Woman who fled prison 19 years ago arrested Convicted killer being held in Florida after drug bust

December 02, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A woman who killed a bar bouncer on Greenmount Avenue in 1969 and escaped from prison a decade later was back in custody yesterday -- arrested during a marijuana bust near Gainesville, Fla., authorities said.

Theresa Grosso, 50, was being held in the Levy County Jail in Williston, Fla., pending her extradition to Baltimore, said the FBI and Levy County sheriff's office. Grosso had been serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Grosso also escaped from Maryland prisons in 1971, 1972 and 1976. The first two times she was caught either the same day or the next. But after an escape in 1976, she remained at large for 16 months before she was caught in Florida.

Grosso escaped again in 1979 and remained at large until her arrest yesterday.

"We're always glad to get an offender back, who has escaped from our custody and who owes the citizens of the state of Maryland their full sentence," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the state prison system.

Grosso was convicted of first-degree murder in the Sept. 22, 1969, shooting of Melvin Luckart, 28, a bouncer at the former Judge's Lounge in the 3300 block of Greenmount Ave.

She shot him in the chest at point-blank range after he asked to see her identification.

Grosso, then 22, had been a stripper on Baltimore's Block under the stage name of Bertha. She testified at her trial that she was hallucinating on LSD and alcohol and didn't remember shooting anyone that night.

Authorities said Grosso had years added to her sentence for escaping.

Her latest escape occurred in 1979 when she used wire cutters to cut through a metal screen at a maximum security cottage at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, Jessup.

She tied bedsheets together and lowered herself 25 feet from a second-story window, then climbed over a 15-foot high fence topped with double rows of barbed wire.

She was one of 33 prisoners who escaped from Maryland prisons in nine days, prompting a security overhaul. Sipes said that in the past 10 years, he could recall only three escapes from state prisons, and none from the women's institution.

"We are grateful to the sheriff's department for the return of the inmate," Sipes said. "I have no idea what was going on during the 1970s, but the administration should have been flogged for the amount of escapes that occurred back then."

Authorities said yesterday they did not know what Grosso had been doing in Florida for the past 19 years.

Lt. Chuck Bastak, with the Levy County Sheriff's Department, said Grosso was arrested when she allegedly tried to buy a pound of marijuana from an undercover officer.

After she was arrested, Bastak said, deputies told her they were going to check for outstanding arrest warrants. "She said, 'Oh gosh, if you're looking that much I might as well tell you this: The FBI is looking for me.' "

Bastak said the woman had numerous identification cards and that the arrest warrant charging her with escape was issued with her Baltimore stage name: Bertha Keene.

Special Agent Peter A. Gulotta Jr., a spokesman for the FBI in Baltimore, said Grosso had been featured on "America's Most Wanted" television show in 1991, 1992, 1997 and in January. "We had gotten a lot of tips over the years on her," he said last night.

Pub Date: 12/02/98

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