A four-decade run from a 1961 burglary conviction ended when police caught up with 73-year-old Leroy Albert Morgan.
He was convicted of burglary in 1961 in Hamilton County and escaped from the now-closed Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville with two other men less than a year into his three-year sentence, authorities allege.
In the 46 years since then, Mr. Morgan changed his first name to James along with his birth date, obtained a new Social Security number, was married and divorced and had at least one child, said Jerry Lester, director of internal affairs for the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
“He was living like the average senior citizen. He was in a mobile home, adjacent to one of his family members,” Mr. Lester said. “He said when he escaped he was a young man with everything to lose, and now he’s an old man and he’s got nothing to lose. He said he didn’t regret it at all.”
When Mr. Lester and an investigator arrived recently at Mr. Morgan’s home in Mosheim, Tenn., about five miles outside Greeneville, he was ready to admit he was a fugitive, Mr. Lester said.
“He admitted that he was who we said he was,” Mr. Lester said. “We took him right back to prison.”
Mr. Lester said he drove Mr. Morgan directly to the Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex, a maximum security prison. The Davidson County district attorney general will decide if Mr. Morgan will face additional escape charges.
To his family, Mr. Morgan was a quiet and somewhat reclusive relative who hardly seemed like someone who harbored a criminal past, said his granddaughter, Charley Melton, 24.
“My dad has been visiting him every week since he’s been (in prison), and the biggest thing he’s worried about are his cats,” Ms. Melton said.
She said her grandfather worked in construction in Florida for at least 15 years and since then he has been retired and drawing Social Security.
“It was all a big surprise to us,” Ms. Melton said of the arrest. “He went to the grocery store once a month and hardly left the house for anything else.”
Mr. Morgan could be released in May 2009 if the district attorney elects not to prosecute him, corrections records show.
The arrest of Mr. Morgan is part of a larger effort to track down more than 150 Tennessee prison fugitives who are unaccounted for, Mr. Lester said.
Operation Clean Sweep began in October 2007, and to date Mr. Lester and nine investigators have arrested 12 fugitives, identified 26 as being deceased and found five others out of state whose arrests are complicated by jurisdictional issues, he said.
Mr. Lester wouldn’t say specifically how he caught Mr. Morgan because that might help other fugitives hide more effectively, he said. He did, however, say that modern technology including the Internet helps investigators in their searches.
Mr. Morgan is “certainly the oldest (inmate) captured as a part of Operation Clean Sweep,” Mr. Lester said.
Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...