CUMBERLAND -- Sandra Kay Beeman was 46, divorced, living in a mobile home with an adult son and daughter she fought with, working the graveyard shift on a job she didn't like as a guard at the Allegany County Jail and fighting a losing battle with bills.
She was down so low that Edgar Eugene Kerns, one of the most dangerous inmates in the jail, looked like up to her, her friends and co-workers said in interviews last week.
So they believe that she traded her worries for life on the run with Kerns, a man who had been charged with attempted murder and kidnapping his girlfriend and her daughter and who had led police on a two-state manhunt, a man who was one of only two inmates confined in the maximum-security area of the jail.
And when Mrs. Beeman left, on the August night when she is alleged to have helped Kerns, 29, escape from the jail, she left behind a broken-hearted inmate at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown, who claims Mrs. Beeman stood him up at the altar in a planned prison marriage ceremony four days earlier.
She also left behind hurt and confused friends and co-workers who knew she was unhappy but could not have imagined the depths of her despair.
"I was shocked when it all came out," said Gary C. Huffman, a co-worker at the jail who described himself as a close friend of Mrs. Beeman. "I thought I knew her very well.
"She was very unhappy with her home life," he said. "She had financial problems, and she didn't get along with her son and daughter. To me, it seemed like she had very low self-esteem.
"I think she was just looking for a way out."
Authorities say Mrs. Beeman, a guard at the Allegany County Jail for 10 years, helped Kerns and James Vernon Barnes, 35, escape at about 2:30 a.m. Aug. 29.
Kerns appeared in the jail control room that night, with his arm around Mrs. Beeman's neck. He was holding a sock with an object inside, threatening the only guard in the room, Michelle Puderbaugh, and trusty Donald Matthews.
Police first assumed Mrs. Beeman had been taken against her will. However, within hours they suspected Mrs. Beeman might be implicated, and, after she telephoned her daughter saying, "I'm fine, I'm with him," they concluded that she was a willing participant.
Barnes was captured four days later near his home in Hampshire County, W.Va. He had been brought to Allegany County from Virginia, where he was serving a 50-year sentence for rape and kidnapping, to face trial on kidnapping and sex offense charges from a 1988 incident in Cumberland.
Kerns and Mrs. Beeman remained at large until Oct. 18, when a couple managing a motel in Hamilton, Canada, saw their photos on the television program "Unsolved Mysteries" and recognized them as motel guests registered as Mr. and Mrs. Fred Smith.
The hotel managers, Nancy and Joseph Mitchell, called police, who arrived to discover that Kerns and Mrs. Beeman had gone. The fugitiveswere traced to another motel where they were arrested without incident, Hamilton authorities said.
They were deported by Canadian authorities on Oct. 26 and returned to Allegany County on Tuesday.
They left little doubt about the nature of their relationship when they kissed several times in front of reporters while being taken from the county sheriff's office to district court.
This public display of their jailhouse romance may have shocked some, but not Karen L. Mellott, a former co-worker and friend of Mrs. Beeman.
"I wasn't surprised by all this," she said. "I knew about relationships with other people. It's not just been one prisoner, you know."
Thomas E. Bowman, 33, said he is one of those prisoners. Now incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown, he claims he met Mrs. Beeman while he was held in the Allegany County Jail last year on a breaking and entering charge. They developed what he called a love affair, and after he was transferred last November to Hagerstown, she wrote to him regularly and visited him twice a week, "like clockwork," he said.
Bowman said he and Mrs. Beeman had planned to marry on Aug. 25. He had arranged for a minister, and she got his birth certificate for a marriage license and the wedding rings, he said. When she didn't show up, he tried calling her several times in vain. When he finally reached her, she spurned him, saying she wanted nothing to do with him, Bowman said.
Four days later, he heard she had fled with Kerns.
"I loved this woman," Bowman said last week in an interview at the prison, where he is serving time for breaking and entering. "This had been the first woman who stuck by me. She met me in jail and stuck with me. I still love her, that's the worst part about it."
Nancy Rouse, spokeswoman for MCI at Hagerstown, confirmed that Bowman had made arrangements for a marriage ceremony on Aug. 25.