Killer escapes state's highest-security prison Man flees into city using makeshift rope

December 01, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin and Kris Antonelli Reporter David Simon of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

A Baltimore killer serving life plus 105 years made the first escape from Maryland's "Supermax" prison yesterday, squeezing through an 8-inch-high cell window and a barrier of razor wire, and climbing to the roof using a "rope" made of clothing.

The escaper was identified as Harold Benjamin Dean, 40, who was convicted of the $106,000 robbery of a courier and wounding of an armored-car guard in 1981, and the subsequent murder of a tow-truck driver who chased the getaway car.

Dean had previously escaped from the Maryland Penitentiary, and a prison system spokesman said he was one of the first inmates to be confined at Supermax, which houses 280 of Maryland's most dangerous convicts. Inmates are sent there because of previous escape attempts or disciplinary problems.

How Dean managed to escape from Maryland's toughest and most secure prison was under investigation last night by officials from the state Department of Correction.

"That's the question that prison officials are asking here tonight," said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a Division of Correction spokesman. "How can an inmate get out of an institution like this?"

Sergeant Shipley said jail officials found blood outside the window where Dean escaped and some blood on prison rooftops. But there was no blood outside the building where Dean lowered himself about 15 feet to the pavement, Sergeant Shipley said. Officials were interviewing inmates to try to determine if Dean had an accomplice.

Dean was among the first prisoners transferred to Supermax after its opening in January 1989. Normally, inmates are sent back to other prisons on completion of a 13-month, behavior-modification program -- but Sergeant Shipley said last night that Dean had not successfully completed it.

At 1:40 yesterday afternoon, a guard noticed pieces of clothing caught in the razor wire outside the narrow window of Dean's solitary-confinement cell on the top floor of the four-story building at 401 E. Madison St., and then saw that the prisoner was missing, Sergeant Shipley said. His escape may have gone undiscovered for as much as an hour, he added.

Prison officials think that Dean -- a slender 5 feet 11 inches and 145 pounds -- forced open a heavy metal inside screen and squeezed through the window opening "no more than 8 inches high" and 14 inches wide.

He apparently covered himself in blankets and clothing to protect himself from the razor wire, but Sergeant Shipley said blood outside the window indicated Dean may have severe cuts from the barrier.

Sergeant Shipley said Dean used a "crude" wooden type of "grapple" attached to the end of a makeshift rope that he threw to the roof and then used to hoist himself up the 10 or 12 feet to the top.

After running across the multilevel roof, he apparently used the rope to drop 15 feet to the ground on the Constitution Street side of the prison and fled.

Dean, who formerly lived in the 100 block of South Stricker Street, was convicted in June 1981 of first-degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon and assault with intent to murder in connection with a robbery and shooting at the Monroe Street Montgomery Ward store in February of that year.

A Federal Armored Express guard was critically wounded inside the store, and tow-truck driver Richard O. Dishman, 39, apparently angered by a minor collision or near-accident, chased the getaway car and was shot to death near Dean's home.

Dean was arrested there, and his accomplice, Richard Lee Coleman -- identified as the brother of Dean's common-law wife -- was arrested two days later. Coleman was also convicted of murder and sentenced to life plus 45 years.

Dean's previous escape occurred in September 1985, when he and another prisoner briefly fled the maximum security Maryland Penitentiary -- a block from the Supermax facility -- by scaling a razor fence to get to the roof of the prison's "C" dormitory.

From there, the two prisoners used a rope made of sheets to lower themselves over the penitentiary's southwest wall to a shorter wall of the adjoining Baltimore City Jail, then jumped to Madison Street and fled.

A correctional officer in the southwest guard tower saw one of the inmates lowering himself over the wall and fired a shot that missed. Dean was arrested the night after the escape after a passer-by saw a man limping a few blocks from the prison.

Dean was stopped by police at Exeter and Hillen streets and was arrested without incident. He was hospitalized with a broken foot and cuts on his face and hand sustained in the escape. The second inmate was caught on U.S. 40 in Aberdeen a week later after robbing a nearby Radio Shack store.

Although Supermax was designed to be the most secure facility in the state's 19,000-prisoner system, it has not been free of troublemaking efforts by its inmates -- who include some of the prison system's most notable management problems.

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