The Face of a Fugitive

by longformphilly

TBtimes

Lane DeGregory | St. Petersburg Times | April 2003

The reckoning came on a Saturday night in September, in a first-floor room of a cheap motel beside the bus station in Dover, Del.

The fugitive was slumped on the bed, chain-smoking Marlboros. As worn out as the mattress.

The lights were off. The TV was on. He was waiting in dread for the show to start. He had seen the preview. He knew he would be on this episode.

He was trying to decide what to do.

That morning, in Philadelphia, he had bought a sleeping bag and a two-man tent. He told his roommates that he was going camping. He got on a Greyhound and rode until dark. Climbed off at Dover and checked into the motel. He asked for a room around back. Paid cash. He snapped his fingers to remind himself to sign the register right: Joe Brown.

For 15 months, he had been living with a dead man’s name.

He turned up the volume on the TV. The episode opened in a parking lot: “Tonight, we’re going after bad guys who use cars to kill,” host John Walsh said. The golden logo of America’s Most Wanted swallowed the screen. “And the chase is on for our first fugitive . . .”

He saw the crumpled car. He saw his mug shot. He heard John Walsh describe him as one of the country’s worst criminals.

He sat there, smoking on the edge of the bed, with the blue TV light shooting shadows across his blank face and his image staring him down from the screen, and he saw himself as 10-million Americans were seeing him: a hunted killer.

And he knew, finally, what he had to do.

Writer bio: Lane DeGregory has written for the Tampa Bay Times, formerly the St. Petersburg Times, for the last 15 years. Among the most decorated narrative journalists of our time, DeGregory was awarded the Ernie Pyle Award from the Scripps Howard Foundation for human interest writing in 2007, and the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2009.

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