Escape – 2-20-1992


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The Intelligencer Staff

February 20, 1992

Three murderers serving life terms escaped from the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville Wednesday.

They tunneled their way out of the maximum-security facility in broad daylight.

Tommie Lee Mollohan, 49; David Williams, 33 and Frederick Hamilton, 34, who were discovered missing after 3 p.m., were still on the loose Wednesday night.

Warden Carl Legursky and M/Sgt. D.P. Lake of the State Division of Public Safety said the escapees should be considered dangerous.

Legursky said he was told by the Moundsville police department that a hole was discovered outside the walls on the east side of the prison at Ninth Street at about 3:15 p.m. Prison clothing and a ladder were found in the hole.

Legursky said an emergency lockdown was instituted and it was found that Mollohan, Williams and Hamilton were missing.

City, county and state police immediately set up roadblocks leading from Moundsville and police agencies throughout West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania were notified.

The dispatcher at the Moundsville detachment of the West Virginia State Police said state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, police officers and officers from the Department of Natural Resources set up road blocks at strategic spots in the Northern Panhandle.

Those spots included the Interstate 470 Bridge in Wheeling near Bethlehem; the Fort Henry Bridge in Wheeling; the bridge across the Ohio at 12th Street in Moundsville; and various routes leading from the Moundsville area, the State Police dispatcher said.

Chief Deputy Art Watson of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department said his officers were manning roadblocks on WV 2.

“There was a big traffic jam from checking traffic in the Glen Dale area at one time due to the roadblock,” Watson said shortly after 7 p.m., “But it’s dissipated by now.”

Lake said initially 23 state troopers from Northern Panhandle detachments were summoned to Moundsville, and that at least 15 others would be arriving later in the evening or early Thursday morning.

“The state police, sheriff’s department, the Division of Natural Resources, city police agencies and the prison are working jointly in an effort to recapture these men,” Lake said.

“Throughout the night we will be manning road blocks, having roving patrols and following up on any leads.”

However, he added, “We have not had as many leads as I had hoped to have. We want to get these men back behind bars.”

A search dog was brought in to assist in the manhunt; it got the escapees’ scent from the prison jacket that was found in the hole.

Mollohan and Hamilton had access to digging tools because they worked in the greenhouse, said Legursky. A mattock from the Greenhouse was found in the tunnel along with a homemade pipe wrench ladder and a red jacket worn by inmates.

The warden said the inmates should have been wearing khaki clothing, but he doesn’t know if they had smuggled out civilian clothing.

Legursky said the tunnel began in the greenhouse, which has a dirt floor. “They had the area well camouflaged with shelves and other greenhouse items,” he said.

Legursky said the hole in the greenhouse was about 8 feet deep. The warden said they then tunneled horizontally about 32 feet, going under the wall. Once on the other side of the wall, they dug about 16 feet up to Washington Avenue from where they exited the hole.

Although there is a tower next to where the men tunneled out, Legursky said it was not manned and the inmates knew that.

The warden said in the past six to eight months correctional officers have found four other tunnels that had been started, but until this time no one had escaped.

“In fact,” he said, “this is the first escape from within the institution since I became warden…

“Incidentally, last Friday (Feb. 14) two inmates attempted to scale the wall, but were spotted by an officer in a tower.

“We usually get some word on any attempted escapes, but this one shocked me because we had no knowledge,” the warden said.

“We had no reason to suspect these men were up to anything. They were living in general population and had not been a problem of late,” Legursky said.

A native of Miami, FL, Mollohan, 49 was convicted Nov. 28, 1973 for first-degree murder in Kanawha County and was sentenced Jan. 7, 1974 to life in prison. Mollohan was retired in Kanawha County on Sept. 30, 1981 and received a sentence of life without mercy.

He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 180 pounds. He has a ruddy complexion, brown hair and blue eyes.

Williams, 33, of Welch, WV is serving a life without mercy sentence form McDowell County for first-degree murder. He was convicted July 23, 1981. Originally he was charged with first-degree arson and robbery, but these charges were later dismissed, and he was re-sentenced in McDowell County on Sept. 1, 1983 for first-degree murder, receiving a life without mercy sentence.

Williams is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 183 pounds. He has brown hair and blue eyes.

Hamilton, 34, received sentences for malicious wounding, first-degree murder, conspiracy to murder, kidnapping and two counts of armed robbery. He is serving three consecutive sentences, a 10-year consecutive sentence, a 15-year concurrent sentence and two 10-year sentences. He was convicted in Grant County in 1978.

He is 6 feet tall, and weighs 175 pounds. He has brown hair and green eyes.

Two former wardens of the Penitentiary said the tunnel escape must have been a well-planned, well-orchestrated affair. Donald Bordenkircher, currently the chief of Moundsville Police Department as well as a former Marshall County Sheriff, said, “They’ve tried it (tunneling out of the Penitentiary) before.”

He said the escape route was a “beautiful tunnel and had a very good ladder leading to it from inside the pen.”

He also said the project probably “took quite a while to dig.”

Ohio County Sheriff Art McKenzie, another former warden at the Penitentiary, said the tunnel had to be part of a well-planned escape attempt.

“The nice thing about a tunnel is you know you’re going to try breaking out. It takes a while and you have to make other plans in conjunction with it,” McKenzie said.

Those other plans may have involved outside help with a waiting car, he said.

He said some tunnels were attempted during his stint as warden, “but they never came to anything.”

Legursky said that once Wednesday’s emergency countdown was completed, the institution returned to as he described it, “near normal” in such a situation. He said, “We will be back to normal tomorrow.(today).”