She has lived in a cardboard box and struggled for years with a heroin addiction. Returning to jail would mean giving up, among other things, her fix, and that is something Karen Diane Hammond does not want to do.
Hammond, 49, who pleaded guilty to having sex with her then 17-year-old son in their former Columbia home three years ago, has eluded Howard County police since late July.
That's when two detectives visited Hammond's Jessup address during a round of surprise checks on every sex offender in the county. The address was a welding business, according to court records.
Of the 76 offenders on whom police checked during the July sweep and the 21 they checked this month, only Hammond has eluded them.
She is the sole gap in Chief Wayne Livesay's unprecedented and voluntary effort to confirm the accuracy of the state's online registry, which anyone can search to learn whether a person has raped, molested or sexually assaulted someone.
"Karen Hammond has been a thorn in our side," said Detective Sgt. Norman C. Snyder, who put about a dozen officers on her case at one point. "We like to catch people. She has multiple warrants, and it's frustrating."
It is up to released sex offenders to register with state or county officials. Failing to do so, or filing a false address, can result in a prison sentence. Detective Cpl. Matthew Tanis has spent much of the past six months reminding Howard County's registered sex offenders of their responsibilities.
"Even die-hard bank robbers don't like these guys," said Tanis, who organized both sweeps. "Everyone wants them in compliance and doing what they're supposed to do. Everybody wants to give information."
A case in Baltimore County in July spurred Howard police to do the checks. Authorities in Baltimore County were searching for a convicted rapist suspected of killing his 13-year-old stepdaughter and then setting fire to their Essex home. The suspect had failed to update his sex offender registration for years. His name was misspelled and no one had gone looking for him.
Livesay wanted his officers doing everything possible to prevent a similar situation in Howard.
"I don't know of any law enforcement agency that has done checks on everyone like this," said Scott Matson, a research associate at the federal government's Center for Sex Offender Management in Silver Spring. "But 100 percent accuracy does not exist, because even if police achieve that today, tomorrow is a very different story.
"This is a transient population, sometimes not by choice. Offenders have to move because of laws or public reaction to their presence in a community or other burdens, such as the difficulty finding employment with their criminal records. And when they move, checking in with law enforcement often isn't the first thing on their minds."
After detectives' first sweep, 13 of 76 were missing. Within three days of warrants being issued for them, one turned himself in and three had been arrested. Working with the regional warrant-fugitive task force and authorities in Arizona, Pennsylvania and New York, police found all but one of them: Hammond.
Police conducted a second sweep this month, targeting 21 new, previously missing and violent sex offenders. Four were at large. Within four days, one was arrested in Baltimore while trying register under a new address, another turned himself in after seeing his photo on television, and another was arrested in Elkridge.
Again, only Hammond remained.
Hammond is wanted on five warrants in Maryland, including a heroin-related charge in Howard County, hit-and-run charges in Baltimore County and driving with a suspended license in Baltimore City. Snyder said that the search for Hammond had taken police "from coast to coast," and that at one point officers thought they had her cornered, but he would not say where.
"She's extremely street-wise," said Thomas F. Bean of Sandy, Utah, a friend of Hammond's for almost a decade. Bean gave Hammond $10,000 to post bond in the child abuse case and $3,500 in the heroin case.
Court records and an interview with Bean revealed little about Hammond's life other than a several-year struggle with heroin and cocaine that repeatedly has put her in jail since completing her sentence for the sex offense.
She grew up in California, married before age 18, and has one daughter and three sons, the youngest of which is now 21, Bean said. She moved to Maryland from Utah five years ago with her fourth or fifth husband, William Ray Hammond, 46.
Efforts were made to contact Hammond's husband, whose last known address is a post office box in Ellicott City, and the children. One is in a Utah jail, another in the military, and the other two children and Hammond's husband could not be reached for comment.
There is no record of a divorce in Howard County, but the Hammonds appear to have been separated for some time.