The cold case of fugitive Lester Eubanks, who was sentenced to death in the 70s for the murder of a 14-year-old girl in Ohio but then escaped prison, has been given new energy as tips poured in after an episode of the Netflix series “Unsolved Mysteries” highlighted the case. The U.S. Marshals Service also increased their reward for information to Eubanks to $50,000 after the series was released on Oct. 19.
Who Is Lester Eubanks?
Eubanks raped and murdered Mary Ellen Deneer, 14, when she was walking to the laundromat in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1965. He confessed to the crime after police tracked him down by searching shops to see if anyone had purchased a gun that matched the bullets that had killed Deneer. Mary Ellen was not only shot twice, but was later hit in the head with a brick. Deneer told authorities he had returned to the scene after shooting the child and found her still struggling, at which point he hit her with a brick and fractured her skull.
Eubanks, who was 22 at the time, was sentenced to death for the crime, after which he received two stays of execution. In 1972, U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional and his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
How Did Lester Eubanks Escape Prison?
Eubanks became what the “Unsolved Mysteries” episode titled “Death Row Fugitive” called a “model prisoner” while he was serving his time and was eventually granted special privileges for good behavior. As part of that program, he was able to leave the prison on numerous occasions with guard supervision.
On Dec. 7, 1973, however, prisoners went on a Christmas shopping trip in Columbus, Ohio, and Eubanks was able to shop unattended by a guard, according the the U.S. Marshall’s Service. The prisoners were given a time to meet to go back to the prison, but Eubanks never showed up. In the series, authorities mentioned they believe that Eubanks had been plotting his escape prior to that day.
The Search for a Fugitive
Authorities have discovered that Eubanks had gone by the alias Victor Young in the time he has been free. In the Netflix episode, police described how they also discovered that he made his way to California, where he lived with a pen pal that he talked to in prison. The woman had been previously married to Eubanks’ cousin, who was later killed. She described Eubanks as a bully, and said she eventually got him to move out by saying she had received a call from the FBI, according to police.
Police also believe that Eubanks’ father, the late Rev. Mose L. Eubanks, knew where his son was and would not reveal that information to authorities. Authorities tapped Mose’s phone and believed that he took calls from Eubanks. Mose died in 2012.
Staff Lt. Mike Vinson of the Bucyrus Headquarters of the Highway Patrol, who has worked on the case, spoke in the documentary about Mose.
"He didn't admit that he knew where he was. Just some of the statements he made. Why would he say, 'People change' and "I pray for Lester every day' if he didn't know that he was alive and well?" Vinson said.
Eubanks has never been located, and is believed to have connections in several states. He is now 77 years old. Police have released sketches over the years of what Eubanks may look like. At the time of his disappearance, Eubanks was 5-foot-11 with black hair and brown eyes, and weighed approximately 175 pounds.
Where Does the Lester Eubanks Case Stand Now?
Since the release of the Netflix's episode on Eubanks, police upped the reward for his capture from $25,000 to $50,000, the biggest reward offered for any Top 15 Most Wanted fugitive in the history of the U.S. Marshals Service.
“He’s alive. I feel we’re getting closer,” Brian Fitzgibbon of the U.S. Marshals Service told the News Journal after the episode aired.
The U.S. Marshals service has also said that after episode was released, they received numerous tips, which they are reviewing.
"We want to remind everybody that somebody knows something,” Fitzgibbon said in a statement. "We also run the witness protection program and we want people to know we can keep a secret."