A quiet, unassuming man from Small Town America became one of the best known police officers of all time — in mere minutes. But it wasn’t anything he did.
It’s what he didn’t do …
Here is the backstory to a historic meeting in Central Louisiana in 2006 between a veteran police officer and an escaped killer.
The short meeting took place on a blistering hot day in early April.
Officer Carl Bordelon and escapee Richard Lee McNair, both in their 40s, met at a railroad crossing in Tioga, a village bordering the sprawling town of Ball.
The cop soon found himself in the eye of a media storm that would not only change his life, but shorten it as well.
The bizarre encounter was captured nicely by a small camcorder attached to the headliner [ceiling] of the cruiser, right beside the rearview mirror. A tiny microphone on the officer’s vest picked up what the two men were saying.
The video was seen by millions. Make that hundreds of millions. The grainy recording was shown around the world; first on the Internet, then on television. It’s now a guaranteed segment in documentaries on prison breaks. Check it out on YouTube. [A link follows shortly]
The video ran for ten minutes … but the media coverage dragged on for more than ten years. Centuries from now — long after you and I are a distant memory — people will still be watching it. And having a chuckle as well.
Carl Dennis Bordelon died on Saturday morning, January 10, 2015. He collapsed at his police station while working an overnight shift. The officer’s body was discovered in the washroom at around seven, 45 minutes after his shift ended.
The man who donned a police uniform for half his life was 51.
Photo credit: Amazon
Ball Mayor Neil Kavanagh reveals his officer had a massive heart attack and — quoting the coroner — “Would’ve been dead before he hit the floor.”
Carl Bordelon became a household name within hours of encountering fugitive Richard Lee McNair.
The two met at a railroad crossing on Wednesday afternoon, April 5, 2006 — within hours of the con’s Houdini-like escape, several miles north, from United States Penitentiary [USP] Pollock.
McNair gave the cop a BS line that he was an out-of-town roofer working on houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
But the prisoner slipped up. He first identified himself as Robert Jones and a few minutes later as Jimmy Jones.
Bordelon questioned the smooth-talking stranger, then promptly radioed his office [dispatch] for clarification. Nothing going.
The con was soon off like a jackrabbit on speed, demonstrating he was quick on his feet in more ways than one.
Reporters had a field day with the ‘catch and release’ story. Supported by the police video, the story soon went viral. Coverage wasn’t just local, statewide … or across North America — but clear across the world. If there’s intelligent life on Mars, they know about it there too.
Carl Bordelon was slammed hard. Really hard. According to his friends and colleagues, the non-stop media barrage shortened his life.
Bordelon claimed he did not have sufficient information, nor could he operate outside the law and detain the stranger on the tracks. Given what he had to work with, the officer maintained he did his best.
Bordelon was quick to point out that it was the penitentiary — not he — that dropped the ball. In other words, the media focused on someone who didn’t have much to work with instead of incompetent prison staff who had everything going for them.
Few in the media seemed to think it was a big deal that the penitentiary had screwed up. Reporters and editors had a great story-line and they weren’t about to change it.
Tioga, Louisiana: Where Officer Bordelon met escapee Richard McNair. Bordon’s cruiser was parked in the right lane with its front bumper close to the first rail. [Photo taken by Author in December 2010.]
In this post, you’ll see the actual prison ‘escape fax’ law enforcement in the area had to work with.
Turns out, the document was boobytrapped with misinformation. However, the mistakes were nothing when compared to huge blunders made by prison employees … errors that paved the way for a spectacular escape.
Note: After being on the lam for a year and a half, Richard Lee McNair was captured in October 2006 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP] in Campbellton, New Brunswick.
McNair remains in ADX Florence, Colorado — Alcatraz of the Rockies — the world’s most secure prison.
In an interview with The Town Talk [Alexandria, Louisiana], Ball Police Chief Nate Ussery — who had worked alongside Bordelon for three and a half years — was quoted as saying, “Carl was someone who was always willing to help the new guys. He would help with our investigations or whatever was needed.”
A senior officer — who chose to remain anonymous — said Bordelon “tried to do the right thing and was a heck of a good man to his fellow officer.”
Some say Bordelon was a small-town cop handling small-time crime and that he wasn’t ready for big-time situations. He was — as one reporter described him — ‘a traffic-ticket cop.’
I’d like to know what you think. Do you believe the news media treated Carl Bordelon fairly? Read this post and decide. Towards the end, you’ll find a poll where you can cast your vote.
Scroll to the very end for photos and some short videos taken outside a church in Pineville, Louisiana where Bordelon’s funeral service was held on January 14, 2015.
LOCAL COVERAGE OF BORDELON’S DEATH …
Reporter Randy Benson of The Town Talk did this article on the sudden death of Carl Bordelon. The story was published on Sunday, 11th of January 2015. Click to enlarge.
WE SAW THAT …
For more detailed coverage on Officer Carl Bordelon’s passing, go to We Saw That, an Internet news site operated by Ed Hooper of Horse Pen Creek, Louisiana [see link below].
I found out about Hooper’s blog from someone currently residing in the U.S. who, during his cross-country travels, frequently visited the site to get the latest on the Richard McNair case.
And no, that wasn’t an inquisitive reporter. That was Richard Lee McNair himself.
Hooper’s piece on Carl Bordelon includes a phone conversation we had about the officer, some background to my 2010 interview with Bordelon … and thoughts from McNair on the Louisiana cop he made famous four years earlier.
To hear that interview, first click on the link … then click on the recording bar. Our chat contains a short audio clip of Carl Bordelon that was recorded in his office in 2010.
WATCH THE FAMOUS DASHCAM VIDEO
Your choice: You can either watch the Bordelon-McNair video on Hooper’s site by going to the link above, or you can go directly to YouTube …
MEETING CARL BORDELON
In late 2010 I traveled to the United States to research my book on Richard Lee McNair, ‘The Man who Mailed Himself out of Jail.’ [A link to the book can be found towards the end of this post.]
While in Louisiana, I spent some time with Officer Bordelon.
I wasn’t sure if I’d even get to meet the man — let alone interview him — as Bordelon had steadfastly refused to speak with reporters. More than five years had passed since the world-famous encounter on railroad tracks and the cop was still shutting down journalists.
I ‘d soon discover why …
The interview with Bordelon came about just after I’d spoken with the mayor of Ball. Roy Hebron and I met in his spacious office at the one-story municipal building in Ball.
The Mayor was in a foul mood. He was ticked that I had traveled “all the way from Canada” to do [yet another] damn story on his beleaguered officer.
Hebron yanked open his bottom desk drawer and began tossing things about. He was looking for the fax that arrived from the prison after inmate McNair was a no-show for a head count.
The Mayor finally found the document. With his hand trembling, he shoved it in my face, shouting, “Look at this!”
Well, I did just that.
I stood by the corner of his desk, taking a good look at the same fax Officer Bordelon had to work with. Gotta admit, I was stunned. The image of Richard Lee McNair was not only old but poor quality. It was as if the prison had asked McNair himself to pick out a photo for a news release.
The fax also contained some erroneous information. It made me wonder — and forgive me for being sarcastic — if McNair had a friend working in the warden’s office who deliberately doctored the fax.
That Mayor Hebron would give away such a ‘historical’ item — to a complete stranger no less — showed how fed up he was with the Bordelon-McNair fiasco.
He was in a much better mood when I left his office. It’s as though he had gotten some things off his chest.
THE PRISON FAX ON MCNAIR’S ESCAPE
Here’s that fax: Click on the image to enlarge.
When Carl Bordelon stood on the railroad crossing that day, he was standing on a trap door.
- The prison fax had an outdated, pixelated black-and-white image of Richard Lee McNair — one that showed him with a full beard. When McNair arrived at USP Pollock in the fall of 2005 he looked ‘somewhat’ like that — but he sure didn’t when he was out on the train tracks. The con got rid of his beard soon after he arrived at the Pollock pen. When that happened, guards did the right thing and snapped a new picture of McNair. However, when the penitentiary issued its ‘Notice of Escaped Federal Prisoner’ fax, someone in the joint screwed up and attached the old photo. Mistake #1.
- McNair did not have scars on his left wrist, as the fax indicated. Twenty years earlier, however, he did have some scars after a punch-up at a party in North Dakota. But by the time the Bureau of Prisons bus rolled up outside the penitentiary in Pollock, those blemishes were long gone. Officials at USP Pollock would have known that and should have updated McNair’s file. Because the misinformation wasn’t corrected, the Mounties in Canada had to go through the same rigmarole when they captured McNair. Scars? What scars? Mistake #2.
- McNair did not have scars on his knees. More confusion. #3.
- According to prison officials, the escapee was wearing a prison uniform. Mistake #4. When Richard McNair was on the tracks in Ball and Tioga he wore a tank top and jogging shorts. Mind you, a prison jumpsuit would have stood out like a wetsuit in the desert and so he stashed his prison garb under the north end of the train trestle at Flagon Creek, a mile or so away. The tank top and shorts were far less conspicuous — and a lot cooler.
- According to prison officials, the escapee was not wearing eye glasses. The man on the tracks was indeed wearing glasses. #5.
- Prison officials weren’t sure Richard McNair had actually escaped. For all they knew, McNair could have been hiding somewhere in the penitentiary complex. It wouldn’t be the first time a con has pulled a stunt like that. Turns out, prisoner McNair — who had a reputation for busting out — had done it again. It was the first successful escape from a federal pen in more than a decade. Richard Lee McNair flew the coop not just because of his smarts, but because of a series of mistakes made by prison staff. The con took advantage, then took an unauthorized furlough. #6.
- When senior prison officials realized an inmate had bolted by secreting himself in a shipment of mail bags, they kept it a secret. Prison bureaucrats kept their fingers crossed they’d nab McNair before word got out. It was a straight con that had nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with damage control and public relations. Mistake #7.
- It gets worse. After seeing the fax photo, Ball Police Chief David Covington drove to the penitentiary to get a proper photo of the missing inmate — but prison officials refused to give him one. In fact, they wouldn’t let him in the joint so he could see a better photo. Question: Why not? Is that government bureaucracy or just plain stupidity? Doesn’t matter. Screw-up #8.
- The U.S. Marshals Service — whose mandate is to apprehend fugitives — was the last law enforcement agency to be told about the escape. USMS should have been at the top of the list, not at the bottom. #9.
- This is for the news media: Pay attention … don’t believe everything officials tell you. In an April 7, 2006 story in the Bismarck [North Dakota] Tribune, Jane Heschmeyer, Assistant Warden at USP Pollock, is quoted as saying that McNair ‘hid’ in a warehouse on the grounds … and rode out in a mail van. Didn’t happen. This bogus information was reported all over the place as if it were legit. Reporters can be like trained rats. Some trust the system 100 percent. Please don’t. If you’re given a choice of trusting the system and solid facts, go with the latter. #10
- #11: While incarcerated at USP Pollock, Richard Lee McNair borrowed a book from the prison library called Hide Your Assets and Disappear — A Step-by-step Guide to Vanishing Without a Trace [Author: Edmund Pankau]. I’m not making this up. The book was actually on the prison’s list of approved books. It’s a safe bet the book is no longer available to inmates.
NO ONE BATTED 1.000
Keep the above factoids in mind next time anyone tells you that Carl Bordelon was a fool on that blistering hot day in April 2006. True, the officer didn’t bat 1.000 … but no one did. Management and staff at the Pollock pen sure didn’t. Police didn’t. The media didn’t. Richard McNair didn’t.
Everyone made mistakes.
More than one media outlet reported that McNair had escaped in a mail truck. Another said he hid in a mailbag and once he got to a Post Office, he bolted. Didn’t happen. Police claimed McNair left the area by jumping a freight train. Another fantasy.
Even the public screwed up. A woman claimed to have had sex with Richard McNair soon after he busted out. She thought for sure it was him because of a big tattoo on his back that read ‘Prisoner.’ McNair didn’t have any tattoos. Must have been a different escapee.
Richard McNair screwed up too, but he got away with his mistakes. For a while. He lost his important book of contacts when crawling on his hands and knees, going in circles, trying to confuse the tracking dogs that would soon be on his ass. He also brought along packets of oysters [full of energy, according to his research] … but they nearly made him vomit. McNair forgot to taste-test.
As if USP Pollock didn’t look foolish enough, the same evening of the breakout — while hundreds of police were searching near Ball and Pineville — Mr. Fugitive was replenishing his water supply in a waste-treatment plant near the guard towers at USP Pollock. The irony is that during the day, inmates [prison labor] worked there cleaning up and cutting the grass.
On the night of 5 April 2006, however, the only soul at the waste treatment plant was an uninvited guest, Richard Lee McNair.
When Mayor Roy Hebron heard that nugget, he broke into a smile and in a slow, deliberate voice, said “… is … that … right?? …” It was music to his ears that 12-hours after his escape, McNair was right next door to the prison. And no longer in Ball.
Mayor Hebron revealed it was his Police Chief who released the video to the media — without his blessing, incidentally. The Mayor was upset the video had gone viral.
Officer Bordelon could have made that tape ‘disappear,’ but he chose not to. It said two things about the man: a] he had integrity … and b] given what he had to work with, he felt he did the right thing.
After Hebron and I finished talking, the mayor grabbed his cell phone and made a quick call. I heard him say, “Carl, get in here!” That has to be Carl Bordelon, I thought. Five minutes later, a uniformed Officer Bordelon walked into the Mayor’s office and took a seat at the back of the room.
It was the first time I’d seen Bordelon’s face. I was immediately struck by how sad he looked. Remember, this was more than five years after his run-in with McNair. Clearly, the man had been tormented by the controversy.
I told Bordelon I wanted to interview him for a book about fugitive Richard McNair. With Mayor Hebron standing alongside him, the officer gave me the same line he’d given a British television producer [RAW-TV] who had traveled to Ball. “Not interested,” the officer snapped, “… unless I’m paid a lot of money.”
More than anything else, Bordelon’s response seemed to speak of a deep anger. My reply was that the publisher in New York wouldn’t go along with that. In defiance, the policeman crossed his arms and repeated, “Not interested …”
That appeared to be the end of our meeting.
I then said, “Carl, let me ask you one thing: some people in Ball say you knew you were dealing with an escaped killer out there on the tracks — but that you were afraid, so you let him go …” Bordelon cut me off. “That’s not true,” he stated, calmly. “I didn’t know who he was. And I wasn’t afraid. Look at the stance I was taking [in the video] …”
In a letter from ADX Florence, Colorado, Richard Lee McNair had this to say about whether Bordelon was scared: “I never got the impression Officer Bordelon was afraid of me. He looked me in the eye, never took a defensive stance; hand-on-weapon or tried to keep distance between us.”
Bordelon then began to talk, and he didn’t stop talking for well over an hour. When the interview ended, he asked if I’d drop around to see him in the morning. I thought about that for about a tenth of a second, maybe less, and said, “What time?” He suggested we meet at eight. Eight it was.
Bordelon and I shook hands and he handed me his business card …
The second interview was done privately in his office. There was no one but Bordelon and myself in the small room.
I asked Bordelon for his thoughts on the con who’d put one over on him. “He’s a smart man,” he said. “This was his third escape and that tells me he takes time to plan and analyze. I have nothing against him. He is paying his time to society for the crimes he did. Richard McNair didn’t hurt me. The media did.”
Bordelon then opened up about the media and how it had ‘crucified’ him. He says the local media — especially — bashed him a lot.
“When I say bashing, I mean hammering. They have never met me, yet they hide behind a locked door, run their mouths — and crucify.” — Carl Bordelon
“It’s hurt you, hasn’t it?” I offered. “I’m a human being,” he said, looking up. “Many people think we’re bulletproof; we’re not. I bleed just like you do …”
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” Bordelon concluded. “I can keep my head up. Pollock Prison cannot.”
SUPPORT FROM AN EDITOR
Bordelon got support from at least one local media person. Glynn [pronounced: Glen] Maxwell of The Chronicle in nearby Colfax is of the opinion that what critics said about Bordelon wasn’t warranted.
“When you watch the [YouTube] video,” says Maxwell, “the officer is questioning McNair the way a good ‘ol boy would question another good ‘ol boy.”
“Bordelon is right about not picking up on those names.” [a reference to McNair first saying he was Robert Jones, then Jimmy Jones] “That’s because down here,” Maxwell explains, “we do use different first names. Obviously, the officer was trying to decide if he had an escaped convict or ‘Billy Joe’ running down the railroad tracks.”
“Bordelon did not have adequate information,” the editor concludes, “he had to let the man go.”
Maxwell was critical of the Pollock Penitentiary, not Carl Bordelon.
“The situation was perfect for the prison, and it took advantage. Because the media dumped off on Bordelon, the prison didn’t have to talk to the media. The prison made Bordelon the fall guy.” — Editor Glynn Maxwell.
AT THE TRACKS AGAIN
Carl Bordelon and I drove out to the railroad tracks where he’d stopped McNair on that fateful afternoon. What struck me was how clearly everything was etched in his mind, right down to the exact spot where his cruiser had stopped, overhead lights flashing.
Here’s a short audio clip of Carl Bordelon and myself recorded at the spot where he intercepted McNair. This isn’t ‘studio quality.’ I recorded our talk so I could have a transcript of what was said. The clip runs 01:23. [wait for the clip to load … watch for the progress bar.]
After Officer Bordelon shook hands with Richard McNair and bid him farewell, the fugitive took off down these tracks …
I asked Bordelon what happened after he and McNair parted company. He explained that he got back in his cruiser, drove a very short distance, then did a U-turn. When Bordelon hit the crossing on the way back, he glanced south — but the jogger was nowhere to be seen.
“Man, where’d he go …?” he wondered. Bordelon’s musing became the title of the second chapter in the book.
Carl Bordelon not only kept his job with Ball Police, he was promoted to Assistant Chief. Meanwhile, nearly half a dozen staff at USP Pollock were quietly given pink slips and promoted out the door. It was a story largely ignored by the local media. Don’t waste your time Googling ‘USP Prison Staff Dismissals.’ Ain’t nothing there.
The last time I saw Carl Bordelon was near the crossing where his life took a sharp turn in 2006. We parked our vehicles on Stanfield Lane, a side road, and were chatting it up with an officer from a Sheriff’s Department who’d pulled up. Suddenly a call came over the radio from dispatch and Bordelon said, “Gotta go.”
We shook hands and he told me to take care.
Bordelon’s sadness seemed to have vanished. Just like that. The officer was smiling as he climbed into his cruiser and took off … like a bat out of hell, tires squealing, like in the movies.
I did joke with Bordelon that it was good to finally see what he looked like as I’d watched the YouTube video many times and was getting tired of looking at his ass.
I planned to look up Carl Bordelon on my next trip to Louisiana, arriving at his office with doughnuts and a 6-pack. It seems odd — perhaps ‘wrong’ is a better word — to think that I’ll be getting flowers instead and searching for a burial plot.
Carl Bordelon’s autopsy was done by the Coroner’s Office at 701 Murray Street in Alexandria. Massive heart attack, the corner told civic officials in Ball. No lingering pain, they said. One moment, Bordelon is at the Ball Police Station, next moment he’s in Heaven.
I don’t know if I believe that — not about the bit about Heaven, because I think that’s true — but the stuff about no lingering pain. It’s my belief Officer Bordelon had been in a lot of pain since the afternoon of 5 April 2006.
McNAIR’S REACTION TO BORDELON’S DEATH
When I learned of Carl Bordelon’s passing, I popped a postcard in the mail to Richard Lee McNair, imprisoned at ADX Florence in Colorado.
In a letter dated 28 January 2015, McNair wrote,”Received your postcard tonight. How sad. Byron, I thought Carl was older than me.” [Note: McNair was born 19 December 1958, making him 56 in December 2014] “51 years old and a heart attack,” McNair wrote.
In the same letter, the prisoner also shared, “I keep thinking of Carl and his family. So sad.”
In a second letter dated 20 January 2015 and received 18 March 2015], the prisoner wrote, “Byron, just read your tribute to Carl. Just amazing. You did the man justice. Thank you. And God Bless.”
Life is full of ironies.
That was certainly the case of the Louisiana police officer who confronted a fugitive on railroad tracks. Bordelon is a French name. Carl Bordelon’s ancestors would have been aboard wooden ships full of Acadian refugees who, 250 years ago, were the target of an ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaign by the British in what is now Eastern Canada.
The ‘heart of Acadia’ is in Northern New Brunswick, where fugitive McNair was captured in October 2007 by three French-speaking members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
It gets stranger. I am originally from Campbellton, New Brunswick, the city where McNair was collared. My family home is a stone’s throw away from a car wash where the fugitive — one of America’s Most Wanted — cleaned his stolen van. Small world at times.
ROY HEBRON UPDATE
A footnote to the Bordelon story: The man who stood by him during his ordeal — Mayor Roy Hebron — was sent off to a federal prison himself, after being found guilty of misappropriating disaster relief funds [Hurricane Gustav, 2008].
I fired off two letters to Hebron [Registration #14505-035] at his penitentiary in Pensacola, Florida, but didn’t hear back. The former mayor was released on the 19th of December 2014 which, coincidentally, was the day Richard Lee McNair — still eating prison food in Colorado — turned 56.
In the fall of 1987, Air Force Sergeant Richard McNair shot and killed a long-haul trucker from Minnesota. It happened one night during a break-in at a grain elevator on the edge of Minot — when McNair was stationed at the Air Base nearby.
The shooting happened after McNair was surprised while trying to crack open a safe. Two men were shot — trucker Jerry Thies and a worker at the grain elevator. The worker recovered and later identified Richard McNair as the man who pulled the trigger.
RICHARD MCNAIR CORRESPONDENCE
I wrote McNair that he had really taken the lives of two men, not one. That’s because not long after he escaped from the State Penitentiary at Bismarck, North Dakota in 1992, James Thies — younger brother of shooting victim Jerry Thies — had a massive heart attack and died.
James was close to his brother and looked up to him. His friends said he couldn’t handle the stress of knowing that his brother’s killer had bolted and was on the loose.
McNair said he was not aware of what happened to James Thies, and that he was hit hard when he found out. According to McNair, he keeps my letter under his mat [mattress] in his cell and reads it when he begins to feel sorry for himself.
When the RCMP collared the fugitive he had trouble convincing them who he was because his fake driving license looked so real. The Mounties called him a ‘liar’ when McNair told them he was a convicted murderer who’d escaped from a penitentiary in Louisiana.
So Carl Bordelon was not the only police officer tricked by McNair. However, nothing was made of it when the Mounties were fooled.
While in solitary confinement at ADX Florence, Colorado, [the ‘Supermax’], Richard McNair detailed his escape from USP Pollock … and about his brief encounter with Officer Bordelon. Click to enlarge slightly.
Even after Richard McNair was captured and returned to a penitentiary in the United States, he was not allowed to see the Pollock fax. Not sure why. When I mailed McNair a copy, the guards sent it back.
McNair wrote about the photo on the fax , explaining why he was sporting a beard when he arrived in Louisiana. Click to enlarge.
MCNAIR ON DASHCAM VIDEO
What does Richard McNair have to say about the video? Turns out, it was a curse for both him and Officer Bordelon.
McNair spotted the camera in the police cruiser, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. And there wasn’t anything he could do about all the play the video got. It was publicity that McNair had not counted on, and it threw a huge monkey wrench into his escape plans.
The U.S. Marshals loved the dashcam video. It created a whole new level of interest in the escape. It gave the public a good idea of what Richard Lee McNair looked like, his mannerisms … and how he sounded.
In 2009, McNair wrote about the time he was on a bus that had left Brownsville in Southern Texas, headed for San Antonio. It was just weeks after his escape … and border agents climbed up on his bus, looking for ‘illegal aliens.’
McNair was no alien, but he sure was illegal.
Richard McNair is still behind bars at the Supermax, although he has been moved from the Control Unit [23-hour a day isolation] to a ‘general population’ range, home to about a dozen prisoners.
In the spring of 2014, McNair was denied a parole hearing. The North Dakota Parole Board told him he could apply again in 2028.
The following is Chapter 2 of the book on McNair [minus several photos which are in the book] … courtesy of Kindle Publishing. The chapter deals with McNair’s thoughts on meeting the Louisiana policeman. What he has to say may surprise you. For the benefit of readers to this post, Officer Bordelon’s quotes are highlighted in bold print. This will make it easier to find his comments.
After Chapter 2, there’s more on Officer Carl Bordelon, including his obituary notice, funeral procession photos and videos.
CHAPTER 2 : ‘Man, Where’d He Go …?’
It was midday on breakout day and for Richard Lee McNair, the situation could simply be described as “so far, so good.” More than good, actually. The alarms had not gone off and the bloodhounds couldn’t be heard. McNair was free.
“Just knowing I had space to work was a huge relief. If someone had seen me at the warehouse and sounded the alarm, I would have been screwed. No way I could have pulled it off.”
McNair knew very well that within an hour or so, perhaps only minutes, everything could and would change for the worse. Other than the barking of the tenacious hounds that would surely be headed his way, there would be no warning.
Every minute, every second counted.
Save for the chirping of the birds and the odd car whizzing by on Airbase Road, all was quiet.
Sweat continued to pour off McNair. It was becoming hotter and his khaki jumpsuit sure wasn’t helping.
The freshly-minted fugitive quickly walked west down a long, grassy corridor for about half a mile. To his left was the tall fence that surrounded the game preserve; to his right, a small wooded area.
The runaway continued to put distance between himself and the prison, now more than a mile distant.
At the northwest corner of the game preserve, McNair turned south and followed the fence line, stopping at a set of large gates. It was here — for the first time in more than a decade — where he enjoyed his first meal as a free man.
“When I sat down to eat by the huge double gates of the wildlife preserve, trees surrounded me. Just a very pleasant feeling. I ate some packaged smoked oysters (yuck) and threw the package over the gate.”
According to McNair’s research, oysters provide more protein per weight than any other food.
“All good and well if you like smoked oysters. I never had the pleasure of savoring this particular delicacy. Big mistake. One should always pretest such a thing, especially if it is going to be a part of one’s survival pack.
“Not only did the taste of smoked oysters make me gag and consume a large portion of my limited water supply, any juice that dripped on my clothes was like a beacon to pests — and search dogs. I was lugging four packs of these. What a waste.”
The fugitive also had energy bars, watermelon-flavored hard candy (“to alleviate thirst and hunger pangs”), packs of tuna and mackerel and several single-serve packs of honey.
It was time to plant more decoys …
“I picked the gates for two reasons: wanted to get my scent strong — as if I had climbed into the refuge. Second, wanted to clear my head.
“To accomplish the scent trail on the other side of the gates (I was on the outside — never crossed into it), placed a rock inside my food container, a plastic fish pouch and tossed it into the trees on the other side.
“Also pissed on a rag and tossed it into the trees. It hanging on a branch would allow the wind to carry the scent to a wide area.”
For the time being, McNair had outsmarted penitentiary staff. But if he hoped to avoid the massive dragnet that would soon be closing in, he had his work cut out. Not only would he have to beat the hounds and the search helicopters, but hundreds of armed police officers.
Any man who can fool a bloodhound is either good, lucky or has a speedy car waiting with its windows rolled all the way up. Bloodhounds are good, and McNair knew it. He was well aware that the long-eared tracking dogs could follow flakes of fallen human skin over long distances, even if the trail was days old. The hounds would surely sniff him out.
Drawing on his military training, McNair did his best to make sure that didn’t happen.
“In escape and evasion, you are taught how to mask your odor. In the woods of Louisiana the pine needle is key. You continuously rub the needles on your skin, boots, clothes and hair.
“You try not to get the body revved up. Doing so causes the body to emit a musk odor. Search dogs key in on this.
“Key also is to wear down your opponent. In this scenario, your opponent is the dog and his handler. You find the most rugged terrain and use it to your advantage.
“In war, regular troops travel the trails and roads. Unconventional forces use the forest, mountains, underbrush, anything to make your opposition call it a day. Were these men and women going to call it a day? Not by a long shot. But they didn’t have to be out for a walk in the park either.”
McNair walked west a short distance until he came across a single set of old railroad tracks running north-south. North would take him back near the prison. If he went south, he’d hit the communities of Ball and Pineville. Civilization.
South it was.
But hang on. McNair’s map showed a set of train tracks running just east of the prison. He was now on tracks west of the joint. What the …?? McNair took another look at his map to make sure the heat wasn’t getting to him.
“The fact there were two railroad lines — one east and one west of the pen — really shocked me. Of course, I didn’t realize there were two until much later.
“Always wondered if I’d taken the eastern set of tracks how bad things would have been. I suspect the eastern set, being closer to the highway, would have placed me deeper into the communities that border the highway. That would not have been good. So, it worked out for the best.”
McNair was now jogging on an old railroad line that saw more locals than locomotives. Residents, out for some exercise, went on the tracks to walk or jog. The infrequently used tracks were considered safer than jogging alongside a busy highway.
The tracks also offered something the shoulder of a highway couldn’t: cover.
For the next two-and-a-half miles, McNair had good cover because the train track cut through a dense forest. Few houses or roads could be seen.
However, the fugitive had zero protection from the sun’s penetrating rays. And to make things worse, the steel rails were radiating heat.
McNair was also leaving a clear trail for his trackers. Creosote, a wood preservative — a stinky, dark brown oil — oozed from the blackened ties. When the runaway stepped on the rails he left behind a footprint as distinct as a spray-painted arrow showing his route. Bad news for McNair, good news for his trackers.
“The odor of the creosote was powerful. I had a strong feeling the pungent odor would give the dog fits. One of the BOP [Bureau of Prisons] officers said he saw the outline of my sneaker tread on one of the rails.”
Only a few miles away lay the small but sprawling communities of Tioga and Ball.
It was time for Mr. Fugitive to make tracks, so to speak … and to do more thinking.
“I had completed the initial escape. My mind had to be of the frame, ‘okay, now you are just a free person — act like it.’”
The first item on McNair’s agenda was a wardrobe change. He ditched his prison garb and slipped into something cooler: shorts and a tank top, known as a muscle shirt.
“Even though I had been wearing heavy work coveralls, my skin was scratched from going through thickets and heavy pine trees.”
McNair had hidden some items — including his prison uniform — behind old, tar-covered timbers at the north end of a 15-foot high trestle spanning a pool of stagnant water covered by green scum. Welcome to Flagon Creek.
“Stashed food, clothes and water under a train trestle. Felt I was within range of Alexandria, Louisiana (my destination) and a makeshift backpack would stick out.
“My impromptu backpack was a simple pair of issued Khaki pants with the legs sewn and closed at the cuffs. Stuffed inside was my brown jumpsuit. I rolled it up and stuffed it in the timbers under the bridge. No writing or design on it. No Prisoner – Contact 1-800-ESCAPEE if found.”
The water in Flagon Creek was still, aside from the odd ripple from a deadly cottonmouth snake. There would be no skinny-dipping today. Not here anyway.
The fugitive continued to trek south.
In the distance, Richard McNair could hear the sounds of civilization: cars and children playing. Tioga was very close.
Back at the prison, meanwhile, the alarms were about to go off. A worker at the warehouse had spotted a grey sweatshirt hanging from underneath a pallet that had arrived from the pen that morning.
The pallet looked suspiciously different than the others — and it had an opening big enough for a man to squeeze through. Hmmm. The worker took a peek inside. The mailbags were soaked.
Oh oh. Time to put in a call.
“One officer shared with me that when staff inspected the inside of the pod it was coated in moisture.”
The guards hurried over. To them, the pallet of mailbags looked a little more than ‘suspicious.’ They pulled out a sweatshirt, a pair of grey sweat pants, a razor blade, water bottle, white towel, three pieces of black fabric … and a breathing tube.
Wow!! Someone had escaped!!
At 12:50 p.m. inmates at USP Pollock were ordered to return to their cells for a standup count. Within half an hour, guards got a pretty good idea who was missing when they arrived in Unit A-4 and stood outside the cell that McNair called home.
When the count was done, McNair’s cellmate stood alone. Richard Lee McNair — federal prison registration number 13929-045 — a prisoner with a record of pulling off amazing escapes — was nowhere to be seen.
A second stand-up tally brought the same result: a ‘bad count.’ Not good.
Finally, the alarm bells went off. Prisoners would soon be confined to their cells for a day or so; another pain-in-the-ass lockdown.
With the prison now on full alert, guards set up a perimeter around the joint and began a search of the place itself. That’s right — the prison. Who knows? An inmate longing for attention, say, could have found a hiding spot somewhere. Wouldn’t be the first time.
A team of bloodhounds from a prison in Pineville arrived at USP Pollock.
The Warden told police he wasn’t 100% sure McNair had even left the penitentiary, but after seeing the escape pod for himself, his Deputy Warden thought otherwise.
A command post was set up at the prison, the first of three that day. At 2:07 p.m., USP Pollock whipped off a fax to local law enforcement, including the Ball, Louisiana Police Department. The heading on the fax read: “Notice of Escaped Federal Prisoner.”
One agency that wasn’t notified right off the bat was the U.S. Marshals Service, the world-famous agency whose mandate is to pursue and capture fugitives.
Meanwhile, Richard McNair was busy making sure the bloodhounds and their handlers had their work cut out for them.
“I was getting lots of pine smell on me, felt it was important to keep calm and not get my bad odors going. That is something the dogs would lock onto.”
The fugitive got another break. The prison fax was corrupt with bad information. It had an outdated picture of McNair, and a poor one at that. The tiny, black and white passport-size photograph was not only old but hard to make out. It was as though the guards had asked McNair to pick out his favorite photograph for a news release on his escape.
The fax also contained inaccurate information about scars that McNair no longer had.
For the man on the tracks, the screw-ups could not have come at a better time.
The Bureau of Prisons offered a $200 reward for information leading to the killer’s capture. It also revealed the last two known aliases the escapee had used: Richard Lee and Richard Lee McNair.
Enter the officer known among local law enforcement as a great ‘tracker’ — Glenn Belgard of Alexandria. His business card reads: “Criminal Investigator: Fugitive Task Force Coordinator.”
At 3:30 p.m., two urgent calls were made to Belgard’s cell phone. The first was from Jason Jenkins, a Deputy Sheriff in Rapides Parish; the second from the U.S. Marshals Service District Headquarters in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The news was troubling: the Federal Penitentiary in Pollock was reporting a possible escape.
When the calls came, Marshal Belgard was busy working on an armed-robbery fugitive case in Marksville, 45 miles southeast of Pollock. However, an escaped murderer trumps an armed robber any day — especially when the escapee is Richard Lee McNair. The Marshal made a beeline for the Pollock Pen.
Belgard pulled into the parking lot at 4:15 p.m. and was met by other U.S. Marshals, officers from the Sheriff’s Department in Rapides Parish and the Sheriff of Grant Parish, Leonard ‘Pop’ Hataway.
At this point, Richard McNair was enjoying his freedom and walking south on railroad tracks near Tioga, still headed toward Alexandria.
The bloodhounds were already sniffing out his trail in woods surrounding the penitentiary. With handlers tugging at the leashes, the dogs picked up McNair’s scent and headed south.
Marshal Belgard later noted, “Some prison policies were broken that allowed this escape to happen — and McNair is good at recognizing weaknesses. With escapes, the first few hours are the most critical, as usual. After that, one can expect to settle in for the long haul. Usually the escapee makes a mistake. McNair did that twice in the first hours.”
Just before 4:00 p.m., Richard McNair reached the northern edge of the community of Tioga, stood on a railroad crossing at Ball Cut Off Road, took a deep breath and looked south. The name of the road might suggest otherwise, but the escapee was finally in civilization.
“There were kids and traffic at the first railroad/street crossing …”
To the prisoner’s left, just beyond some tall trees, were new houses with modern cars in the driveway. To his right — on the other side of the tracks — was a sprawling yard with old vehicles and young dogs, an ancient tent trailer with its sides boarded up, and the tiny bungalow of 19-year-old Jonathan Corley and his family.
Just minutes after McNair hit the railroad crossing, a veteran cop slipped by in his dark blue ‘Police Interceptor’ Ford Crown Victoria. Carl Bordelon was working general patrol.
Bordelon recalls the moment: “I glanced to my left and saw in the distance somebody in a white shirt jogging down the tracks. He was quite far away. At first I thought it was a child.”
The officer wanted to see who that was and so he drove south to the next crossing, about half a mile distant.
Owing to the brush and trees, the man on the tracks didn’t see the police car heading down Gilly Williams Road to intercept him.
“After jogging across the road, I heard a siren and continued to the next RR/street crossing [Gilly Williams Road] where the Ball officer was waiting.”
With its blue overhead lights flashing, Bordelon’s police cruiser came to a stop within inches of the steel rail.
“I jogged along the tracks not really seeing the cruiser because the trees paralleling the tracks blocked it until I was within a few feet of it.”
Turns out, Richard McNair wasn’t captured — though his image and voice were — on a video camera in the officer’s cruiser. Attached near the sun visor, the camcorder was rolling when Bordelon got out and approached the man on the tracks.
It was just after 4 p.m. and McNair was now face-to-face with Ball police officer Carl Bordelon, technically out of his jurisdiction at that point.
The pair stood on a wooden railroad crossing in Tioga at the juncture of four streets: Oaklane, Stanfield, Gilly Williams and Lanier Roads.
Carl Bordelon and Richard McNair chatted for about 10 minutes. A video of the encounter — soon to appear on TV newscasts and numerous crime shows — illustrated how quick the fugitive was on his feet.
The recording would make both McNair and Bordelon ‘stars’ on YouTube, although neither appreciated the attention.
“I could see the camera in the window of the cruiser. I did realize it was being recorded. Not much I could do. I used a submissive posture on the video. Give him his authority. Shoulders slack, arms loose at side, hands open and visible. Just a guy out jogging and keeping loose while we talked.”
The recording begins with the policeman asking McNair, “You live around here buddy?”
“Where you live at?”
“Down the road by, uh, Pineville.”
“What’s your name?”
[Ironically, a warrant had been issued for the arrest of a Robert Jones.]
McNair tells Bordelon he’s out for a jog, that he’s from Dallas and in the area roofing with his younger brother.
The officer, directing traffic, says to McNair, “We got an escapee.”
Feigning surprise, McNair remarks, “Aw shit! There’s a prison here?”
“My plan was to get back in the trees if he truly confronted me. Would I have assaulted him as some speculate? No! Had already made a promise to myself and God I would not lay a hand on anyone. I proved true to that pledge several times.”
McNair asks the officer if he had just sounded his siren.
“I asked him if that was him and he said no. Someone later told me it was him. Not a big deal, but interesting. He either wanted me to think another officer was close by or he was simply trying to control the conversation and keep it on track.”
The officer wants more information and calls dispatch on his two-way. “Does the subject wear gloves?”
“My thought as we talked was that he had backup on the way.”
Bordelon asks McNair to take off one of his gloves. McNair complies. “No, he’s clean,” the officer informs dispatch.
“Realized I was getting a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ when he was on the phone. Relief, disbelief, bewilderment, etc. were all my thoughts at that.
“Also had the belief when he or others realized his mistake, the trail would get hot again.”
The officer says to McNair, “Know the bad thing about it? You’re matching up to him.” The fugitive fires back, “That sucks doesn’t it?”
“I didn’t fit the stereotypical prisoner. A small percentage of prisoners are tattooed and fit that profile.”
Richard McNair points south and gives Carl Bordelon directions on how to get to the motel where he’s supposedly staying. He mentions a Walmart is nearby.
Correct. There was a Walmart on busy Highway 165, close to the motels and fast-food joints. Mind you, Walmarts are everywhere.
“I had been blessed to have access to maps of the area and spent time studying the local phone book. I knew where a few of the local businesses were.”
Bordelon remarks, “When I crossed the tracks down there I saw you coming, I said, ‘well, how lucky can I be?’” Between sips from his water bottle, McNair tells the officer, “I promise you, I’m not no damned prison escapee.”
“The picture he was given sucked. He stated that I had some scars that are not visible anymore (knuckles).
“Had no idea the picture on the fax was the one with the beard. Like the rest of the public, I was led to believe Officer Bordelon had the picture the rest of us was [later] shown in the news — a picture that resembled me.”
The man jogging on the tracks had a goatee and a buzz cut. The six-month old prison photo of Richard Lee McNair showed him with a full beard and a good crop of hair.
When McNair arrived at Pollock Penitentiary in September 2010, he indeed had a full head of hair and a full beard, the result of not being around a barber and proper razors for a month while locked up at a prisoner-transfer facility in Oklahoma City. Once McNair checked into the pen at Pollock, however, his beard went down the shower drain. He also got a buzz cut.
Guards then snapped a new picture of the prisoner. But when the penitentiary sent out its fax on the 5th of April, it mistakenly sent out an old photo. The miniature, poorly pixelated photograph showed a man who appeared to be from the Middle East. The photo was supposed to be of a McNair from Oklahoma, not a Mohammed from Oman.
“Photo from the pen was also not the best. I look different in person versus posed photo.”
Contrary to what the Pollock Prison initially told police, the man on the tracks wore glasses.
The misinformation didn’t stop there. According to the fax from the penitentiary, McNair was sporting a scar on his left wrist. There was none. The prison also claimed the the escapee had scars on his knees. Nope.
Prison guards thought McNair would be wearing a tan-colored khaki prison jumpsuit. Not anymore. The jumpsuit was hidden under a trestle a couple of miles away. The fugitive in fact was wearing regular jogging shorts and a white tank top.
The combination of a poor photo and wrong information would give Richard Lee McNair what he desperately needed: a get-out-of-jail-free card.
When the policeman asked McNair for his name a second time, McNair screwed up and said it was Jimmy Jones.
“Did I realize the two different names? — Robert Jones and Jimmy Jones — no. My rule on little white fibs is railroad tracks have to be within 10 feet. The cop has to be smoking. My name is “Jimmy Jones” and the humidity has to be over 80 percent on a 100 degree day. Otherwise I don’t cheat or fib.”
Before Richard McNair went on his way, Bordelon gave him some advice: “In the future, carry some ID.”
McNair would take the advice to heart. During his time on the lam, he would have a number of ID’s including Steve A. Skelton [Waterbury, Vermont], Tony R. Hampton [Alaska] and Troy A. Snyder [Anchorage, Alaska] — but no Richard Lee McNair [Duncan, Oklahoma].
Because of the surprise encounter with a policeman, the fugitive now had to rethink his plan to sprint to Alexandria, a city of 50 thousand, about six miles distant.
McNair went back to what he loved: running.
Over the next 18 months, law enforcement would have their hands full trying to keep up with the Jones’.
“As seen in the video, I moved south, jogging down the tracks …”
Four and a half years after the famous meeting, I stood alongside Carl Bordelon at the same railroad crossing. Glancing south, down a single set of tracks framed by tall pine trees, I said to him, “So McNair jogged in that direction …”
Bordelon looked my way, then down the tracks. “He didn’t jog,” he corrected me, “he RAN!”
The policeman recalled what was going through his head at the time: Wasn’t he in a hurry?
“After we shook hands and he left,” added Bordelon, “I turned my cruiser around and glanced down the tracks. He was gone. I thought, ‘Man, where’d he go?’”
“I hauled butt down the tracks 100 yards or so, looked back and didn’t see Officer Bordelon so I shot off the tracks to the west.
“I knew it was only a matter of time before the dogs were headed my way.”
Meanwhile, Bordelon drove north toward the penitentiary, traveling on Springhill Road. His cruiser came to a sudden stop at Robertson Road, near the southeastern edge of the game preserve the fugitive had come across hours earlier. Two prison guards, hoping to put the finishing touches on a head count, were manning a roadblock.
Bordelon asked if they had a proper photo of Richard McNair. Bordelon also wanted to know if they were 100 percent positive he had escaped. “The guys knew me,” the officer recalls of the short meeting. “I said, ‘Y’all got a better photo than the fax you sent us?’ They said, ‘Yeah, we have a color photo.’”
The guards then showed the officer a more recent photo of McNair, one that was in color.
Bordelon recalls how that conversation went: “Well, I just stopped a guy jogging on the railroad tracks. He looked somewhat like this — but he was wearing glasses. Could y’all look at the video in my car? If that’s not him, I’ll take the photo with me and get started again.’”
The guards sat in Bordelon’s police cruiser and watched the video.
“Within seconds, one said, ‘holy shit, Carl! That’s him!’” recalls Bordelon. “I said, ‘Are you shitting me, buddy?’ He said, ‘No, I was his guard, I know what the son-of-a-bitch looks like — that’s him!
“Where’s he at?”
Bordelon advised them that McNair had left the crossing at Gilly Williams Road and was headed south.
“I told them, ‘Tell everybody, let’s cut him off at the Tioga High School!’’’
The school is near another railroad crossing, not quite a mile from where McNair and Bordelon parted company.
It was a quick meeting. With dust flying, Bordelon did another U-turn and sped toward the high school.
While all this was going on, U.S. Marshal Belgard and Sheriff Hataway walked into the prison warehouse to check out McNair’s escape pod. One peek inside the sweaty contraption and both men sided with the Deputy Warden on this one — Mr. Richard Lee McNair was gonzo.
According to Hataway, the speculation was that the fugitive had traveled east of the prison where he came across railroad tracks and headed south. Close, but wrong set of tracks.
“If all had gone well after the escape, I would have headed to Alexandria, stole a car from a dealer and driven west to Texas — Jasper, Texas, to be exact.
“That route appeared to be the fastest, most direct shot out of Louisiana. Then down to Beaumont, Texas — though that is another prison town. Would have crossed that bridge when the time came.”
On the way to Tioga High School, Carl Bordelon got on the phone to the Sheriff’s Department in nearby Rapides Parish. He wanted back-up — and pronto — because McNair was headed toward Pineville. Bordelon got assurances that a SWAT team was on its way. Bordelon said he’d meet them at the crossing.
Bordelon parked his unit near the school and, swatting flies, walked over to the tracks. He waited nervously for the man who had bullshitted him about being a roofer. The jogger had some explaining to do.
Bordelon’s eyes never left the tracks. He waited. And waited.
Some Sheriff’s deputies drove by and asked why he was standing on the tracks. “Five minutes later,” Bordelon recalls, “the SWAT team showed up and all hell broke loose.”
Another police command post was set up on Tioga Road, close to the school. Later in the day, the command post would move again — to a parking lot in Pineville.
Police would surely snag Richard McNair if he continued to travel south.
But the fugitive didn’t travel south. Soon after he and Bordelon shook hands, McNair began to backtrack north, in the direction of the prison. It was a bold move.
Knowing he would soon be surrounded, the escapee desperately scrambled through brush and trees.
I asked Bordelon why he didn’t pick up that McNair had given him two different names: Robert Jones and Jimmy Jones. He simply didn’t catch it, the officer said, pointing out that in Louisiana it’s not uncommon for people to give two first names — a formal name, followed by the name the person goes by.
“You realize Jimmy Jones is a real person in my hometown [Duncan, Oklahoma]? He was a doctor when I was selling Buick-Dodge at the Don Nutt dealership.”
“I was paying attention to him [McNair],” says Bordelon. “He came up to me. He continued to ‘move,’ as joggers do to keep their heart rate up. He fit the profile of a jogger.”
“McNair was never a threat,” the officer adds. “He also stayed within distance of me, what we call the six-foot reactionary gap.
“I’m on the phone with a dispatcher trying to obtain information to identify this person, meanwhile, they’re trying to describe him — although [the prison] is telling me they’re not 100 percent sure he’s escaped, they’re still doing a head-count.”
Bordelon points out that the faxed prison photo showed Richard McNair without glasses, yet the man on the tracks wore glasses. “You’re not going to wear glasses when you’re jogging,” he says, “if you don’t normally wear them.”
How about Bordelon tossing a lit cigarette on the ground, shortly after he stopped McNair? His response was that in police training they’re taught to clear their hands — have both hands free — when dealing with subjects.
“But McNair didn’t have an ID …” I pressed. Bordelon’s reply: “A person does not have to carry identification unless they’re operating a vehicle. If someone is out jogging, they don’t have to carry ID.”
Bordelon maintains he did not have enough information to hold the man he intercepted on the tracks that day. “You run out of avenues to detain this person any longer. Police must have a lawful right to detain someone — unless they’re looking for a lawsuit. You can’t jack ‘em up and violate a person’s rights. Under our Constitution, people have a right to free movement. This isn’t Russia.”
Couldn’t the officer have charged him with trespassing? “Technically, yes,” Bordelon says, “but I’ve got bigger fish to fry and I’m not going to put a man in jail because he’s jogging on railroad tracks.”
According to someone who took a special interest in the YouTube clip of Bordelon and the prison escapee, the information USP Pollock released on Richard Lee McNair was totally misleading, and he’d like people to stop dumping on the Ball policeman.
Those comments are from a man who had an excellent view of the exchange that day: Richard Lee McNair.
“Someone wrote [to a media outlet] that it proved how stupid he [Bordelon] is. It’s interesting how the person didn’t sign their name. What a world we live in.
“Furthermore, it was 100-plus degrees and Officer Bordelon was wearing a black uniform, full body armor and equipment. That combo can fry the brain.”
Bordelon didn’t know what to make of McNair’s comments. “Being a prisoner for so long,” he says, “having to live under the guardianship of law enforcement, inmates have a tendency to bash police officers. So McNair’s comments are unusual. You want to believe the person, yet you still have at the back of your mind, is he telling the truth?”
Five years after the fact, Richard Lee McNair, held at a super maximum security prison, was not allowed to see the controversial fax from USP Pollock. The copy I mailed to him was sent back. “Your correspondence of the above named inmate is being returned,” writes L.J. Milusnic, Associate Warden at ADX Florence, in a letter dated 25th of February, 2011. “This correspondence was not delivered to the inmate because: ‘The Notice of Escaped Federal Prisoner Fax from USP Pollock cannot come from an individual. This needs to be requested through FOIA.”
FOIA stands for Freedom of Information Act, a federal law that permits full or partial disclosure of information controlled by U.S. Government departments.
Roy Hebron, then mayor of Ball, defended Carl Bordelon, starting on the day of Richard McNair’s escape. And he defends him still. “Defends” isn’t a strong enough a word; the mayor tore a strip off me when I walked in his office to talk about the now-famous meeting on the tracks.
Hebron says his officer endured tremendous embarrassment and stress — for doing his job. Holding up the prison fax and pointing to a small black and white picture of McNair — which he claims didn’t even look like the fugitive — an angry Hebron got right in my face. With a fixed gaze he whispered, “That’s not much to work with.”
“Wrong information,” the mayor lamented, “all we got was wrong information.”
According to Hebron, if police started rounding up people based on the photo on the prison fax they could have easily nabbed a few men in his town alone.
“It was not my man who let that prisoner out,” he says, pointing at my chest. “It was the Bureau of Prisons!”
I asked Hebron if Pollock Penitentiary had apologized to Officer Bordelon, or to the Town of Ball. “No,” he said, shaking his head. He went on to say that no prison official ever phoned to say, “It was our fault, sorry for the trouble we put you through.”
The mayor adds that his town received zero compensation from the federal government for the extra personnel and the resources it spent in the search for Richard McNair.
At the time of McNair’s escape, Robbie Maxwell was on Town Council at Dry Prong, a village northeast of the penitentiary. She says her office wasn’t warned that an escaped killer was on the loose. “It seems like a simple thing,” she says, “that all the communities around the prison would get a fax saying, ‘We have a problem here.’”
Within 48 hours of bolting from USP Pollock, Richard McNair would pass through Dry Prong on his way to Monroe in North Central Louisiana.
Robbie’s husband, Glynn Maxwell, editor of the Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in nearby Colfax, describes much of what goes on at the penitentiary as ‘hush-hush.’ “You would think they’d have better communication with the community,” he says. “It is typical federal government. Everybody protects their little civil service jobs, so you don’t get a lot out of them.”
Officer Bordelon concludes, “The whole escape went down wrong because nobody communicated with each other.”
He feels protocol should have gone this way: a) Phone call to police. b) Police supervisors go to penitentiary for emergency meeting. c) Officers shown a proper photograph of escapee. d) Officers given accurate information about the fugitive, including a description of clothes he could be wearing.
Carl Bordelon thinks a way around the problem would be to tattoo prisoners serving life sentences. “I’ve told the guards, ‘You own them, so tattoo ‘em — put on their wrist: ‘Federal Prisoner’ — something to identify them right away.”
He points out that people haven’t seen the prison fax, and feels they don’t want to. “People believe what the media tells them,” he says. “John Doe Citizen out there thinks the media tells the truth.”
One of the best-known police officers in the United States says one word describes the criticism he got from the local media: ‘bashing.’ “When I say bashing,” he says, “I mean hammering. They have never met me, yet they hide behind a locked door, run their mouths — and crucify.”
Bordelon says the news media is more interested in ratings than facts, adding that reporters have little concern about the damage caused by stories that are false or misleading.
According to the Ball policeman, other officers have told him, “You taught us a valuable lesson: burn the video.”
I asked Bordelon for his thoughts on the con who put one over on him. “He’s a smart man,” he says. “This was his third escape, and that tells me he takes time to plan and analyze. I have nothing against him. He is paying his time to society for the crimes he did. Richard McNair didn’t hurt me. The media did.”
I shared with the officer that some have said he knew he was dealing with an escaped killer out on the tracks — but didn’t try to arrest him because it would have been his last day on the job. “Not true,” Bordelon replied calmly. “I didn’t know who he was. I wasn’t afraid of him. If you look at the video, I’m standing there casual. I talked to him casually.”
“I never got the impression Officer Bordelon was afraid of me. He looked me in the eye, never took a defensive stance, hand on weapon, or tried to keep distance between us.”
Sonny Hicks, a local who ate prison food for a decade, defends Officer Carl Bordelon, strange as that may seem. “Rumors are a terrible thing,” he adds.
“I did nothing wrong,” the officer sums up. “I did what I could with what I had to work with. It’s not like I stood there, didn’t make a phone call to the dispatcher to try to find out who he is, or didn’t try to obtain further information. The only mistake I made was not getting the prison to give me adequate information before getting started. I worked with what I had, a fax.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” Bordelon concludes. “I can keep my head up. Pollock Prison cannot.”
Rapides Parish Sheriff Sgt. Jared Salard, who works out of the Tioga substation, says his office got the same fax. “The photo of McNair was real dark,” he says, “you couldn’t distinguish any facial features. Being it was a fax, it looked terrible.”
Editor Maxwell also thinks the criticism leveled at Bordelon was not justified. “When you watch the [YouTube] video, the officer is questioning McNair the way a good ‘ol boy would question another good ‘ol boy. That’s the way they do things here.
“Bordelon is right about not picking up on those names. That’s because down here we do use different first names. Obviously, the officer was trying to decide if he had an escaped convict or ‘Billy Joe’ running down the railroad tracks.
“Bordelon did not have adequate information,” Maxwell concludes. “He had to let the man go.”
The journalist feels the prison hung Bordelon out to dry. “The situation was perfect for the prison, and it took advantage,” he says. “Because the media dumped off on Bordelon, the prison didn’t have to talk to the media. The prison made Bordelon the fall guy.”
Millions of people have seen the 10-minute video of Carl Bordelon chatting with fugitive Richard McNair on railroad tracks. The clip is on YouTube. It has also been on various TV crime shows and thousands of television newscasts around the world.
[To watch the encounter of Bordelon and McNair, Google ‘Richard Lee McNair video.’]
The video wasn’t the only image taken of Richard McNair that day. What the public hasn’t seen are the scores of crystal-clear photos of the prisoner leaving his cell that morning, carrying extra clothing and supplies — plus the images of the convict’s escape device sitting on the prison factory floor. There should also be images of it being assembled.
The Bureau of Prisons refuses to release those pictures. Ditto for the Freedom of Information office.
In December 2010, Carl Bordelon mulled over his April 2006 meeting with the runaway. “Today I joke about it; it’s no big deal,” he says, forcing a weak smile. “Hell, everyone knows who I am because it [the video] was nationwide.”
Bordelon, currently the Assistant Chief of Police in Ball, now handles major investigations in the town.
“It’s hurt you, hasn’t it?” I offered.
Tapping a pen on his desk, the officer stared into space for a while before he spoke. “I’m a human being,” he said, looking my way. “Many people think we’re bulletproof; we’re not. I bleed just like you do.”
[End of Chapter 2]
CONTACT AFTER THE LOUISIANA INTERVIEWS
After our interviews in Ball, Louisiana, Carl Bordelon and I spoke on the phone a number of times. He joked about how ‘cold’ Canada is, [“Cold?” I said, “what makes you think that 30 below is cold?”] adding he thought there’s good hunting and fishing “up there.” He said he considered traveling to Canada to do some hunting.
I told him he’d be welcomed to drop in.
Bordelon bought the ebook on McNair [published in June 2013], downloading it to his iPad or Kindle, not sure which.
The book is available on Amazon:
Carl Bordelon phoned for a cover of the book, asking that I sign it and put his name on it. I did just that, and sent if off ‘special delivery.’ “What are you going to do with it?” I asked in a follow-up phone call. “I’m going to frame it and put it up on my wall [at home],” he said, “… so I can show it to my grandchildren.” If I haven’t thought about that 100 times, I haven’t thought about it at all. My thoughts on all that: the book on McNair brought about some healing for the officer … something I never expected. Fine by me.
The officer and I traded emails. The last email I got from him was in May 2014. He’d been in touch earlier, asking if I could track down a bottle of Baryshnikov cologne, of all things, since he couldn’t find the product in the United States. He promised to send cash to pay for it. I said I’d look around. It was a first for me: searching high and low in shopping centres in Edmonton for a bottle of cologne.
I wasn’t exactly sure of the bottle he wanted, so I emailed him screen-captures of two samples.
Turns out, the French-made cologne wasn’t available north of the border either.
FORMER SHERIFF CONTACTS BORDELON
Not everyone ridiculed Carl Bordelon. Vern Erck, the retired North Dakota Sheriff who worked on McNair’s 1987 murder case, said that after reading the book he saw officer Bordelon in a new light. Erck asked for Bordelon’s phone number, and I gave it to him. The two chatted for half an hour or so. According to both Erck and Bordelon, they had a great time. Neither man would share with me what they talked about.
THE MAYOR SALUTES BORDELON
Neil Kavanagh, Mayor of Ball, describes Carl Bordelon as a ‘great guy.’ The former Editor/Owner of The Northside Journal, a weekly newspaper in nearby Tioga, has fond memories of chatting with Bordelon when the officer was working nights. “His favourite shift” says Kavanagh, “was the night shift … when things were peaceful and quiet.”
Kavanagh recalls passing Bordelon — parked alone in his cruiser keeping an eye on things — the overhead lights would flash for a brief moment and the two would have a good chinwag.
According to the Mayor, the people of Ball will miss Carl Bordelon because he looked out for them and cared about them. You won’t find a better tribute than that.
On the 22nd of October 2014, the Warden at the Pollock prison complex fired off a congratulatory letter to Officer Carl Bordelon for his help in capturing a prisoner [Reginald Straughn] who had escaped from the minimum security camp. Bordelon also helped snag two accomplices of the con.
Officer Bordelon was honored at a Town meeting on 18 November 2014.
IT’LL NEVER END …
Carl Bordelon will forever be linked to the Richard McNair saga. Fifty years from now, people will still be talking about McNair’s spectacular escape from USP Pollock — and about the police officer who met him briefly on the tracks.
Let’s hope they stop making fun of the cop.
Here are the stats from McNair’s Wikipedia page … notice how the numbers jumped the day the officer died.
Carl Dennis Bordelon was born on the 8th of March 1963 to Sylvia and Richard Bordelon of Rapides Parish, Louisiana. Carl’s father died when he was 12. He has an older sister and two younger brothers. [Thanks to Ed Hooper of We Saw That for that intel.]
Back to a question posed at the beginning of this post … Was Carl Bordelon treated fairly by the media?
CARL BORDELON’S FUNERAL SERVICE
Hundreds turned out to say goodbye to Officer Carl Bordelon on Wednesday afternoon, 14 January 2015 at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Pineville, Louisiana.
As Ed Hooper reported, a good number of police officers were on hand to give one of their own a grand sendoff.
“Carl is deserving,” notes Canadian broadcaster Randy Marshall, “because he served his community well over the years under some very difficult circumstances.”
[The following five photos and two video clips are courtesy of Ed Hooper of wesawthat] Click to enlarge the photos.
Click on the two links to watch short video clips of Bordelon’s casket being removed from the hearse and taken inside the church …
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
With scores of police officers in church for Bordelon’s funeral, a prisoner serving time for burglary decided to take advantage of reduced police manpower — do a McNair, so to speak — and hit the road. Literally.
The 43-year-old — part of a road crew clearing brush near Pineville — stole a Ford F-150 pickup truck and hightailed it out of dodge. The con was last seen heading east on Highway 28, perhaps exceeding the posted speed limit, who knows.
And, no, the U.S. Marshalls were not looking for a Robert Jones or a Jimmy Jones. They were searching for Christopher Bailey, a white male, last seen wearing blue jeans, an orange shirt … and a blue denim jacket with ‘RPDC’ [Rapides Parish Detention Center] in stencilled lettering on the back.