Wake County

In NC, escaping from prison isn’t as easy as it used to be

If she is still alive, Stella Seals is 84 years old and perhaps still looking warily at any police officer she sees.

That’s because Seals is one of 108 people who have escaped from North Carolina prisons and are still at large. In Seals’ case, she escaped from the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh on Jan. 5, 1970, not quite halfway through a 30-year sentence for second-degree murder in Scotland County.

As authorities continue to search for two escaped murderers who cut their way out of a state prison in upstate New York, North Carolina’s list of prison escapees shows how rarely inmates successfully bust their way out. Aside from being a woman, Seals is fairly typical of the state’s missing escapees, most of whom are elderly now and have been missing for decades.

There are actually 134 names on the list, but that includes three who have been captured and are awaiting a return to North Carolina, 11 who were later imprisoned in other states and haven’t been returned to North Carolina, and 12 who state officials think are dead and are awaiting a death certificate, said Keith Acree, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Of the remaining escapees who are considered at large, most have been missing since the 1960s and 1970s, a time when prison escapes were much more common. In 1975 alone, 1,633 inmates escaped from the state prison system, including prisoners on work release; last year, only 11 inmates escaped.

“We don’t have nearly as many as we used to,” Acree said. Two men who escaped in 1973, Johnny Leonard and Ronald Carnes, have been arrested in the past year.

Only two men who have escaped since 2000 are still at large.

“Most of the people who have escaped in recent years, we get 99 percent of them back pretty quickly,” Acree said.

The earliest escapee on the state’s list is Richard Scott, who was convicted of bigamy in Gaston County in May 1947 and escaped from Central Prison less than two months later. Scott would be 91 now and will remain in the database until he’s captured or the state gets some proof of his death.

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