-gauge shotgun taken from a prison guard's home the day of their escape; a high-powered 30-30 rifle, and at least three pistols.

The Department of Public Safety dispatched its mobile command post - it carries everything from generators to radios and map boards - from Oklahoma City this morning.

manhunt_map1.jpg (25819 bytes)
MAIN SEARCH AREA (circled), 15 miles northwest of Durant on the north end of Lake Texoma put well over 100 officers on a manhunt in the brushy, forested area of the reservoir for fugitives Claude Dennis and Michael Lancaster.

At least 18 highway patrol cars were assigned to the hunt, along with Oklahoma National Guard and Dallas police helicopters, planes, an unannounced number of coverall-dressed FBI agents, several state crime bureau agents, a Texas Ranger, and numerous sheriff's cars from Bryan and surrounding counties. Off-duty policemen from as far away as Dallas, McKinney and Gainesville, Tex., had reported to the search area by daylight.

The FBI entered the picture after they turned up in Alabama. Federal warrants charging them with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution were filed in the U.S. District Court at Muskogee.

Teams of dogs were brought from both the McLeod honor farm north of Boswell and the Lexington prison facility near Purcell.

The dogs and their handlers made one run about 3 a.m., then began working both sides of the Widow Moore creek neck of Texoma after dawn.

A prison "attack team"' trained in chasing escapees, arrived from McAlester.

Other officers checked numerous mostly-empty farm homes, barns and sheds, then began "walking out" the rolling terrain, through heavy brush and scrub oak.

One of the planes, manned by an FBI agent, blew out a cylinder and was grounded the rest of the day after landing safely at Eaker airport.

Last night's search included door-to-door late night check of homes by highway patrolmen. Three Southwest Bell linemen accompanied the officers.

That developed after word from OHP Lt. John Haynie, sent to Alabama to help in the manhunt there, that the phone line to Mrs. Beavers' home had been cut.

Haynie, a Durant native, said Alabama authorities believe Dennis and Lancaster came on the woman's home while she was away, waited until she returned, and killed her. Her purse was missing, along with some pots and pans and a quantify of food.

Dennis has been convicted of killing three people - one here and two near Marlow. Lancaster was doing time at McAlester for armed robbery.

Since their escape they have become suspects in three slayings in Texas and one in Alabama, in addition to wounding an Alabama policeman and a shotgun assault on an Alabama state trooper.