Police stop hunt for killer

Fugitive's trail goes cold in Cecil Co.

August 15, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

LEEDS -- With no recent sightings and no new leads, law enforcement officials declared the trail of escaped murderer Norman Johnston too cold to follow in Cecil County.

"The search has moved out of this area," state police Cpl. Charles Townsley said yesterday.

More than 100 officers from Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland had set out on foot, on horseback and in a helicopter to look for Johnston, 49, who escaped two weeks ago from a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania. Johnston was serving four life sentences for his role in the 1978 killings of four teen-agers.

Law enforcement officials called off the search in Maryland late Friday. Pennsylvania authorities, who said they believe he headed north, were having no better luck.

"We have no new leads and no recent sightings," said Lt. David M. Presto of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Police were placing their hopes of finding Johnston on the program "America's Most Wanted," the Fox television show that profiles fugitives. Police were hoping that people who might have seen Johnston would call after a segment on him aired last night.

The largest manhunt in Cecil County history began Thursday afternoon, when two police officers spotted a man who looked like Johnston on a porch of a gated home in Little Elk Estates. Johnston's niece, Mary Montgomery, lives in the house.

A bloodhound traced the man's scent for almost a mile into the woods before the dog became exhausted by the heat and humidity, Cecil County Sheriff's sources said. Officers scoured 10 square miles of woods without finding Johnston.

"All these cops, and they cannot catch this guy," said Cheryl Carly, 35, who lives near the area where Johnston was believed to have been seen.

Johnston was convicted of participating in the slayings of four teen-agers, all of whom were killed because they knew of the Johnston family's burglary ring, police have said. Two of Johnston's brothers, also convicted in the murders, are being held in separate prisons in Pennsylvania.

Some residents and police have wondered why the fugitive might have returned to Leeds.

"There is something that is drawing him back," Presto said. "Whether it is revenge on people that testified against him or he is looking to dig up money or jewelry, something brought him back."

Law enforcement officials are investigating whether any loot from burglaries committed by Johnston might still be in the area.

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