The Getaway

The first inmate to break out of death row in 64 years was a cold-blooded killer who exposed dangerous lapses in prison security. Yet there was something romantic about Martin Gurule’s escape—and disappointing about his inglorious death.

THE LAST TIME ANYONE SAW MARTIN GURULE ALIVE, HE WAS running in the late November moonlight through the pine thickets surrounding Ellis Unit’s death row, having scaled first one, then a second chain-link fence topped with coils of razor wire, and disappearing into the low-lying fog. Behind him, while shots rang out and spotlights skimmed the prison’s perimeter fences, a night-shift guard on H wing began a head count, hurriedly calling out names as he moved from cell to cell. “Gurule,” the guard called into the shadows of one cell, which remained still. “Gurule!” Reaching to nudge the sleeping figure, he found only a pile of rolled-up bedding and jerked the limp sheets through the bars in frustration.

Beyond prison walls, Gurule continued to tear through the woods, ducking branches and stumbling over tree roots, his body stiff with the cardboard and magazines he had fastened around himself with elastic bandages to blunt the effects of the razor wire. Intent on putting as much distance as he could between himself and the tracking dogs who bayed not far behind him, he fled with little regard to destination. A bullet had grazed his back, and the wound, raw and bleeding, stung as he moved through the cool air. He kept running until he reached a small incline where the underbrush thickened and the pines yielded to a scattering of cottonwoods and willows, beyond which lay a wide expanse of water. He had reached a river bottom, and with little choice as to his next move, he plunged into the frigid creek that spread out before him. If he realized his miscalculation, it was only for a moment; the water seeped into the layers of cardboard and magazines that clung to his body as well as the double layer of long johns he wore over them, their dead weight pulling him under the surface, beneath the dark green islands of lily pads that blanketed the creek, down twelve feet to its muddy bottom.

One week later, after more than five hundred lawmen had scoured the 11,672-acre Ellis Unit grounds for Gurule and come up empty-handed, Mark Humphrey, a 39-year-old who drives a truck for a nearby prison, went to Harmon Creek in search of catfish. After a few false starts with a balky outboard motor, he and fishing buddy Doug Smith puttered out to the middle of the creek, a lonely place with few reminders of

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