Fugitives apprehended after jailbreak

Friday, March 28, 2003

A jailer was handcuffed to a chair March 23 while two prisoners charged with capital murder armed themselves with guns and ammunition from the evidence room during a jail break at the Fulton County jail. The inmates escaped by crawling through the ceiling and then fled in the jailer's Jeep Grand Cherokee sports utility vehicle.

Jailer Rhonda Long was on duty by herself at the jail during the midnight shift when she heard a loud noise from downstairs where inmates are kept. Long said it's not unusual to hear noises at night from the prisoners. Long said she checked on the prisoners and some of the inmates told her the noise had come from another inmate, Brian Shankle, who had banged on the cell bars. Long said she didn't take a head count because Shankle was in full view so nothing appeared out of the ordinary.

Long said she returned upstairs and entered the kitchen. After performing some kitchen duties she returned to the office to type some reports when she noticed inmate Bobby Woodrum hunched down ransacking through cabinets. She said she was shocked when Woodrum asked her for the cell keys. Long said she told him she could not give the keys to him but told him where the keys were located because she was afraid he would damage the jail and become violent if she didn't comply with his request. After obtaining the keys Woodrum released Shankle from the cell.

Long said she was afraid to call for help because she didn't know how the two inmates would react. She said both men exercise daily and are very strong.

Shankle handcuffed Long to a chair in the sheriff's office while Woodrum broke the door down to the evidence room and stole a .223-caliber Mini 14, two shotguns, a .22-caliber rifle and a .22-caliber pistol, Salem Police Chief Albert Roork said.

The east side of the jail contains two jail cells and an exercise room. Five jail cells and an exercise room are located on the west side. A foyer is in the middle between the cell blocks. Woodrum and Shankle were incarcerated on the east side of the jail by themselves. Roork theorized Shankle boosted Woodrum up and pushed the metal ceiling in the hallway aside to escape through the foyer.

Woodrum and Shankle confiscated Long's keys to her vehicle and fled the scene. Long was able to free her right hand from the cuffs and call Fulton County Sheriff Lloyd Martz. After notifying authorities about the jail bust she dragged the chair to the computer while hand-cuffed and sent out a BOLO (be on the look out) alert to all law enforcement agencies. When Martz arrived at the jail he removed the other handcuff from Long's wrist. She said after she was released the reality of the situation hit her. Long said she has experience working with inmates because she used to work at a prison. "When you're with them (prisoners) you know what you're up against. If you have an ounce of fear you don't need to be in this line of work. I let my guard down," she said.

Woodrum and Shankle were spotted on Highway 63 near Willow Springs by a Willow Spring's officer, according to Fulton County chief deputy Carrol Traw. The officer followed the suspects and called for additional help. When additional units arrived officers attempted a traffic stop at which time the suspects fled north on Highway 63. Texas County Sheriff Dean Belshe said spike strips were set up on the highway, but the suspects turned east on a gravel road. During the pursuit suspects fired shots several times at officers but authorities did not return fire, Belshe said. The chase proceeded on country roads at which time suspects ran through a cattle guard and into a pasture after losing control of the vehicle when one of the tires went flat.

The escapees abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot into the woods, Martz said. Fulton County deputies David Estes, James Humphrey, James Cantrell and 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force Agent Billy Baker traveled to Missouri to assist in the search at the request of Texas County authorities.

Belshe said about 50 officers from Houston, Cabool, West Plains, Willow Springs and Baxter County joined the search. Helicopters from Baxter County and the Missouri Highway Department were used in the search and three dog teams also assisted, Belshe added.

Woodrum and Shankle allegedly broke into an unoccupied house after fleeing on foot and stole a handgun and a shotgun from the home. While the two inmates were at the residence the owner's daughter-in-law arrived at the house and the suspects took her car at gunpoint.

The escapees restrained the victim and stole her car keys. "She was not harmed," Belshe said. After the suspects fled again the victim was able to get loose but Woodrum and Shankle had disabled the telephone. Belshe said the woman's husband happened to drive along and discovered his wife. The pair traveled to the nearest phone and reported the incident to authorities and gave a description of the stolen vehicle.

At 11 a.m. the suspects were apprehended at a roadblock north of Raymondsville, Mo. Belshe said authorities set up the road block while officers were pursuing the pair. Woodrum and Shankle surrendered without incident. "We got the bad boys caught," Belshe said. They were transported to the Texas County jail where they waived extradition. Both men are being charged in Texas County with first degree robbery, armed criminal action and first degree assault.

Both inmates were transported back to Arkansas by Fulton County deputies and agent Baker. They were later transferred to the Independence County Detention Center. Fulton County now has the added expense of paying $90 per day to Independence County for Woodrum and Shankle to be housed, said chief jailer JoAnn Cunningham.

Roork said, "If we had two people on duty this wouldn't have happened. It worked in Long's favor the two inmates liked her because otherwise they might have killed her, Roork said. He said Long was traumatized over the incident.

Martz said the two are being charged in Fulton County with first-degree escape, two counts of theft of property and kidnapping.

"It's only by the grace of God she (Long) is alive. It's dangerous over here in this jail when you're holding hardened criminals." Martz said.

Long said, "When I left home I told my kids,' I'll see you in the morning.' That could have been the last time I saw my kids." She added that Woodrum and Shankle made a bad choice and will pay the price. "Desperation and fear will make you do bad things," Long concluded. Long's husband, Mark, an officer in Horseshoe Bend, joined the search for the two escapees. He said he headed to Oxford in pursuit of the pair but made sure his house was secure before leaving. He said Woodrum and Shankle had his wife's vehicle that contained the registration with vital information of the home address. The couple had two daughters at home during the ordeal.

"I want them to know they didn't get the best of me," Long said. Long said Woodrum and Shankle looked her in the eye and apologized to her for handcuffing her. Long said her daughter went to school with Shankle at Izard County Consolidated School. Neither inmate threatened Long; "That told me that I touched them in some way. They respected me," she said.

The following day a welder-fabricator was hired to secure the jail. Jesse Pierce from Pierce Construction installed a new metal door to the evidence room. "You can only do so much to the facility to make it safe. It is an antiquated facility. We are lucky nobody got killed," Roork said.

Woodrum and Shankle, along with three other men, Jesse D. Petty, 21, Timothy Est, 19, and Billy Jack Wilson, 26, were arrested for the murder of Russell "Joe" Fisk on June 24, 2002. Fisk was found dead in his Agnos home with a belt wrapped around his neck.

In July of last year after hearing rumors that weapons had been smuggled into the jail, Fulton authorities searched and found two hacksaw blades under a mattress in one of the cells shared by several inmates including Woodrum and Shankle, Martz said. Woodrum was transported to Craighead County jail and Shankle was transported to Stone County Detention Center for safety measures. Shankle was later transferred to the Independence County jail after he started a fire at the Stone County jail, Martz said. Evidence linked Shankle to the fire so he faces additional charges of arson.

In response to the jail break Fulton County Judge Curren Everett said the sheriff's office does not have enough staff. One solution would be to purchase equipment for an enhanced 9-1-1 system and hire extra personnel, he said. Everett said money is tight in Fulton County, so he suggested purchasing the equipment on credit and using the money in the 9-1-1 account to hire two full-time and one part-time dispatcher. Everett said he is taking his proposal to the 9-1-1 Committee, which is comprised of three justices of the peace Bob Russell, Jim Bicker and Jerry Smith.Everett said he wanted a response from the committee members before taking the proposal to the full body quorum court at the April meeting.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: