This is an ABC News podcast, "Have You Seen This Man?," hosted by 'The View's' Sunny Hostin. It follows the U.S. Marshals' ongoing mission to find Lester Eubanks, a dangerous convict who escaped police custody in 1973 and has never been found.
His crime was brutal. His escape, unbelievable. And now, after nearly half a century on the run, a one-time death row inmate named Lester Eubanks is the subject of one of the nation’s most intense manhunts.
U.S. Marshals have made the Eubanks case one of their "Top 15 Most Wanted," commissioning a new age-progression image of the fugitive, and providing unprecedented access to ABC News for a podcast launching Oct. 23, called "Have You Seen This Man."
The escape was a reckoning for the Ohio prison system, which had tried to institute reforms that would help rehabilitate inmates, but in the process was seeing dangerous convicts get free.
Finding Eubanks has fallen to a special cold case squad from the U.S. Marshals Service. ABC News has spent a year inside the manhunt being led by Deputy Marshal David Siler, one of their most decorated agents, as he tries to use every available tool to find Eubanks before the fugitive's old age catches up to him.
Now, the Marshals are looking to listeners of the ABC News podcast to help deliver the final clue that brings this half-century-old mystery to an end.
EPISODE 1: Outside the half-hour laundromat
Mary Ellen Deener was a typical 14-year-old – news reports described her as a member of her middle school glee club, who loved roller skating, and harbored dreams of being a nun.
“She just always was giggling,” said her sister, Myrtle Carter. “You know, a little girl. Always giggling and -- and having fun.”
Her brutal assault and murder in 1965 shook the town of Mansfield, Ohio. Residents were relieved when police delivered swift justice, arresting a troubled 22-year-old local man named Lester Eubanks for the crime. They secured his confession, and gathered persuasive physical evidence, including his footprints at the scene, and the gun he had bought, used in the crime. He was not only convicted, he was sentenced to death.
“It was like watching a movie -- our movie,” remembered Myrtle Carter, 72, Mary Ellen’s older sister, who still lives in Mansfield. “It happened that night, by the-- that next afternoon, he was caught. Six months later, he was-- the trial. The sentence. And he was gone.”
At first, it seemed that this case would end as so many other murder cases do -- with the perpetrator in prison. But that’s not what happened. His bewildering escape and baffling disappearing act are now the focus of the U.S. Marshal Service in Cleveland. The case now rests with its vaunted cold case unit -- a specialized team created by U.S. Marshal Peter Elliott.
“It didn't feel like these old cases were getting paid attention to. And a lot of these cases, like the Eubanks case, just sat around for years and nothing was happening with them,” Elliott said. “What I wanted to do was start a cold case unit and put a person in charge … who was going to spend 100 percent of his time looking through these cold cases and making a difference.”
That person is Deputy Marshal David Siler.
“With these cases, they're extremely difficult,” Siler said. “But it's something that you can't concentrate on. But hopefully, at the end of the day, a good day for me is hearing those bracelets go around his wrists.”
EPISODE 2: A trip to the mall
Lester Eubanks was headed to prison for the murder of 14-year-old Mary Ellen Deener.
And not to just any penitentiary. At the time, Ohio had a reputation for menacing prison complexes, cold places known for violence and cruelty. One prison in the state, the Ohio State Reformatory, even became the set for the movie “Shawshank Redemption” (the story itself is set in Maine).
As a death row inmate at the Ohio State Penitentiary, Eubanks was facing electrocution in a chair with the nickname “Old Sparky.”
“Each and every one would be fearing that day,” said Michael Humphrey, an Ohio inmate during the early 1970s, who now gives tours at the prison that was used as the “Shawshank” movie set. “You’d have to be awful cold hearted not to.”
At one point, in 1972, Eubanks was just three days away from execution. Then, a series of events broke in Eubanks’s favor. Dale Fortney, a former police officer in Mansfield, Ohio, where Mary Ellen’s murder occurred, said what happened next was “ridiculous.”
“Lester went from death row, to commuted to a life sentence, to then, a year or two later, now he’s such an honor prisoner that he can be taken unescorted and left in a mall to go Christmas shopping,” Fortney said. “I think normal people can’t comprehend that this could actually happen.”
For Deputy U.S. Marshal David Siler, who is now leading the manhunt for Eubanks, understanding the escape was the first step to trying to find him, even if it is 50 years later.
“He had a plan,” Siler said.
EPISODE 3: 'Blood is thicker than water'
Lester Eubanks was on the run.
In December 1973, the convicted murderer had been offered the chance to go Christmas shopping at the Great Southern Shopping Center along with three other prisoners. They came back, but Eubanks made a break for it. Looking back at it now, police believe he had a plan all along.
“A person or persons took him from that shopping center,” said retired Mansfield, Ohio police detective John Arcudi. “They met. It was planned out.”
But if someone helped Eubanks get away, who was it? Police explored that question as they first tracked Eubanks’s path from Ohio to Michigan to California, with much of the early suspicion centering on the fugitive’s father, a bricklayer and minister from Mansfield named Mose Eubanks.
Those who knew Mose Eubanks said he was always tormented by his son’s imprisonment.
“Nobody wants to find out that their son or daughter has murdered somebody,” said Lawrence Rawls, who knew Mose Eubanks. “You still love your child even when your child does something that's totally unacceptable. You still love them. You still forgive them.”
Questions about what Eubanks’s family members may know have only grown as several of his siblings refused to cooperate with U.S. Marshals when they picked up the manhunt in 2015.
“Blood is thicker than water,” said U.S. Marshal Peter Elliott, who heads the Northern District of Ohio office that is handling the manhunt. “There's someone in the family that knows where he is.”
EPISODE 4: Father figure
By the mid-1970s, Lester Eubanks had fled to California and was starting a new life with a new identity.
Eubanks was holding down a series of menial jobs in Los Angeles using a fishing license for identification and a ten-speed bike to get around. He had begun to thrive in his new life -- all of it lived below the radar of law enforcement.
In December 1973, the former death row inmate had escaped from the Ohio State Penitentiary, where he had been serving his sentence for the murder of 14-year-old Mary Ellen Deener. And while there were initial efforts to find him after he fled, the search quickly sputtered. One FBI agent said the agency’s L.A. office had so many criminals to chase and so few tips coming in -- they had labeled the Eubanks case “pending inactive.”
The Columbus, Ohio civil rights attorney James Banks, who once had helped sue the Mansfield police department for discrimination in its hiring, said he believe the response would have been far different had Eubanks’s victim been white.
“They would have never rested,” he said.
But that effort changed in the 1990s, when the hunt for Eubanks was re-ignited when it was discovered that the fugitive’s information had never been entered into national crime database used to track wanted felons. Police in Mansfield began pushing the case hard -- and with some help from the media -- began getting tips.
A portrait would emerge of Eubanks in his new life in a new home -- where some said he became a “father figure” to a teenaged relative. The teen, now in his 50s, said he came to see Eubanks as a mentor, and told ABC News that he believes Eubanks will never been found.
“You're looking for this dude and he's been gone for what, 40 years?” the man said. “And it's like, "You haven't found him yet. What the hell makes you think you're going to find him?”
"Have You Seen This Man?," a podcast from ABC Audio hosted by ‘The View's' Sunny Hostin, chronicles Lester Eubanks case, including all the latest developments, with a new episode each week. Check this page every Wednesday for more information about each episode and subscribe to the podcast, available on the following podcast apps listed below, to listen: