Saw blades found in cell at 'Supermax' Tools hidden by murderer who had escaped prison before

December 05, 1991|By John Rivera

Guards at "Supermax" found four carbide saw blades in the cell of a murderer who has escaped from eight prisons in three states, corrections officials said yesterday.

The blades were in the cardboard backing of a drawing in the cell of Merle W. Unger Jr., 42, who was convicted in the 1975 murder of an off-duty Hagerstown police officer. He was being held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, known as Supermax, after being captured in Virginia following an escape from a Florida prison last year.

Prison guards found the 10 1/4 -inch-long blades Tuesday night during a cell search as part of a security crackdown after Harold Benjamin Dean's escape from Supermax on Saturday. Dean, 40, who was serving a sentence of life plus 105 years for a murder committed in a 1981 robbery, remained at large yesterday.

Unger had hollowed out strips on the face of the 8 1/2 -by-11-inch piece of cardboard and put the blades inside, said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a Division of Correction spokesman. He then pasted the drawing -- of flowers, butterflies and the saying, "Bloom where you're planted" -- over the cardboard.

"We do not know how [the blades] came into Supermax, but we will obviously try to determine that," Sergeant Shipley said. Inmates at the high-security facility are not allowed direct-contact visits by friends or relatives, he said, but must talk to them behind glass panes by telephone.

Unger, previously of Chambersburg, Pa., had also escaped from prisons in Pennsylvania and Maryland. "He was planning on it again, but we were able to avert this one," Sergeant Shipley said.

Unger had been serving a life plus 40-year sentence at the Patuxent Institute for the murder of Donald R. Kline, an off-duty Hagerstown police officer, when he escaped from that facility in 1981 by commandeering a garbage truck with two other inmates and driving through an open gate.

He was arrested later that year in Florida and was convicted there of burglary, aggravated assault, grand theft and grand theft auto. He was serving a 30-year sentence in a Florida prison and was due to be transferred to Maryland authorities to resume serving his sentence here when, on Nov. 5, 1990, he again escaped by cutting a hole in a fence and slipping out.

Unger was captured a week later by Virginia State Police after a long car chase. He was returned to Maryland last January and was immediately placed in Supermax, which houses 280 of Maryland's most dangerous convicts in downtown Baltimore.

Sergeant Shipley said he did not know if additional criminal charges would be brought against Unger but said disciplinary measures will be taken against him.

Corrections officials said earlier this week that Dean was able to escape because guards failed to follow security procedures, including not observing Dean and another inmate when their cell doors were opened. Dean was able to escape through the window of an adjoining cell.

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