Escaped Insane Killer Captured After Four-Day Manhunt

Cops had feared what would happen when Phillip Paul's medication wore off.

September 20, 2009, 4:44 PM

Sept. 20, 2009— -- Police in Washington state captured a schizophrenic killer who had escaped during an outing from the mental hospital where he had been committed to a state fair.

Phillip Allen Paul, 47, was on medication to control the schizophrenia that authorities said led him to brutally murder an elderly woman when "voices in his head" told him to 22 years ago.

The Spokane County Sheriff's Office said Paul was captured at around 4:30 p.m. local time in a wooded area near Goldendale, Wash., more than 180 miles from where he escaped.

Police said Paul surrendered without putting up any fight, as dozens of federal, state and local law enforcement officers searched the area around Goldendale, and a helicopter hovered overhead.

"It appeared that he was going to voluntarily turn himself in because of the pressure of the ground force we had in the area," Klickitat County Sheriff Rick McComas told The Associated Press. "He chose not to stay hidden any longer. ...

"He came out of the brush, onto the roadway, as law enforcement officers were going by. His intent was to voluntarily give himself up because he knew we were going to find him."

His had escape triggered an intense manhunt, involving members of the Spokane County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Marshals, Yakima County Sheriff's Department, Department of Corrections officials and FBI agents.

It also raised controversy over how someone like Paul could have been allowed to go on an outing to the Spokane County Interstate Fair, crowded with unsuspecting families, and over how the hospital handled the escape once officials there learned that Paul had slipped away from the chaperones.

"He's not somebody that has committed a crime out of passion," Spokane County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Reagan said. "He's committed a crime because the voices in his head tell him to commit the crime. And we don't know when those voices are going to start talking to him again."

Paul escaped Thursday when he and other inmates from the Eastern State Hospital in Spokane were taken on an outing to the Spokane County Interstate Fair. Police said earlier today they believed Paul had been planning the escape, because he took a backpack and extra money with him on the outing.

Since the field trip to the fair is an annual event, Paul could easily have prepared to go on the lam, Reagan said.

"It could very well be he's been thinking about this for a while," Reagan said. "We don't know what he had in that backpack. It could've been a change of clothes, it could've been food and supplies, we don't know."

When investigators searched Paul's room, they found he had left few of his clothes behind, Reagan said.

Paul was acquitted by reason of insanity in the beating and murder of an elderly Sunnyside, Wash., woman in 1987, and he was committed to Eastern State, diagnosed as schizophrenic. After killing the woman, he soaked her body in gasoline to make it harder for search dogs to find her and then buried her in her flower garden.

Field Trip First, Frantic Manhunt Next

Besides the fear created by knowing an insane killer is on the loose, Paul's escape also raised anger about how it could have been allowed to happen, with various agencies and officials pointing fingers at one another.

Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said officials from Eastern State Hospital waited a full two hours before calling police.

"It's very frustrating and surprising that we weren't put on notice immediately," Knezovich said.

The head of the union that represents workers at Eastern State blamed the lag on hospital officials, saying that the staff overseeing the outing immediately notified their superiors when they realized Paul was missing.

Greg Davis, president of Washington Federation of State Employees Local 782, also said the hospital had been warned about allowing patients such as Paul to go on such outings, saying policy changes at the hospital have become less restrictive about who can go on such field trips.

"Under older policy, a patient [like Paul] would not have been included in that outing," Davis told The Associated Press. "That outing is for the best of the best ... patients with years of compliance and excellent behavior, people who the courts agree are ready to re-enter society."

Escaped Killer Review Stated He Was a Threat to the Public

That Paul did not fit that category was indicated just two weeks ago, when according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, a Yakima County judge ruled that Paul remained a threat to the public because of his aggressive behavior and his decreased awareness of his psychosis.

Rich Hartzell, the director of the fair, told ABC News Spokane affiliate KXLY-TV that he never received a request from the hospital to have a group of patients attend the fair, and if he had known someone with a violent criminal history such as Paul was being brought to the fair, he would not have approved.

"I just don't understand how this could happen," Hartzell said. "I'm just bewildered by the whole situation, and I would hope that when I put in a phone call to them that they'll be able to give me some answers as to what their rationale was for this."

But such field trips involving patients from mental institutions are common, and hospitals are not required to seek permission, Washington Department of Social and Health Services spokesman Jim Stevenson told KXLY.

Thursday evening, just hours after Paul's escape, DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus ordered an immediate end to all field trips involving forensic patients such as Paul, and ordered Eastern State to conduct an immediate review of their procedures to determine what went wrong.

"We have to keep the community safe, and I really appreciate the seriousness of this and we are just very sorry this has happened," Dreyfus said.

Paul escaped once before, in 1991, when he walked away from a day trip in Medical Lake. He was captured 15 miles away, but then attacked a sheriff's deputy in the jail booking area, knocking him unconscious and separating his shoulder. He was convicted of first-degree escape and second-degree assault.

"He has a very violent past," Knezovich said. "One of my deputies, when he escaped, was assaulted by this individual and ended up in surgery."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events