Investigators believe they are closing in on a fugitive who raped, shot and killed a 14-year-old girl in 1965 before escaping prison years later while on an honor furlough to go Christmas shopping.
Lester Eubanks, who escaped from prison in 1973, was at one point facing the death penalty for shooting dead Mary Ellen Deneer in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1965.
He had his sentence commuted to a life sentence and charmed guards in the Ohio State Penitentiary so much so that they let him go to a mall, unsupervised, to do Christmas shopping in 1973.
Eubanks had arranged to meet an accomplice at the mall where he escaped. He has not been seen or heard from since.
Now, after decades of trying unsuccessfully to find him, Deputy US Marshal David Siler believes Eubanks could be in California.
‘We believe that he may have never left the Greater Los Angeles area,’ Siler, who leads a cold case squad focused on capturing the killer, told
Investigators believe they are closing in on a fugitive who raped, shot and killed a 14-year-old girl in 1965. Lester Eubanks (pictured) escaped from prison in 1973 while on an honor furlough to go Christmas shopping with other inmates as a reward for good behavior
Eubanks was sentenced to life killing Mary Ellen Deneer in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1965
‘We’re just hoping for that one, one piece of the puzzle that’s going to get us to his front door,’ Siler added.
Authorities said Eubanks fled to Los Angeles and worked under the name ‘Victor Young’ after escaping from prison.
They believe he was living off and on with a woman named Kay Eubanks between 1975 and 1996.
According to ABC, Eubanks has lived in Gardena, South Central, Long Beach and North Hollywood.
In the late 80s or early 90s, authorities believe he worked as a janitor at St Francis Hospital in Lynwood.
‘We know that he has a footprint there, we know that he has associates throughout the area, we just need to talk to those people,’ Siler told the network.
Authorities have recently obtained photos from after his escape that showed him working and living in the area.
Some of those images show employees at the waterbed factory in Gardena, where Eubanks worked.
Joy Springer, who ran the factory at the time, told authorities that Eubanks was hired ‘right in the beginning of the waterbed era and we were going big guns’.
‘You had a heartbeat, we’d hire you and put you to work,’ Springer told ABC.
Springer said he rode a bike to work and when it would rain, she would sometimes offer him a ride to his Gardena apartment building on El Segundo Boulevard.
A woman who worked with Eubanks at a waterbed factory in Gardena said when the crew went on outings that they would take pictures but Eubanks is not in any of them. Investigators are hoping to use these photos to try and gather more clues about Eubanks’ whereabouts
Another photo shows a man named ‘Rick’. Authorities are hoping to use this photo and others to try and track down Eubanks
She remembered that he used to wear ‘a lot of cologne’ and that the company would ‘take the whole crew to lunch at Shakey’s Pizza’.
Springer noted that her business partner would take photos of the crew but Eubanks ‘was not in any of them, not one’.
Siler said the have a lead on one person who may have been his girlfriend by the name of Renee. Siler told ABC: ‘We’re hoping that the viewers in Los Angeles are able to identify some of these people. I mean they’re not in trouble, whatsoever.’
US Marshals believe Eubanks also had help from inside his family. Their suspicions are intensified by the fact that in 2015, many of his relatives declined to help them look for him.
Eubanks is one of the US Marshals’ 15 most-wanted fugitives and investigators are offering a $50,000 reward for his capture.
Eubanks was 22 when he committed the murder. He is described as being ‘troubled’ at the time
Eubanks was a prisoner in Ohio’s famous state penitentiary, where The Shawshank Redemption is set
The FBI is also circulating a composite image of what it believes Eubanks could look like now – 47 years later.
Eubanks was sentenced to death for first-degree murder and perpetrating rape in 1966. His death penalty was commuted to a life sentence in 1972.
It’s not clear why his sentence was commuted.
Eubanks was in his early 20s when he attacked Mary Ellen. Eubanks grabbed her off the street then took her to be raped but she fought him. He shot her then bludgeoned her with a brick to make sure she was dead.
He was arrested not long after the murder after police matched his footprints to the crime scene.
Eubanks confessed to the crime and was sentenced to death.
He was due to be electrocuted at the Ohio State Penitentiary, which is where the Shawshank Redemption is set, but had his sentence commuted to life without parole.
On December 7, 1973, he and a handful of other trusted inmates were allowed to go to the mall without a chaperone to do Christmas shopping.
Dale Fortney, a former police officer in Mansfield, Ohio, said it was ‘ridiculous’ that he had been given so much freedom.
‘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.
‘I think normal people can’t comprehend that this could actually happen,’ Fortney previously said.