Female Fugitive Recaptured on Birthday After 34 Years in Hiding

Photo: Fugitive Units Recapture Florida Inmate Who Escaped 34 years Ago

After a life on the run, a Florida fugitive who escaped from prison 34 years ago was recaptured by authorities Tuesday -- on her birthday.

In 1975 Paula Eileen Carroll was sentenced to five years in a Florida prison on charges of theft. Carroll, 21 years old at the time, broke out of prison after less than two months, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Authorities aren't sure exactly what Carroll did for the next three decades, but when she was picked up at a home in Melbourne, Fla., she was living under an assumed name and social security number, investigators said. The April 20 birthday, however, was her real one.

"It's unusual," said Lt. Michael DeMorat of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office who assisted the Florida Department of Corrections' Fugitive Unit in the case. "You don't get very many that we capture that have been on the run for 34 years."

When police arrested Carroll on her 56th birthday, she told them she had "been thinking about this day for a long time" and that she was "glad it's over," investigators said. The last time she saw the inside of a jail cell, Gerald Ford was president.

The arrest stunned Carroll's neighbor, Joseph Massimini.

"I was shocked. We were just friendly neighbors," Massimini told ABC News. "She was a very nice lady... If she called me today and said, 'Joe, I need some help,' I would help her."

Massimini said that Carroll was a grandmother.

Anonymous Tip 34-Year Nets Fugitive

The arrest came after an anonymous tip came in to the fugitive unit on Monday, Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson Gretl Plessinger told ABC News. The fact that the arrest came on Carrol's birthday, Plessinger said, was just a coincidence.

"Usually a couple of times a year our cold-case fugitive unit gets somebody that has been gone a long time," Plessinger said. "It is something we see occasionally."

Now that she's back in police custody, Carroll will have to serve the remainder of her original five-year sentence, and could possibly face additional charges in connection to her alleged escape.

Escape With Few Answers

Records from the 1970s are not as complete as current records, Plessinger said, and therefore it's difficult to know exactly how Carroll managed to break out of prison.

What is clear is that an inmate check was done at 9 p.m. on Sept. 3, 1975, and everyone was accounted for. When another check was done an hour later, two inmates were missing.

The second inmate was found during a large search involving prison and police officers, but until now, Carroll never was.

It was not immediately clear if she is currently represented by a lawyer.

The Florida Department of Corrections said the fugitive unit has recaptured more than 400 escapees, and deals with some cold cases that have been on the books for more than 60 years.

ABC News' Desiree Adib contributed to this report.

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