“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.”
Right away, it’s apparent that we’re in a jail cell. You can hear the faint sounds of other cell doors closing as a man tells us that his wish is that Lester won’t die a free man. Then, a picture of a beautiful, young, black girl comes on the screen as an older woman explains that this Lester guy had murdered her sister. She explains that in the bible, if you take a life then you gotta give up yours. Immediately after she utters those words, we are shown for the first time- who is presumably Lester’s- old mugshot photograph. Right before the credits roll, the older woman says, “I want him caught.”
For this case, we find ourselves in Mansfield, Ohio. We quickly learn that the older woman from the start of the show is Myrtle Carter, and she’s Mary Ellen’s sister. She informs us that she’s lived in Mansfield since she was three- and that everyone knows everyone. She goes on to say that Mansfield is usually a safe place, and she has never worried about anything bad happening to her. She’s never felt scared or afraid while she’s lived there.
A dramatization of a young girl on her bicycle plays while the intertitle takes us back in the past- to 1965. Meanwhile, Myrtle continues on, telling us that her sister Mary Ellen was a typical little girl who loved to ride bikes, play hopscotch and loved to play with her dolls. The same picture of the young girl is shown again, and we learn that she’s Mary Ellen Deener. Myrtle goes on to say Mary Ellen was a giggly girl who just loved to be around her friends. “There was seven of us. We all had things we had to do…” Myrtle goes on to list the chores that her and her siblings used to have to do around the house, noting in particular that her sisters Mary Ellen (14) and Brenda (12) usually washed and folded the laundry.
On November 14th, 1965, as the two girls were going about their chores, the dryer broke and the two girls had to find an alternative to get the laundry finished. So, they took a taxi from the house to the laundromat. It was evening time, but Myrtle’s mother felt comfortable sending her two other daughters to the laundromat because their grandmother lived right next door. The girls knew that if anything happened, all they needed to do was run next door.
Myrtle explains that once the girls arrived at the laundromat, they immediately put the wet clothes into the dryers, but very quickly realized they didn’t have enough change. This particular laundromat was out of change, so Mary Ellen volunteered to walk to another laundromat to get change. Myrtle remarks that the distance between the laundromat on Springmill Street (where the girls’ grandmother lived) was only a five minute walk to the laundromat on North Mulberry Street. The dramatization explains to us that Brenda stayed at the laundromat on Springmill Street while Mary Ellen went to get change. “And then when she didn’t come back, Brenda went to my grandmother’s and told her that Mary Ellen went to get change and she wasn’t back yet…” Myrtle tells us that her grandmother told Brenda to stay at the house while she went out to look for Mary Ellen- no doubt already starting to worry.
As the grandmother was on her way to the second laundromat, she came across police and a crowd. It didn’t take her long to realize that it was her granddaughter Mary Ellen who was lying on the sidewalk pavement, and she was deceased. We’re informed that Mary Ellen had been shot twice. (In doing further research, Mary Ellen was shot twice in the stomach, and her head had been bashed in with a brick- so badly that her skull was shattered. Some of the coins for the laundromat were still in her lifeless hand, while the others were scattered nearby. It was clear that this was a horrific homicide.)
John Arcudi, a retired Captain from the Mansfield Police Department, fills us in that detectives very quickly determined the caliber of the bullet that was used in Mary Ellen Deener’s murder, and they went to every nearby store that sold ammunition and looked through their records to find the perpetrator, which they did. The .38 caliber bullets were bought by 22-year-old Lester Edward Eubanks. The detectives hurriedly sought out informants who told them that they had seen Lester the night before Mary Ellen had been murdered.
Myrtle says that she had seen Lester walking around the neighborhood before, and that he always was by himself and appeared to be a loner. She states that Lester always had nunchucks with him and that he’d walk up and down the street playing with them.
Enter David Siler, the Deputy U.S Marshal from the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force. He gives some backstory of Lester- that he grew up in Mansfield and was a sharp looking man. He was well-liked and can easily fit into anywhere. However, David informs us that Lester was/still is a sexual predator. John Arcudi says that Lester had already been arrested two times in the past for sex offenses. At the time of the murder, he was out on bond after an attempted rape. “This guy shouldn’t even been out!” (I agree with you John; a million, billion, cachilion, fafillion percent!)
That Sunday, after Lester had been to the church, where he enjoyed a leisurely meal with his pastor, he was arrested. And when the detectives started questioning him, he confessed to everything, in great detail. Lester said that he grabbed Mary, who was walking near him, and pulled her behind a house after they locked eyes for a second. He yanked up her skirt and pulled down her underwear, but because she started screaming and putting up a fight, he took out his .38 revolver and shot her twice in the stomach before fleeing the scene. He said that he ran northward, between an alley and a house, before turning the corner and reaching his place. Lester then got ready to go out dancing. After about 45 minutes though, when he came across the scene again and heard Mary writhing in agony, he picked up a brick and finished his job. Unscathed, he walked away again. David Siler tries reading Lester’s confession script, but he couldn’t get through a full sentence before tossing the paper onto the table in front of him. He’s disgusted, calling him a monster. (Again, I couldn’t agree more.) Myrtle remembers when the detectives came to her home to inform the family of Lester’s confession, and Myrtle says that she just couldn’t believe what was happening. She states that her mother was in tears, while Brenda was in shock- and was deeply troubled with the events of that night, claiming that Mary Ellen’s death really affected Brenda, going as far to say that it bothered her right up until she had passed away. (Brenda passed away on February 18th, 2014.) David goes on to say, “This monster takes her entire family’s world and just crushes it and just changes their future.”
The next scene is at the Richland County Courthouse, in May of 1966. Myrtle says that she went to the trial everyday to prove to Lester that Mary Ellen had a family, and a lot of people that cared about and loved her. Dale Fortney, a retired lieutenant from the Mansfield Police Department enters the documentary for the first time and says that Lester had testified at his own trial, and assumed that Lester is a narcissist. He says that Lester didn’t show any remorse, other than maybe for being caught. David Siler says that he was convicted by a jury of his peers and was sentenced to death. Dale says that he was sent to death row. Myrtle claims that everyone was happy, and that the case was wrapped with a bow… for a while.
Lester went to the Ohio State Penitentiary, located in Columbus, Ohio. Enter Ron O’Brien, the prosecuting attorney for Franklin County, Ohio. He contributes to the documentary that Lester was sent and confined there- to serve and wait out his sentence until it was time for him to be put to death. “Bill”, a former death row inmate, and someone who knew Lester, gives an interview and says that he wasn’t afraid of Lester and that he never really liked him. He claims that he didn’t know much about him, other than the fact that he was in prison and on death row for committing a murder. “Lester was a tall guy, very cocky, very opinionated. Lester had an attitude. There was a lot of things that he didn’t like. He was basically a loner…” We learn that Lester took up painting while in prison and David states that Lester was allowed to have paint brushes and canvases, and things of the like. David says that back in the 60’s, it wasn’t unusual for death row inmates to have things like that to utilize their talents. They were able to do these types of things- like painting or writing- to eat away time, yet do something constructive. Lester had won awards for his paintings and had been photographed standing next to his artwork.
David says that Lester’s execution was pushed back on three separate occasions, for unknown reasons. (FRUSTRATING!) Then, in 1972, the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty, and Ron O’Brien says that all death row inmates’ sentences were then reverted to life sentences. Myrtle says that when she found out about Lester’s new sentence, she was angry, shocked and confused. She knew that there was nothing she could do about it and knew that she would have to learn to let it go. “And that’s what we did. We went on with our lives knowing that he was in prison.” David goes on to say that after the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty, Lester was put in general population. “Bill” says that Lester occasionally put on a facade that he was a good person, but he knew that deep down he wasn’t. David says that Lester was a smooth talker and “won the guards over.” “There’s no reasonable explanation than that.” The guards and other staff at the prison had allowed Lester to enter an honor program. Ron O’Brien details that this program allowed inmates to occasionally venture out of the prison, and the program was put in place in the hopes that it would reform the prisoners in one way or another. Ron’s next statement shocked the hell out of me- that from time to time prisoners were allowed to leave the premises of the prison to run errands as long as they had shown good behavior. This was put in place to again, help reform prisoners, and also control the population within the prison.
On December 7th, 1973, just eight years after Mary Ellen’s murder, Lester and a few other inmates were allowed to leave the prison to go on a Christmas shopping trip as part of the furlough program. The prisoners were given some money and were dressed in civilian clothes, but had rules to obey. They were told that they had to report back to the guards who went with them by 2:00 p.m at a specific rendezvous spot. Rather than staying in one big group, the prisoners were permitted to go off on their own and shop by themselves. Ron O’Brien informs us of the obvious- that after two or three hours, Lester had never shown up at the meeting spot and seemingly, just vanished. David says, “He avoided the electric chair. He avoided the lifetime in a prison cell. Lester Eubanks was allowed to walk away.” John Arcudi askes the same question I did- and I’m sure that you’re asking as well; the question being, what were they (the guards and staff at the prison) hoping to accomplish with this absurd program that allowed a child murderer to go Christmas shopping without being escorted by a prison guard? IT’S BAFFLING!
Myrtle had received a phone call informing her of Lester’s escape. And again, she was angry and confused. She asked the same question we just did, how was it possible that a lifer just walked off while shopping? And why was he able to go shopping in the first place? Ron O’Brien tells us that he’s not sure of how exactly Lester was able to get away, but suspects that Lester couldn’t have gotten away without the help of someone. He doesn’t think that this was a spur of the moment kind of thing- that it was planned out in great detail and Lester had to have had made arrangements prior to having left the prison.
David states that while Lester was in prison, his visitation list was “alarming.” Lester had visitations pretty regularly, like once a month for years, however, right before his escape, his visitations had escalated to being once or twice a week. He agrees with Ron, that Lester’s escape had been pre-planned. David believes that those visitors have a little culpability in Lester’s escape. Ron’s theory is that maybe a member of Lester’s family helped him to escape. David states that Lester’s family and friends were questioned, but not one person handed over any evidence or gave any indication as to where Lester had gone. After Lester had escaped, Franklin County issued a local warrant for Lester, while the FBI took out a federal arrest warrant. With the FBI taking out a federal warrant, that meant that if any police officer was to ever find Lester, anywhere in the continental U.S, that meant that Lester could be taken into custody.
Despite an extensive manhunt, there were no leads to Lester Eubanks’ whereabouts until 20 years after his escape. In December of 1993, John Arcudi thought to himself that they haven’t heard an update in Lester’s case, but that just maybe he had been apprehended and that the authorities didn’t get a chance to notify anyone. He knew it was far-fetched, but he decided to inquire anyways. He checked into the computer system, and ended up learning that there were no warrants for Lester’s arrest. (uh.. what!?) Turns out, the federal warrant had been removed from the database and Ron’s belief, and what he believes is the only explanation, is that it was just a lack of follow-up or a clerical error. Either way, because no warrant was in the database, if Lester was to ever have been stopped, he was able then to escape capture. (This case just keeps getting more frustrating the longer it goes on.)
John Arcudi knew that exposure of Lester could potentially lead to his arrest, so he and his team reached out to America’s Most Wanted. So, on September 10th, 1994, America’s Most Wanted aired the details to Mary Ellen’s murder and put Lester Eubanks’ picture on air in hopes that someone would call in and notify the authorities to his whereabouts. Luckily, the night the show had aired, a lady had in fact phoned the police and told them that she knew Lester and that she used to “run around” with him in California back in the 70’s, and according to her, Lester had moved in with Kay, his cousin’s widow. At this point in the documentary, we meet T. Conner, a former detective from the Fugitive Warrant Section of the LA Police Department. It was his job to investigate Lester’s movements in the LA area. On October 28th, 1994 (21 years after Lester’s escape) T. Conner and other detectives went to Kay’s house to get a statement from her about Lester. Apparently she was fearful that she would be charged in helping hide an escaped convict, but that she wanted to cooperate. Kay told the detectives that Lester had in fact lived with her in the LA area, but had left. John Arcudi delves deeper- that Kay was originally from Ohio, and was married to Darrel Banks, Lester’s cousin. After Darrel had been murdered in Detroit, Kay moved to the LA area. Apparently, she established a relationship with Lester when he was in prison by becoming penpals with him. In fact, David now informs us that there had been a picture of Kay in Lester’s jail cell. T. Conner continues on with what Kay had told him: that after Lester escaped from prison, he made his way to Michigan and stayed there to see if he would be hunted and chased down. He made a living by painting houses in a local community, but only stayed there for a few short weeks. It was after he boarded a bus that he made his way to LA. Kay also told investigators that in late December of 1973, (just three weeks after his escape) the bus that Lester was on had been stopped by law enforcement and Lester immediately thought to himself that he had been caught. However, the only things that the officers were looking for were illegal fruit that might have been brought over from another state, and ultimately, let the bus go after nothing was found. T. Conner informs us that Kay was surprised to find Lester at her front door, and that he started using an assumed name- Victor Young. Kay told investigators that Lester was a bully and that he intimated her. After a while, she figured to herself that he needed to leave. Apparently, she lied and told Lester that she had received a phone call from the FBI, and it was after that she never saw him again. Kay informed the investigators about a place in Gardena where Lester might still be working at, and when T. Conner looked into it, it was determined that Lester worked there until sometime in the mid 80’s. T. Conner says that he and his team worked the case until 1996 and he exhausted all leads as to where Lester could be.
Back in Mansfield, Ohio, we meet Michael Vinson, a lieutenant of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. He states that he didn’t know anything about the murder of Mary Ellen or Lester’s escape until sometime in 2003 when he was tasked to do some follow-up work. His initial thought was to inquire about Lester’s father, Rev. Mose Eubanks, because he was the only alive and close relative in that area at that time. In the summer of 2003, Michael drove out to where Mose lived to ask some questions and get a statement. When prompted, Mose said that he didn’t mind talking about whatever, but refused to talk about Lester. Mose claimed that he would frequent prisons and talk to inmates about turning their lives around. But then he made a comment about how there’s nothing anyone could do to bring that girl back. Michael asked Mose if there was justice done in regards to his son. Mose simply said that people can change their lives around and that he prays for his son every day and then told Michael that he was done talking about Lester. Michael and his partner looked at each other and immediately thought to themselves that Mose knew exactly where Lester was. After investigating further into a few other leads, Michael came to learn that during that same summer, a friend was visiting Mose at his home and while she was there, Mose had answered a telephone call from his son who lived in Alabama who painted houses for a living. At that point in time, Michael had already tracked down all of Lester’s siblings, and not one of them lived in Alabama. Michael obtained a subpoena to get Mose’s phone records, and low and behold- Mose had received several different calls from a center for troubled youth. Upon further investigating, Michael learned that Lester fit the description from those at the center and learned that this person had been working there. The person in question didn’t have a driver’s license and the social security card number was coming back false. Michael felt like he was one step closed to apprehending Lester. Unfortunately, the person in question had fled the area a few months beforehand, so although Michael was hot on Lester’s trail, Lester still was on the run. Because he was a pastor, Mose Eubanks apparently was able to forgive and forget- forgive his son for the brutal murder, and forget about Mary Ellen. Mose Eubanks passed away on March 26th, 2012.
We see Myrtle again, but this time she’s visiting her sister at the cemetery. It’s a sober reminder of who the true victim in this case is, and the reason why we’re even at this point. It’s tragic that Lester is able to live his life- practically free, while Mary Ellen hasn’t been able to. Myrtle says that Lester never asked for forgiveness, and that no one from the Banks family has said anything to her or her family.
Although he’s been in and out of some scenes from the documentary, Dale Fortney is back and explains that although he’s been a police officer for forty years, this has been the biggest miscarriage of justice that he’s ever witnessed. It’s hard for him to forget about it- and he won’t forget about it. John Arcudi states that Lester HAS 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.”
David is back from seemingly the final time, and says that it’s his job within the Marshal service to fight for victims like Mary Ellen- victims who can’t fight for themselves. In July of 2018, (45 years after Lester escaped) David started pushing for Lester to be put on the 15 most wanted list. “You make that list, that means that you are the worst of the worst.” David details for the last time that Lester had/has family and friends in a number of states: Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Alabama, California, and Washington. He’s certain that someone knows something, or is potentially harboring him away. David also states that Lester has a massive scar on his right arm, “It’s pretty thick and it’s pretty identifiable.” David brings up Lester’s painting abilities again, and is hopeful that maybe his artwork might be a key into bringing him to justice. The United States Marshal Service is offering an award up to $25,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of Lester Eubanks. “I’d be more than happy to provide that person with that money.”
“It’s important that Lester is caught,” says Myrtle as she sits on her porch, looking out into the distance. “He took my sister’s life. She didn’t get an extension. Her life is over. And the law says that should happen to him. Living, but still not free. I want him caught.”
As a picture of Lester, age-progressed to what he might look like now, white intertitle says, “If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of Lester Eubanks, contact the US Marshals at 866-4-WANTED, or go to unsolved.com.”