Forty-three years ago Willie Carroll Parker conned a man into helping him escape from a prison work camp on the Eastern Shore.
For the first few years he evaded the law - moving from city to city and using fake names - but finally he became convinced that Maryland authorities had stopped looking for him.
He was wrong.
On Wednesday afternoon deputies with the U.S. marshal's office arrested Parker at his home in Clinton, N.C. He is 81 years old and in the care of a nurse.
"They said they were going to take me back to Baltimore," Parker said yesterday in a telephone interview from the Sampson County jail, where he is being held. "I don't know why they did what they did to me being that I ain't got that long to live. I'd let it go. All I want to do is live."
But the Maryland State Police say he is a fugitive from the law and his age and health don't change that fact. "You can't deviate from who [you arrest] based on age," said Sgt. Arthur Betts, a spokesman for the state police.
Betts said that Parker faces extradition to Maryland, but he said that the process can take some time. He said that Parker still owes the state 29 years of unserved prison time.
Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Safety and Correctional Services, said that Parker's case is so unusual that it is unclear what will happen to him.
"Typically, when you escape, it is a new charge," Vernarelli said. "You have new time added on to it. It is such an unusual case. I don't know what they will do based on his age."
In North Carolina, officials said Parker was living quietly. "He hadn't even had a traffic ticket," said Kemely Pickett, who oversees the jail where Parker is being held.
Pickett added that his prisoner is in terrible health and he intends to charge the Maryland authorities for the medical bills that are being incurred during Parker's incarceration. "If we had to keep this guy in custody, it'll probably cost us $5,000 a month," Pickett said.
Willie Carroll Parker was initially incarcerated in Maryland in 1953 - an era before records were computerized. Staff at the Maryland prison system dug though paper records to determine how much time he had served.
Articles published in The Sun reported that Parker was convicted on armed robbery charges in Baltimore in 1953 and punished with a 40-year sentence. He was released on parole in 1961 after serving 8 1/2 years. Then in March 1963 he became involved with a federal drug case.
According to a March 1963 article in The Sun, Parker was found guilty of helping to grow $100,000 worth of marijuana at a farm on the Eastern Shore and trying to start operations in Delaware and Virginia.
At the time, Parker's attorney said that his client had been assaulted and not told of his constitutional rights when he was arrested.
But a federal jury did not believe him and he was convicted, along with another man, on drug charges. That trigged a parole violation and Parker was sent to a newly constructed minimum-security prison on the Eastern Shore to serve 31 years.
He didn't want to be locked up, and to this day he says that he wasn't really involved with the drug ring.
"I'll tell you why I walked out," Parker said yesterday. "The charge they had me on. ... I didn't do it."
Parker served two years of his sentence working in a field, paired with a farmer who was not a prisoner. He charmed the farmer, spinning a tale that he had lots of money in Baltimore. If the farmer helped him escape, Parker said, he would pay a large reward.
The man agreed and drove Parker all the way to Baltimore. Once they got to the city, Parker told the man to wait.
"I told him, `Stay right here I'm going to go and get the money, and I'll be right back,'" Parker said. "And then I left to go catch a Greyhound and I was off to New York."
From there Parker was on the run. He first went to New Jersey and nearly was caught by police there. Next it was New York, then Chicago, then Seattle. In yesterday's interview, he admitted to using fake names to avoid the police in the 1960s and '70s.
He got into more trouble in Washington state - he was caught driving a getaway car after an armed robbery around 1972 or 1973. "They gave me 20 years for that," he said.
But Parker said he was released after serving two years in Washington and put on parole.
Parker said he changed his behavior after Washington authorities released him. He stopped using fake names. He moved to New York, met a woman and got a job driving a cab. It was 1975.
"So everything was clear," he said yesterday. "I haven't been in anything since that time. I've got a different life now," he said, working in farms and driving trucks. He stayed with his New York girlfriend for the next three decades. He was too late to help raise a son that he had from an earlier marriage - his boy is locked up in a Connecticut prison on a murder conviction, he said.
In 1989 Parker moved to North Carolina, back to where he grew up. In recent years, his health has become frail after suffering a stroke, he said.
His voice cracked yesterday when he talked about the people whom he wants to see and the things he wants to do before he dies.
He said: "I don't want to die in jail."
Sun reporter Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.