Tracking escapees across nation ‘the best job to have’

As far as interesting jobs go, Roger Bonner’s might be near the top of the list.

Bonner is a senior investigator with the Kansas Department of Corrections. He tracks prison escapees across the country and beyond, if necessary.

“We do a lot of things that aren’t particularly enjoyable. (But) I think it’s the best job to have,” he said.

Bonner didn’t set out to be an escapee tracker, but sort of fell into it when he was laid off from a job in 1983. He started working as a line guard at the Lansing Correctional Facility, took an interest in investigations, and worked his way up.

Bonner is one of 13 investigators whose primary job consists of finding parole absconders. And when a Kansas inmate escapes, it’s their job to track the prisoner down.

Newer communication technology makes finding escapees easier than in the past, when the most effective tool prisons had was a steam whistle that notified staff and the town of an escape.

“It’s a lot harder to disappear (nowadays). The notification gets out so much better,” Bonner said. “It’s instant.”

But he said the best tool investigators have for finding escapees is an old-fashioned one: face-to-face interviews.

“Most of our cases are solved through a good interview,” said Bonner, and investigators focus on talking to inmates and escapees’ acquaintances.

Good interviewing techniques are key.

“Most of the people we deal with on the offender side have had every interrogation technique, every interview technique. If you can think of it, they’ve had it,” he said.

Bonner’s predecessor in the job retired without catching one of Kansas’ longest running escapees, Randy Schmidt, a convicted rapist who escaped in 1980.

“The biggest thorn he carries around is that he was never able to get Randy Schmidt,” Bonner said.

It’s a feeling Bonner said he hopes he doesn’t have to face when he retires. There are six Kansas escapees still on the loose, and three occurred on Bonner’s watch — one in 2007 and two last month.

What if he isn’t able to track the three down?

“It would nag forever and ever,” he said.