Familiar script no break, ex-cons say

January 01, 2007|By Phillip O'Connor | Phillip O'Connor,McClatchy-Tribune

VERSAILLES, Mo. -- The Hughes brothers admit they conned a few people back in the day.

From mobsters to bartenders to the Army, they told stories a bit short of the truth in return for quick cash, another free pour or to hide from the law.

This time, the brothers insist, they're not lying.

Sit a while and listen to them reminisce and you begin to wonder whether the tales they spin could possibly be fact.

A wrongful imprisonment, a jailbreak, years on the lam. Correspondence with a U.S. president, cooperation in a corruption investigation, consorts with topless dancers.

It sounds like a script dreamed up by Tinsel Town. But it's all true, the brothers say. They lived it and even wrote a book about it. Then, they claim, Hollywood stole their story, put it on television and scored a hit.

Now the brothers say they want their share. And they've gone after a TV network with a federal lawsuit.

This, they insist, is no con job.

Bob Hughes, 59, turned on the television in his apartment, took two steps across his living room and settled into a worn leather easy chair that sagged to the left. He'd written the date in an open notebook on his lap.

It was moments before a 7 p.m. broadcast of Prison Break, a popular second-year series on the Fox network.

On this night, his older brother Don, 63, who lives in an upstairs apartment, was off baby-sitting his grandchildren. Most Mondays, he sits next to Bob as they watch the one-hour show in search of any parallels between the story lines and their own adventures.

"I found 30 similarities the first season and 15 more this season," said Bob, who details their findings in the notebook. "If you took each one individually, it wouldn't be so unusual to have it in a story. But when you put them altogether as a group, that's just like the odds of being struck by lightning."

They say the similarities begin with the show's basic premise: a wrongly jailed person freed by his brother.

"It just goes on and on and on from there," Bob said.

The Hughes brothers' improbable story starts in 1964 in Gladstone, Mo., just outside Kansas City, when their mother accused Bob of threatening her with an ice pick.

Though she would later recant, Bob, then 16, wound up in a state juvenile center in Boonville, Mo.

He said he often saw inmates mistreated and told his parents he feared for his life. He asked them to contact Don to help arrange his escape.

To prepare for that escape, Bob got himself transferred from a work crew to the center's bakery. On July 8, 1964, Bob dropped off fresh-baked bread at the superintendent's house, which was on the grounds.

Don, meanwhile, pulled up near the house in a sedan disguised as a Highway Patrol cruiser. Bob dived through the open back window.

They slipped through a roadblock and began a four-year, cross-country odyssey, often just one step ahead of the law.

During that time, Bob claims, he took steps to reveal the brutality he'd witnessed. He wrote several letters to President Lyndon B. Johnson and even claims his parents arranged a private meeting with an FBI agent on a Friday in Kansas City. The agent let him go free, he says, with a warning that the pursuit would resume the next Monday.

In 1969, a federal report condemned the conditions at Boonville as prisonlike, and the center was closed several years later.

In the meantime, Bob received his induction notice. A fugitive now for more than two years, he reported to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in September 1966, where he expected to be arrested. Instead, Hughes said, he qualified for officer candidate school.

But a week shy of graduation from training, the military learned of his wanted status.

He called Don, and the brothers were on the run again.

They settled in Southern California, where in September 1967, with law enforcement closing in, Don gave up.

"I was tired of running," he said. "We weren't raised like that."

He was returned to Missouri, where he was sentenced to time served and probation for charges of passing bad checks while on the run.

Bob sneaked back to Missouri, where he was arrested in November 1967. He was court-martialed and spent four months in the stockade at Fort Riley, Kan., and upon release faced jail time in Missouri.

The day before his extradition hearing in March 1968, The Kansas City Star ran a long story on the Hughes brothers' situation. A Kansas judge denied the extradition. The Missouri attorney general agreed to drop the case.

"I was finally free," Bob Hughes said.

In 1998, The Kansas City Star recounted the brothers' escapades in a front-page story. Friends told them they should write a book. So they retired and spent two years on the story. In 2000, they hired an agent to shop their manuscript. Among those they say rejected their work was the Fox network.

Unable to sell their story, they fired the agent. The brothers didn't think much more about the project until Don's daughter called in the summer of 2005, upset that he hadn't told her he had sold his story.

He hadn't, he told her.

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