Convicted murderers and rapists are among the 154 convicted criminals in North Carolina who should be behind bars, but are not after escaping from prison. In some cases, decades ago. In fact, ten convicted killers are on the run and several are from Eastern Carolina.
Robert McWilliams, 64-years-old, was convicted of second degree murder in Nash County in 1970 and has been on the run since escaping while working outside of Henderson Correctional Center, a minimum security unit, 34-years ago.
Nash County resident Nikesha Lynch Sharpe says, "It would be kinda scary that he may be kinda close by and you could be walking somewhere and you not know exactly who he is unless you've seen him before or know him on a personal basis."
But the fact is, McWilliams could be anywhere, just like the other two convicted murderers from Eastern Carolina who escaped years ago. Melvin Jones, 69-years-old, was convicted of first degree murder in Hertford County in 1963. He was serving a life sentence at Halifax Correctional Center and has been on the run for 35-years after escaping from an outside work assignment at the Caledonia Farm. Erasmo Tamayo, 52-years-old, was convicted of second degree murder in Onslow County in 1988 and escaped 18-years ago from Davidson Correctional Center, also a minimum security unit.
Pam Walker is a spokeswoman for the NC Department of Public Safety and says it's unusual to have escapees out there for long periods of time. Walker says, "Very frequently we get them back very quickly. We normally get them back within 24 hours, sometimes a couple of days. Regardless of the time frame they're always going to be active in our system so there's always that opportunity for them to be brought back from escape."
While Department of Public Safety officials can't talk specifics when it comes to searches and ongoing investigations, they do pay off. It was just last July that a convicted murderer from Pitt County, who was serving time in a state prison and escaped 16-years ago, was apprehended.
Manuel Hrnieth was brought back from Georgia where authorities say he was running a pinestraw business and even bought a home. He escaped New Hanover Correctional Center by going over the fence. Walker says, "And in this case the U.S. Marshal's had some information about his whereabouts and once we started looking into it we said yes, we think that's our guy and started working with them and eventually he was brought back into custody."
Back behind bars is where loved ones of murder victims want those still on the run. Debbie Allen is an administrator with SAVON, Statewide Automated Victim Assistance and Notification, and says, "Obviously they want them back in custody. They want them to serve the time for which they were sentenced to. Victims are very resilient and they move on with their life and they don't fall apart on us. They're one of our biggest allies that we can have in trying to find offenders."
But they're not the only ones. Walker says, "We do get tips from neighbors, or sometimes even family members."
Walker says advances in technology and the internet are also valuable in the search and capture of escapees.
If you would like to see the mug shots and rap sheets of the escapees mentioned in this report, or any of the others on the run, just click on the related link below.
If you have any information about them you are urged to call 1-919-838-3572.