Okla. town waits, prays for prison warden's wife

September 29, 1994|By Dallas Morning News

GRANITE, Okla. -- Yellow ribbons festoon trees and telephone poles along the narrow road leading to Granite's major industry, the Oklahoma State Reformatory.

Those who know Bobbi Parker -- and that includes many of the 1,700 people who live here -- wear yellow ribbons on lapels and pockets to symbolize their hope that she will return home safely.

Mrs. Parker, 32, wife of the deputy prison warden, Randy Parker, and Randolph Franklin Dial, a convicted murderer, both disappeared from the prison Aug. 30.

Friends of Mrs. Parker say there's no possibility that she might have run away with the smooth-talking inmate.

"There is no evidence of that, and people don't like that speculation," said Tim Montgomery, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Granite.

"When something like this happens, there is a great sense . . . [of protectiveness] we feel," said Mr. Montgomery. "Especially when the person is someone like Bobbi Parker."

Dial was a minimum-security prisoner, living outside the confines of high walls and razor wire. He was the Parker family's yard maintenance man and regularly came into contact with the couple and their two daughters, ages 11 and 8.

Prison officials say they believe Dial abducted Bobbi Parker and drove away from the prison in the Parkers' red Dodge minivan. The van was found abandoned in Wichita Falls, Texas, about 120 miles southwest of Granite.

Those who know Dial say he is a shadowy figure who attempts to conceal his identity by using aliases and fake Social Security numbers and by telling contradictory stories about his past.

Acquaintances describe him as a diabolical con man who also is an accomplished painter, sculptor and writer. Dial, 49, was serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of a martial arts instructor in Broken Arrow, Okla.

Each day, inmates and prison staff members gather in the prison yard to pray for Mrs. Parker's safe return. They stand in a circle in the sunlight, holding hands and taking turns reading Bible verses.

Visitors entering the yard must pass through the main building's rotunda. Large murals of Western scenes and Oklahoma symbols adorn its walls. Dial painted the murals.

Authorities say Bobbi Parker has made three phone calls since she and Dial disappeared. Each lasted no more than 15 seconds; they were designed to let friends and family know she was still alive.

The last of those calls came Friday, Sept. 9.

The Parkers have been married 12 years. They are active in the zTC First Methodist Church in Granite, where Bobbi Parker was a Sunday school teacher. She also served as a substitute teacher in the public schools and had worked in an adult literacy program.

Josh McCurdy, administrative assistant to the prison warden, Jack Cowley, said the warden changed Dial's security status last summer, making him a trusty and assigning him to maintain the yard and grounds around the Parker house, which sits just east of the prison. He planted and tended a vegetable garden there.

The Parker house stands outside the walls of the 85-year-old prison where 1,200 inmates live. Visitors pass through no security checkpoints driving to or from the Parker house.

Behind the prison and the house is a scenic view of the Wichita mountain range, which juts out of the Oklahoma prairie.

Dial also lived outside the walls -- in a dormitory-style residence hall on the opposite side of the prison from the Parker house. He had been at Granite since May 1991 and had served time at several other Oklahoma prisons since his 1986 murder conviction, according to prison records.

Dial and Bobbi Parker were working together to develop a prison art industry, according to Mr. McCurdy. Dial was supposed to recruit other inmates and teach them painting and sculpture. They planned to sell their creations in "the free world."

This new business, so went the theory, would help rehabilitate inmates by teaching them a craft while making money for the prison.

Bobbi Parker was the volunteer coordinator for the new art industry.

One source, who asked not to be identified, said Dial tried to start an art business at another Oklahoma prison unit before he was transferred to Granite, but he was unsuccessful.

However, Dial's next attempt to start an art business appeared to be succeeding at Granite.

"He manipulated his way into the confidence of the staff just like he's done everywhere else," the source said. "You want to believe in him. He's so talented and so smart. And he makes you think he sincerely wants to improve whatever environment he's in.

"What he's really interested in is getting what he wants from you."

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