It sounds like a romantic scenario: two star-crossed lovers are separated by the walls of prison until one of them decides to break the other out and they escape to freedom together. Of course, in real life, it almost always ends with the couple getting caught.
But as corny as this scenario may sound, there are people willing to risk everything in order to break their lover out of jail. Amazingly, some of these perpetrators were ordinary law-abiding citizens who had lives and families of their own, yet were willing to throw it all away to run off with a convicted felon.
10. Ralph & Rebecca Brown and Freddie & Patricia Gonzales
In 1989, Freddie Gonzales was serving a four-year sentence for robbery at the medium-security Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Crowley, Colorado. His friend, Ralph Brown, was serving a longer sentence for such crimes as sexual assault, theft and criminal impersonation.
Luckily, both of these men had very devoted wives who were willing to risk their lives in order to break them out of prison. On August 19, Patricia Gonzales and Rebecca Brown decided to rent a helicopter from Helicopter Airways in Denver, claiming that they needed it to take photographs of some real estate near the prison. Sometime during their flight, the two women pulled out a gun and forced the pilot to fly to the correctional facility and pick up their husbands from the yard. The prison guards were reluctant to fire at the helicopter for fear of harming the innocent pilot. The fugitives landed the chopper about 35 miles away, before tying up the pilot and fleeing the state in a rented van.
The four of them were able to make it 400 miles to Holdrege, Nebraska before they were spotted by authorities and chased through a residential neighborhood. After the van crashed into a tree, there was a brief shootout before all four fugitives were finally captured without anyone getting hurt. For the escape, both men had additional time added to their sentences, and they are still incarcerated today. Their wives each received 20-year sentences, and were eventually paroled.
9. Randolph Dial & Bobbi Parker
Bobbi Parker was the wife of Randy Parker, the deputy warden at the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite. The couple lived with their two daughters at a house just outside the prison walls, and one of Bobbi’s duties involved running the prison pottery program in their garage. She wound up befriending Randolph Dial, an inmate serving a life sentence for murder. Dial happened to be a skilled artist and, since he was a model inmate and had been granted trustee status, he was frequently allowed to visit the Parker residence in order to retrieve art supplies.
Before leaving for work on the morning of August 30, 1994, Randy Parker saw Dial doing some work in his garage. When Randy returned home that night, he discovered that his wife was missing, along with the family’s minivan. It wasn’t long before prison authorities noticed that Dial was missing from his cell. Later that night, Bobbi phoned her mother to say, “Tell the kids I’ll see them soon,” but she never returned.
Over the next decade, there would be numerous sightings of Randolph Dial and Bobbi Parker together. People debated whether Bobbi was a willing accomplice in Dial’s escape, or if she was a victim who had been abducted against her will and was too frightened to break free of her captor’s clutches. The couple was finally discovered living on a chicken farm in Campti Texas, and were apprehended on April 4, 2005. Dial was sent back to prison and died of lung cancer two years later. Bobbi Parker reunited with her family, but was charged with helping Dial escape and received a one-year sentence.
8. Sarah Jo Pender & Scott Spitler
In 2000, Sarah Jo Pender and her boyfriend, Richard Hull, were charged with murdering their two roommates. Even though Pender claimed to have never participated in the murders, and only helped her boyfriend cover up the crime, she was found guilty and sentenced to 110 years in prison. She was eventually transferred to Rockville Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison near Rockville, Indiana. Pender became romantically involved with Scott Spitler, a married corrections officer with children, and offered him a bribe of $15,000 to help her escape.
On August 4, 2008, Pender went to the prison gymnasium to change into civilian clothes which Spitler had left for her. She then met Spitler at his van and hid underneath the seat while he exited the facility. Spitler then drove Pender to a parking lot, where she was met by a former cellmate named Jamie Long, who took her to Indianapolis. After Pender’s escape was discovered, officials checked surveillance tapes and were able to determine that Spitler helped smuggle her out of the prison. When Spitler was charged, he revealed Long’s role in the escape, and she was arrested a few days later. After being profiled on “America’s Most Wanted,” Pender was recognized living under an assumed name in Chicago and would be arrested on December 22. For their roles in the escape, Long received a seven-year sentence while Spitler received eight years. Pender was sent to the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis and spends most of her days in solitary confinement.
7. Jon Yount & Diane Brodbeck
Diane Brodbeck was a 43-year-old housewife from Wellsville, Pennsylvania, who decided to join her church group’s prison pen pal program. She eventually became friends with an inmate named Jon Yount, a former math teacher serving a life sentence at the Rockview State Correctional Institution for the rape and murder of an 18-year old female student. In spite of this horrific crime, Yount had become a model inmate during his time in prison, and Brodbeck seemed to be drawn to him. Even though Rockview was over 100 miles away from Wellsville, Brodbeck frequently made the journey there to visit Yount, and they also exchanged letters filled with sexual overtones.
Yount made numerous appeals to commute his life sentence, which were all denied. However, because had been granted trustee status, Yount was allowed to perform unsupervised work details outside the prison walls. On April 5, 1986, Yount was working on a nearby road when Diane Brodbeck picked him up in her car and they fled the state. Yount and Brodbeck would spend the next two-and-a-half years living together under assumed names in Idaho, but were captured in 1989 after their story was profiled on the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries.” Brodbeck was sentenced to two years in prison for her part in the escape, and reunited with her family after her release. Yount’s life sentence was upheld and, in 2012, he would commit suicide by hanging himself in his cell.
6. Peter Gibb & Heather Parker
Peter Gibb was a career criminal from Australia who was arrested for the armed holdup of a security van in 1991. While awaiting trial for the crime, Gibb was held at the Melbourne Remand Centre, where he befriended a female prison officer named Heather Parker. Since her marriage had just ended, Parker soon became romantically involved with Gibb and after they were caught screwing around in a broom cupboard, Parker was transferred to another institution.
On March 7, 1993, soon after receiving a 12-year sentence for the holdup, Gibb orchestrated an escape with another inmate named Archie Butterley. After Parker smuggled a small piece of explosive into the prison, Gibb and Butterley used it to blow out a window and climb down a string of knotted bed sheets. The two escapees entered a car filled with firearms, which Parker had left for them. Gibb and Butterley eventually wound up in a shootout with two police officers and wounded one of them before stealing their van. They soon rendezvoused with Parker, and became fugitives.
On March 13, Gibb and Parker were tracked down to the town of Gaffneys Creek and captured. Butterley was killed during a firefight, though it was never determined whether he was shot by police or his own accomplices. Gibb and Parker were each given ten-year sentences for the escape, but both wound up being paroled after only serving a few years. The couple continued their relationship, but after numerous scrapes with the law, they finally broke up in 2007. Four years later, Gibb died of a heart attack after being beaten by three men.
5. Samantha Lopez & Ronald McIntosh
Samantha Lopez was serving a 50-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California for a series of bank robberies in 1981. The minimum-security, all-female prison had an adjacent administrative detention facility used for housing male prisoners who were on holdover. In December 1985, Lopez was working in the prison’s business office when she met Ronald McIntosh, who was serving a term for wire fraud and facing another possible four-year sentence for an investment scheme. The two inmates became romantically involved, and decided to concoct an escape plan.
On October 28, 1986, McIntosh requested a transfer to a federal prison camp at Lompoc, and was given a bus ticket to travel there unsupervised. He never arrived. McIntosh was an experienced helicopter pilot who had flown during the Vietnam War, so on November 4, he chartered a chopper in San Jose before pulling a gun on the pilot. After forcing the pilot out at Bollinger Canyon, McIntosh took the controls and flew the helicopter to the Federal Correctional Institution, where he set down in the prison’s exercise yard to pick up Lopez. They made a successful escape before they were apprehended on November 15 at a Sacramento shopping mall, where they were planning to pick up wedding rings they had just ordered. McIntosh received 25 years for the escape attempt while Lopez had five more years added to her sentence.
4. Edgar Eugene Kerns & Sandra Kay Beeman
Sandra Kay Beeman was a divorced mother of two who worked as a guard at the Allegany County Jail in Cumberland, Maryland. Sometime after 2:30 AM on August 29, 1990, Beeman was working her shift when Edgar Eugene Kerns, an inmate serving time for theft and forgery, suddenly appeared behind her in the control room and grabbed her. Kerns and another inmate, James Vernon Barnes, used Beeman as a hostage to convince the other guards on duty to open the doors and set them free. When Kerns and Barnes escaped in Beeman’s car and took her along with them, it was assumed that she had been abducted against her will.
However, suspicion arose when Beeman phoned her daughter shortly afterward and said: “I’m fine. I’m with him.” When Barnes was captured four days later, he confirmed that Beeman and Kerns had been involved in a romantic relationship, and that she was a willing participant in the escape. Ironically, Beeman was set to be married to another inmate at the jail, who was completely unaware of her relationship with Kerns. This story was soon profiled on “Unsolved Mysteries,” where the managers of a motel in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada recognized the wanted couple as their guests. After they were both arrested later that night, Kerns was sentenced to five years in prison for the escape, while Beeman received ten years.
3. William Timothy Kirk & Mary Evans
William Timothy Kirk was serving a 65-year sentence for armed robbery at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Morgan County, Tennessee when he was charged with killing two inmates in August 1982. A young attorney named Mary Evans was assigned to defend Kirk, but after spending a lot of time together, they fell in love. Kirk soon dreamed up an escape plan and asked Evans to arrange an outside meeting with a psychologist. On March 31, 1983, Kirk was escorted out of the prison by three guards and they met Evans at a nearby psychologist’s office in Oak Ridge.
During the meeting, Evans shocked everyone by pulling a gun out of her handbag and giving it to Kirk. Kirk used the weapon to subdue the psychologist and the three guards, who were all tied up as the couple made their escape. They remained on the run for 139 days before they were tracked down to a Western Union office in Daytona Beach, Florida.
After being captured, Evans said her time on the run with Kirk was “the happiest time of her life.” Evans’ actions may have been brought on by a history of undiagnosed mental illness, so her lawyers attempted an insanity defense. It did not work and she was sentenced to three years in prison. Kirk was convicted in absentia for the escape and the prison murders, receiving a 40-year sentence, but when Evans was paroled after serving 11 months, the two lovers got married in a prison ceremony.
2. Michel & Nadine Vaujour
In 1986, Michel Vaujour was serving 28 years at La Sante Prison in Paris for armed robbery and the attempted murder of a policeman. He had successfully escaped from prison three times before, but for his latest attempt, he would enlist the aid of his wife, Nadine. Michel’s plan involved the use of a helicopter and, even though Nadine had never a piloted a chopper in her life, she took lessons in order to learn how to fly.
On May 28, Nadine rented a helicopter and flew towards La Sante Prison. At the same time, Michel constructed a fake gun and painted some nectarines to make them look like grenades. This ruse managed to fool the guards, who allowed Michel to make his way to the prison roof. Nadine soon arrived in the chopper and picked up her husband. They later touched down at a nearby football field, where a car was waiting for them to make their escape.
The pair remained free for four months until Nadine was captured at a villa on September 27. The next day, Michel and two accomplices made an attempt to rob a branch of Credit Lyonnais in Paris, and got involved in a shootout with police. Michel was seriously wounded and left in a coma after being shot in the head. Nadine wound up serving 16 months in jail; while Michel eventually awoke from his coma, his brain injury was so severe that he had to learn how to speak again.
In spite of this setback, Michel made a full recovery, and would actually attempt two more helicopter escapes from prison in 1993.
1. Lawrencia “Bambi” Bembenek & Dominic Gugliatto
In March 1982, Lawrencia “Bambi” Bembenek was sentenced to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Milwaukee native Christine Schultz, who happened to be the ex-wife of Bembenek’s police detective husband, Fred Schultz. The case was surrounded by controversy, since Bembenek always maintained her innocence, and one of Schultz’s children claimed to have seen a masked male assailant leaving the scene of the murder.
While she was incarcerated at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac, Bembenek’s husband divorced her. However, she soon became acquainted with Dominic Gugliatto, the brother of another inmate, and the couple was eventually engaged.
On July 15, 1990, Bembenek managed to escape from the prison by squeezing through a laundry room window and climbing over a seven-foot barbed wire fence. She was met by Gugliatto, who drove her away from the prison as they fled across the border and settled down in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. The escape reignited publicity for the case from Bembenek’s supporters.
The couple was apprehended three months later, though Bemebenek would attempt to seek refugee status in Canada, claiming she was the victim of a conspiracy within the Wisconsin judicial system. After the couple was returned to Wisconsin, Gugliatto was sentenced to one year in prison. Bembenek finally received a new trial, but decided to enter a plea of “no contest” to second-degree murder and was released with credit for time served. She continued to fight to clear her name until her death in 2010.