Archive for Friday, July 9, 2004

Tenn. prison fugitive found in Kansas 28 years later

Escapee had children, was living in Harper County

July 9, 2004


— A man living under an assumed name since he fled a Tennessee prison in 1976 is back in custody in Kansas.

Mickey Ray Frye, 53, had lived in Harper, a community of about 1,200 southwest of Wichita, off and on for 15 years, Harper County Undersheriff Mark Rine said Thursday.

"He has bounced around between Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Arkansas and finally ended up here," Rine said. "He left for Florida for a while, and has been back for about two years."

Frye was known as Mitchell Thornton, and Rine said the fugitive told him it was a name on a driver's license he found shortly after his escape.

Frye was serving a 10-year sentence for assault with intent to rob, armed robbery and receiving stolen property. He was on an authorized furlough from the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville and failed to return the day after Christmas in 1976.

Rine said Frye told him he had been with an attorney.

"They went out, had some drinks, he got drunk, and he never went back," the undersheriff said.

Rine said Harper police Sgt. Ken Blaylock got a call at home from someone who suggested he check a Web site showing escaped convicts from Tennessee.

"He saw his picture and immediately recognized him," Rine said. "He contacted us, and we started the ball rolling and got a copy of the fingerprints."

Rine said Frye was confronted Wednesday at the court house in Anthony when he came there on a civil complaint he had filed alleging that his estranged wife was driving without insurance.

Rine took him into custody and began interviewing him, showing him the picture from the Tennessee Web site.

"He at first denied it," Rine said. "Then I confronted him with the print match. He pretty much slouched, and said 'Yeah, it's been a long time.' He admitted to being Frye."

"He has children by the name of Thornton," Rine said. "It was a complete shock to them when they found out."

Frye had been arrested in 2001 for driving while intoxicated, but the prosecutor did not proceed with the case so no attempt was made then to match his fingerprints with those of any fugitive, Rine said.

The undersheriff said Frye had worked for a time as a janitor at a care center, but more recently he was retired because of health problems. He said Frye told him he had served about two years of his sentence when he failed to return to prison.

Frye was being held in the Harper County Jail awaiting extradition proceedings. As for the assumed name, Rine said officials had done some checking and could not find any living Mitchell Thornton with the Social Security number that Frye was using.

Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Correction, said officials would have to review Frye's records and calculate how much time he will have to serve once returned to Tennessee.

She said sentencing guidelines had changed since 1976 and new charges for his escape could enhance his prison sentence, but it's possible that Frye would be eligible for parole by the end of 2005.

"We have no choice but to house him unless we have some judgment order to the contrary," she said. "As far was we are concerned, if someone is sentenced, they have to serve that time."

Johnson said the escaped convict section of the agency's Web site was very popular, checked frequently by people from all over the country. She said that a few years ago a woman who had escaped 32 years earlier was found in Ohio, married and with a family who knew nothing about her background. She was brought back and is still serving her sentence.

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