Unsolved Mysteries (2020-…): Season 2, Episode 3 - Death Row Fugitive - full transcript

Given a furlough to go Christmas shopping in 1973, a convicted killer escapes. Police have come close to apprehending him but believe he's still at large.

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[distant chatter]

[door opens]

[door slams]

[man] The last thing I want
is for Lester Eubanks to die a free man.

[woman] He murdered my sister.

The Bible says...

you take a life, you...

give your life.

[man] To go from death row

to the shopping mall,

and then allow him to escape...



is unfathomable.

I want him caught.

[suspenseful main theme playing]

[car horn toots]

[woman] Well,
I've been here since I was three.

It was a great place to live.

Like any small town,
just everybody knew everybody.

Mansfield was a very safe place.

I never remember feeling,
um, scared or afraid or...

of something happening to me.

Never.

[children giggling]

[birds singing]

[bicycle bell rings]



[Myrtle] Mary Ellen was a...

She was a... uh, you know,
just a typical little girl.

Riding bikes and...

hopscotch and...

you know, playing with dolls.

Oh, she had a lot of friends.

She was just
a... giggly girl.

That's all I remember her doing,

just giggling with her friends.

There was seven of us.

We all had things
that we had to do in the home.

The boys, trash
and mopping the floor.

And the girls did,
like, the dishes,

and washing, and folding clothes,
and, um...

and all that.

[water running]

That's how she came about
doing the laundry that night.

Mary Ellen and Brenda had washed
all the clothes,

and, um...

they ended up with wet clothes
because the dryer broke.

So, they had to get a taxi

to go to take the wet clothes
to the laundromat.

Mom felt comfortable sending them there
at that time of night

because my grandmother lived
right next door to the laundromat,

and they knew they could go there
if anything happened.

[dryer whirs]

They got there, and they were...
was drying the clothes

and they run out of change.

And, uh, Mary Ellen went
to the other laundromat

to get change.

Take five minutes
to walk that distance.

[vehicle drives past]

[dog barks]

And then, when
she didn't come back...

Brenda went to my grandmother's

and told her that
Mary Ellen had went to get change

and she wasn't back yet.

And my grandmother told her to stay
there and she'd go...

and, uh...

see if she could find her.

On her way down there,
she saw the police.

And she eventually saw

that it was Mary Ellen there...

and what had happened to her.

[man] Mary Ellen
had been, uh, shot.

[indistinct radio messages]

The police were
able to determine

what caliber of gun that, uh...

she was shot with.

So, they started going
to all the gun stores

and hardware stores
that sold guns in, uh... Mansfield.

They ended up at the Diamond Hardware
up on South Diamond Street,

and they asked to see the books.

They see a weapon
that fit the description of the gun

that was used to
shoot Mary Ellen.

And it was purchased
by Lester Eubanks.

And then they start
really beating the bushes,

talking to informants,

and some informant said
he saw Lester Eubanks

in that area
earlier in the night,

before the crime occurred.

[Myrtle] Lester Eubanks.

He was just a guy
that walked down the street,

I never knew who he was.

[birds cry]

But I just always
thought he was weird,

and appeared to be a loner.

Always had these
nunchucks with him,

those karate sticks.

That's what he'd do with them,
walk up and down the street.

[man] Lester Eubanks
grew up in Mansfield.

He's a sharp-looking man.

He is well-liked.

Easily...

um, can fit into anywhere.

But he was also
what we would consider to...

to label a sexual
predator, today.

[John] Lester Eubanks.

He had been arrested
two times in the past

for sex offenses.

And at the time of the homicide,

he was out on bond
for a rape attempt.

[sighs] This... this guy
shouldn't have even been out.

[door closes]

Sunday morning,

officers, uh, picked him up,
took him to the police station.

[phone ringing]

They conducted
an interview of him.

He confessed.

And...

we had the right man.

[David] His
confession was pretty detailed...

in explaining what he did
to this little girl.

That night, Lester Eubanks
was just hanging in the area.

He sees an opportunity.

He sees this beautiful little girl
walk past him.

He grabs her, pulls
her behind the house.

She starts to scream.

[muffled screaming]

Shoots her twice.

Um, her screaming stops.

[John] Eubanks left the scene,

went around the
corner to his apartment.

Got dressed to go
downtown and go dancing.

And on his way downtown,

come back by the
scene of the crime,

and Mary Ellen was, uh...

writhing in ag... agony.

She was still alive
after being shot,

wanting help,

so he helped her.

[David] "I picked
up a brick in the alley

and I went back
to where this little girl..."

I can't even read any more.

He went back.

He admitted to it.

He's a monster.

He's a monster.

It's disgusting.

[dogs barking]

[birds chirping]

[Myrtle] Sometime
during that morning,

the detectives came

and told us why
they were there and...

I... Just total
shock and...

couldn't believe it.

My mother was hysterical,
crying, and...

my sister Brenda was, uh...

She was in shock
for a long time.

Yeah, I think it affected her...

up until the time she died.

I can't imagine having
to deal with that.

[David] This monster takes
her entire family's world

and just crushes it,

and changes their future.

[Myrtle] I went to the trial daily
because I wanted him to know

that she had a lot of people
that cared about her and loved her,

and what he had taken from,
you know, the world.

I just wanted him
to know we cared.

[man] He testified.

He... wanted
to get up there

and I think that's really the...
uh, a trait of a narcissist.

He didn't seem to
show any remorse at all,

other than the fact
that he was caught.

[gavel bangs]

Upon his confession
in the courtroom,

he was convicted by a jury of his peers.
He was sentenced to death.

[Dale] He was
sent to the death row

in the Ohio prison system.

[Myrtle] Everybody was happy.

It was wrapped up in a bow.

For a while.

[man] The Ohio Penitentiary was located
in downtown Columbus.

And that is where
Lester Eubanks was confined

on his conviction from, uh,
Richland County.

[man] I knew Lester Eubanks.

I didn't go around him.

I wasn't afraid of him,
just that I didn't like him.

I didn't know what he was there for
except murder.

Lester was... a tall guy.

Very cocky.

Very opinionated.

Lester was, was...
had an attitude.

Was a lot of people he didn't like,
a lot of things he didn't like.

He was basically a loner.

Painting or writing,
or doing whatever he done, you know?

[David] Eubanks was allowed to have, um,
paintbrushes and canvases.

That was not
unusual for any prisoner

on death row in
the '60s and '70s,

to be able to utilize
whatever skills they had.

They were able to eat their time
doing something constructive.

Three separate times,
his execution was pushed back

for unknown reasons.

And then finally,
it was pushed because, 1972,

the death penalty was abolished.

[Ron] The United States Supreme Court
in 1972 found

that the death penalty
was administered

in an arbitrary and
capricious method.

So, Eubanks, along with, uh,
other Ohio death row prisoners,

had to have their
sentence set aside

and it reverted
to a life sentence.

I was angry. I was angry.

And... shocked and...

um... confused.

But if we can't do anything
about some things, you have to...

let it go.

Um, that's what we did.

We went on with our lives,

knowing that he was in prison.

[distant voices]

[David] After the
death penalty was...

um, abolished,

Lester Eubanks was put
into general population.

["Bill"] He could put on a facade,
where he looks like a good guy,

but he's not.

[David] He's a smooth talker.

He won the guards over,

and there's no other
reasonable explanation than that.

They allowed him
to go into this honor program.

[Ron] At the time, there was
a national reform kind of movement

to, uh, do things, uh,
in a prison with inmates

to help them prepare
for life on the outside.

Eubanks became eligible
for this honor or trustee program

that allowed him,
under certain circumstances,

to, uh... venture
outside the prison.

Sometimes they were allowed
to drive trucks from prison to prison.

Sometimes they were permitted outside
in the presence of a guard

to go run errands.

The rationale was to reward prisoners
for good behavior.

That would help them
both control the population

as well as incentivize
good conduct.

[David] He was in several art shows,
um, where he won awards.

You see photographs
of him standing there

with these people that
don't know who he is, or what he did.

He was a serial sex offender.

Today, we know that he's probably
one of the last people you'd wanna...

let in that program
because of their recidivism rate.

Or, uh, you know,
ability to reoffend.

That was a real bad idea.

[Ron] As part of
this furlough program,

four prisoners,
along with, uh, Lester Eubanks,

were permitted to go
on a Christmas shopping trip.

Merry Christmas!

[David] Money in hand,

and he's in civilian attire.

They're given instructions, of course.
"Hey, you go ahead.

Do your shopping
for your families.

You have to report
back by 2 p.m."

[Ron] And rather than staying together
as a group,

uh, they were permitted to leave
the presence of the guard

and be on their own,
shopping among the public.

It was a period
of two to three hours later

where they were gonna meet
at a particular place,

and when that time came,

uh, Lester Eubanks did not report back
to the agreed meeting place.

[shop bell rings]

[bell rings]

[David] He avoided
the electric chair.

He avoided a lifetime
in a prison cell.

Lester Eubanks was
allowed to walk away.

What were they
hoping to accomplish

with this absurd
program of taking a...

a child murderer...

to go Christmas shopping,

and not even having a guard
stand beside him the entire time?

It... it just
is baffling.

[phone rings]

[Myrtle] And my mom called me.

She said sheriff called her
and told her that he had escaped.

She was... she
was real upset.

I was angry,

and shocked, and...

Christmas shopping
is all we could think.

How do you go Christmas shopping
from prison?

No one really knows how he escaped
from the immediate area,

Great Southern Shopping Center,

but, uh, I don't think
he could have done that

if this was a
spur-of-the-moment decision by him.

There had to have been planning,

I think he had to have made
some kind of arrangements in advance.

[door buzzes]

[David] It
was found that when he was in prison,

his visitation
list was alarming.

[inaudible speech]

[David] Eubanks had visitors
regularly show up at the prison.

But the visitations
just prior to his escape

truly escalate.

You know, you go from once a month
regularly for years

to once a week, and
then all of a sudden, you walk away?

That's suspicious.

It was pre-planned.

It makes you believe
that those visitors...

had a little bit of culpability.

[Ron] The theory was
that someone from his family

that, uh, supported him
may have helped him,

or it wouldn't have
been so successful.

[David] His family was talked to,
his associates were talked to,

and they failed to surrender
any information,

um, to where he was at.

I don't know how
anyone cannot think

that this was premeditated.

His ability to become
an honor inmate,

this is him earning the trust
of the guards,

trust of the prison system.

And it's his ability
to become that chameleon to fit...

to... to walk
outside the walls.

After Eubanks' escape,

Franklin County Sheriff's Office put
a local warrant in the system,

and the FBI took out
a federal arrest warrant.

This warrant is gonna be
a nationwide pickup,

meaning that if he is caught anywhere
in the continental United States,

he's gonna be arrested
and brought back to Ohio.

[John] In December of '93...

I was a detective bureau commander,
I was a captain.

And I'd thought, you know,
we haven't heard a lot about, uh, Eubanks.

Maybe he's been apprehended

and they didn't
notify anybody, which...

I don't...

might be a little
crazy, but, uh...

We checked it in the computer.

I would've expected to see,

"Wanted for an unlawful flight.

Felony escape
from the penitentiary

for the state of Ohio."

I discovered...

there were no
warrants to be found.

The federal warrant was removed
from the database.

[Dale] If no warrant was there
when he was encountered

in a field interview situation
or a car stop...

uh, with no warrant
in the system...

[engine revs]

...he would've
been let go.

When I discovered
that nothing...

no affirmative steps were being taken
by any agency

to try and bring this...

guy to justice...

I thought, "This
is unbelievable."

It was just a lack
of either required follow-up

or a clerical kind of error.

That is the only explanation I have
or that I can come up with.

[John] It should not
have happened, but...

it did.

You have to deal with it.

So, that's what we did.

We thought maybe

if we could get him
exposed nationwide,

we can get this guy.

That's when we decided to...

try and get him exposed on
America's Most Wanted.

Fourteen-year-old Mary Ellen
was exceptionally bright and responsible.

What happened that...

[John] The night of the show,
get a call from a lady

who watched the show and says,
"I know him...

and I used to run
around with him

in Los Angeles,
back in the '70s."

And according to her,

Eubanks, he ended up, uh,
living with Kay Banks,

his cousin's widow.

[man] When the detectives in Ohio gave us
the name of Kay Banks...

a pair of detectives
met her at her home.

She was fearful that she would somehow
be caught up in some trouble herself

for harboring a fugitive,

and, uh, so she
wanted to cooperate.

Kay told the detectives
that he lived with her in Los Angeles,

that he was no longer there.

She said that
she was originally from Ohio.

And Kay was married
to Darrell Banks...

Eubanks' cousin.

And he was a pretty popular singer
in Detroit back in the '60s.

Darrell got shot and
killed up in Detroit,

and she ended
up out in California.

[David] She
established a relationship with Lester

through the prison walls.

She was his pen pal.

There was a photo
of Kay in his jail cell.

Kay had indicated
that after Eubanks had walked away

and effected his escape,

he had found his
way to Michigan...

and stayed there to see
if he was gonna be chased or not,

or how diligently.

He was trying to paint houses

in a local community in Michigan
to earn money.

And he stayed there
for a couple of weeks.

Someone put him on a bus,
'cause he didn't have any money,

and paid for a
trip to California.

[bus engine rumbles]

[bus screeches]

Lester told Kay
that when he gets to California,

the bus was pulled over
by law enforcement.

He's sitting there thinking,

"This is it, it's over."

He thought he was
gonna go back to jail.

Because he's an
escaped prisoner,

there is a warrant
for his arrest.

Well, these guys
were looking for illegal fruit

being brought
across state lines.

Lester looked at 'em and smiled.

And as they walked off the bus,
he thought to himself, "Hey.

This is it, I'm free.

I got away."

[disco funk music playing]

[whooping and laughing]

- Oh, yeah!
- Yeah, Mama!

All right, Mama!

Get down and watch out, yeah!

[T. Conner] Kay Banks was surprised
when she answered the door.

She told us that she didn't know
he planned to escape.

He was using an assumed name
of Victor Young.

[John] He went and
got a hunting license

to use as his ID

because you didn't have to give
a fingerprint.

And he had it in
a... his alias name.

He's smart, he knows what it takes
for him to stay out

and he knows that he can.

Kay told us
about Lester's love of painting.

I've seen pictures of some of the work
that he did while in prison

and he was talented.

Um... he was just evil.

[John] Kay Banks
said that Eubanks,

he was a real bully...

and she was intimidated by him.

After so much intimidation,

she decided
she's got to come up with something

to get him out of her life.

She says, "Hey, uh, I got a call today
from the FBI or the police

asking about you."

That was all it took.

And according to her,
that's the last she saw of him.

Kay provided us with information

about a location in Gardena

where he had
worked or was working

in the manufacturing
of mattresses.

We went to that
location and checked it.

The former owner put Victor Young
there up until...

the mid '80s.

Eighty-five or '86.

We worked the case,

uh, for the better
part of two years

until somewhere in '96.

And Eubanks is still running.

But it just got to the point
where there was no more to do.

[Michael] I had never really heard
about the murder until 2003

when I was tasked
with looking into some things.

A superior officer down in Columbus
was looking at some older escape cases,

so I was contacted.

Basically told,
"Hey, here's the case.

Look into this and
see what you can find."

My initial thoughts were, uh,
to look at Eubanks' father,

Mose Eubanks.

His father was
the only known close relative

that was living in
this area at the time.

We went out there
just to see if he would talk to us.

He says, "I'll
talk about anything you want,

but I'm not gonna
talk about Lester."

He went on to explain
how he was frequently in the prisons

trying to help inmates to, uh...

turn their life around
and that type of thing.

And he says, "Well, you know,

there's nothing I can... nothing
anyone can do to bring that girl back."

And, uh, I simply ask him the
question, I'm like,

"Well, do you think that justice was done
in this case with your... with your son?"

And he specifically...

He looked at me and he says,

"People change and go on
and start new lives."

And he says,
"And I pray for Lester every day.

That's all I'm gonna
say about Lester."

We had a bit more conversation,

then my partner and I,
we looked at each other,

and we said, "He
knows exactly where Lester's at."

A while later, a detective
with Mansfield Police Department

talked to an informant that had told him
that that same summer,

she had been out
to Mose's house.

Well, the lady said,
"When we were there,

the phone rang and
Mose excused himself

and actually went
into another room."

And when he came back,

he had told the lady that...

he was on the phone
with his son in Alabama

who was taking a break
from painting a house.

At that time, I'd already tracked down
all of the siblings

and, uh, there was none in Alabama
at the time.

So, that kinda
piqued my interest.

I ended up getting a, uh... a subpoena
to get his... Mose's phone records.

And, uh, lo and behold, uh...

there were several calls
during that time frame...

that were coming and going
to a center for troubled youth.

And there was a Black male

that was near that, you know,
description of Lester,

uh, height and... and age,
working at this place.

This guy in question did not have
a driver's license.

He didn't drive.

Uh, and the social security number
was coming back

as a false social
security number, too,

so that kind of triggered me thinking,
"It might be Lester."

Unfortunately,

the person in question
that they were talking about

had actually left there

a couple months prior to...
to us kind of digging into it.

I... I remember
thinking to myself,

if it was him, if it was Lester,

we were able to...
to get pretty close.

But at the same token...

you know, here we are,
all these years later.

[Dale] Mose Eubanks was
a supposed man of the cloth,

and he was willing to...

forgive and forget.

He was willing to forgive his son
for this brutal murder

and he was willing to forget
about Mary Ellen Deener, the...

the poor child that he murdered.

It's just tragic.

He got to live his
life and she didn't.

[Myrtle] He'd never
asked for forgiveness.

He could've asked in court.

And he could've had
his dad ask my mom,

"Please forgive him."

Nobody has even said anything
to my family...

from that family.

[Dale] I've
been a police officer for 40 years.

And...

this is the biggest miscarriage of justice
that I've ever seen.

Uh, I just can't
forget about it.

I won't forget about it.

[John] This guy
needs to be captured.

He needs to be apprehended

and pay for this heinous crime
that he committed.

But law enforcement can't do it
by themselves.

We have to get the, the...
[sighs]

...the profile out
for people to see.

[David] Marshals Service, we fight
for those who can't fight for themselves.

Mary Ellen Deener cannot fight
for herself.

In July of 2018,
I started to push forward

with, uh, Lester Eubanks being put
on the 15 Most Wanted.

These are the
type of cases that...

They're... they're alleged to be
the uncatchables.

You make that list,

that means you are
the worst of the worst.

Lester Eubanks has friends and associates
throughout many states.

Florida,

Texas,

Alabama,

California and Washington.

Someone's gonna identify him,

someone's gonna
bring him to justice.

Lester's got a huge
scar on his right arm.

It's probably an inch,

and it wraps all the way
around his right arm,

and it's pretty thick.

And it's pretty identifiable.

The other thing is
he was an extremely...

um, talented painter.

And I still think today

that might be one of the things
that could help identify who he is.

The United States Marshals Service
is offering a reward for $25,000

for any information
that leads to the arrest.

And I would be more than happy

to provide that
person with that money.

[Myrtle] It's
important that Lester is caught

because he was
given a life sentence.

He took my sister's life.

She didn't get an extension.

Her life is over.

And the law said
that's what should happen with him.

Living, but still not free.

I want him caught.

[suspenseful main theme playing]