Durant (Okla.) Daily Democrat, Friday, May 26, 1978

3 Troopers, Convicts Die In Gunbattle

Killers Claude Dennis and Michael Lancaster died in the yard of a Caddo home this morning; it cost the lives of three highway patrolmen.

The patrol identified the dead troopers as Pat Grimes, Billy G. Young, and Houston F. Summers. Another trooper, Hoyt Hughes, suffered a superficial shoulder wound.

Dennis, a witness said, was shot "all over" and apparently died instantly. Lancaster was hit in the chest and died while being carried to an ambulance.

They were hit with blasts from shotguns and M-16 military-type rifles.

The two apparently were making a desperate attempt to escape the dragnet that had been thrown up Wednesday night after the car of a murdered Alabama woman was discovered at Lake Texoma.

They jumped rancher Russell Washington, left him tied up, and stole his blue three-quarter ton pickup. Washington got loose - it was the mistake authorities had been waiting for-and called the patrol.

Trooper-pilot Lloyd Basinger, who had been guiding searchers during the morning from a highway patrol plane, spotted the truck on an east-west county road a mile south of SH 22.

Dennis and Lancaster apparently ran into a roadblock a mile south and a mile east of Kenefic, where they killed two troopers.

There was a brief radioed appeal for help, apparently from one of the mortally-wounded patrolmen, but efforts to talk back, both from the OHP command post at Fort Washita and from OHP headquarters here, brought only silence.

A minute or two later, Basinger spotted Washington's blue pickup truck headed toward Caddo at a high rate of speed. He flew behind the truck, radioing ground units for help.

The pickup entered Caddo, turned north, and with a patrol car coming at them from two blocks away, Dennis and Lancaster swerved suddenly into the driveway of a home in the southwest part of town.

The approaching patrol car apparently didn't see the sudden turn. The trooper, reportedly a member of the state safety department's intelligence unit, was shot in the head as he passed the fugitives. His car continued about a half-block and crashed into a ditch.

Two other patrol cars rolled in from other directions, along with a deputy sheriff's car. A brief house-to-house search started until they reached the Ernest Slack home, where the officers were greeted by gunfire.

Two minutes later, it was all over. "The officers are walking away," Basinger radioed.

Officers feared they might be running into a hostage situation, but the house was empty. Slack was at his job at the Hale Trailer plant in Durant, his wife working at the county health center, and their daughter away.

One of those in the final shootout was patrol Lt. Mike Williams of Durant.

Medical examiner Dr. Bob Engles said both fugitives had been hit several times. Lancaster died of a head wound, Dennis of multiple wounds in the head and chest.

They apparently were going to try one last escape-they fell in the driveway next to their stolen truck, about 15-20 feet from the house, Dennis was at the right of the pickup, Lancaster about eight or 10 feet away on the left.

Basinger called urgently for ambulances, then flew back to the Kenefic area and located the patrol car where the two troopers died.

"Word of the loss of the three highway patrolmen had saddened all Oklahomans," Gov. David Boren said. "This is the worst single tragedy in the 40-year history of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol."

He ordered all flags to half-staff.

Bodies of the killers were left where they fell, in a driveway, while a patrol crime scene detachment made a painstaking investigation of their final moments.

The dead troopers, all pronounced dead on arrival at Bryan Memorial hospital, were to be taken to the state medical examiner's office in Oklahoma City by military helicopter.

Until word was sounded by their final victim, Washington, the massive search was still centered in the Kansas Creek area of Lake Texoma, although some property belonging to the dead Alabama teacher was found Thursday under the Carpenter's Bluff Bridge in southern Bryan county.

Sheriff O.W. Highfill said Charles Goodman, who lives just north of the bridge, called his office just after 5 p.m. Thursday to report he'd seen two men take two boxes of personal effects of Mrs.Beavers," Highfill said.

One of the cardboard containers contained several bills the retired school teacher had paid. There also were a number of music books, each with "Stacy Beavers" written in neat script on the covers.

Alabama authorities told Highfill the music books were used by Mrs. Beavers for piano lessons she gave children at her home in Cuba, Ala.

Also in the box was a dead snake. Highfill said he didn't have an explanation for it-the boxes were closed and it couldn't have crawled in by itself. The snake, a poisonous variety, was about 18 inches long.

The second box was filled with paper wrappings that may have held either silverware or plates.

"It was the right kind of wrapping to keep crystal from being broken, and we found a tag with the name of a New York glass company, Highfill said. "They may have sold the things from this box to finance their trip from Alabama-or maybe they were hocked in this area-we're checking on that angle right now."

Goodman was unable to describe the men, Highfill said, but told the sheriff they were in a brown or rust-colored station wagon with a white top. "Goodman thinks it was a Dodge or Plymouth," he said.

The Texoma manhunt had grown to over 200 peace officers, from Federal Bureau of Investigations agents to sheriff's posse volunteers. It was the biggest in the state since the search for Gene Leroy Hart after three Girl Scouts were killed at a camp near Tulsa two years ago.

The foot search of the area was called off at dark Thursday, but roadblocks were maintained through the night by troopers and local officers. The hunt, aided by a helicopter, resumed at dawn today.

State troopers, drawn from nearly every OHP district in Oklahoma, filled available motel rooms last night, and a dozen carloads were put up for the night in the Choctaw Tower dormitory at Southeastern State university. Their beds were filled by patrolmen who pulled duty through the night.

There was a flurry of excitement about 2 a.m. today when the Grayson county sheriff's office got a call from a Sherwood Shores resident who said a man answering Lancaster's description approached her home and asked to come in.

Eight OHP cars, two Waterways patrol boats and prison dogs were sent to the area, south of the SH 99 Willis bridge. Dogs followed a scent into a wooded area, then lost it. The officers were returned to Oklahoma after three hours.

There had been another reported sighting of Dennis earlier in the night, this one in the Butcher Pen area of the lake in Johnston county.

For a time it was listed as a "positive identification," of men in a silver and white car. It later was whittled down to "maybe" status and the car description changed to blue and white.

No cars of either description have been reported stolen in this area.

Butcher Pen is 2 straight-line miles from the OHP command post but a 12-mile drive by the nearest roads.