We always hear about the daring and miraculous prison escapes attempted by various men around the world, but there are many women who have managed to escape as well. Their methods and motivations vary as much you’d expect any other sampling of prisoners to. The same is true for the nature what crimes got them placed behind bars.
Some worked together to escape through teamwork, while others simply walked off at the right moment. Some fled from abuse by guards, others escaped to protect loves ones, and some just wanted out. Here are the top ten women to make their own way out of prison.
10 Deborah Gavin
In 1974, Deborah Gavin escaped from the Georgia’s Women’s Correctional Institution in Baldwin County, Georgia. Gavin was serving time after being convicted for armed robbery. She had successfully escaped the prison multiple times but was always quickly recaptured—until this time.
After escaping, she moved to Frankston, Texas, where she married, had two children, and worked as a nurse. She was going by the name Deborah Murphy. 33 years after leaving the prison, authorities found out where she was living and arrested her.
Gavin claimed that she fled the prison because inmates were being sexually harassed and raped by the guards. The prison became the center of a sex scandal in the 1990s, and many lawsuits were filed against it, claiming that guards were having sex with inmates. All of the women were eventually moved out in 1993, and the facility was transformed into a men’s prison.
After Gavin revealed her reasoning for escaping the prison, many people wrote letters to the governor of Georgia demanding to let her live out of the rest of her life in Texas. Many people even wrote to the governor of Texas, asking him to help prevent the extradition of Gavin. There was also a lot of media coverage spreading a negative light over the Georgia Department of Corrections. They eventually decided to not pursue extradition, and the case was closed.
9 Margaret B. Smith
Margaret B. Smith was convicted in 1974 of writing more than $200 worth of useless checks. She was sentenced to four years at the Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh, North Carolina, but would serve the last few months in the Robeson County halfway house before escaping.
She claimed that a visit by her seven-year-old daughter brought disturbing news, and she had to break out to protect her family. She still hasn’t revealed what her daughter said that made her leave the halfway house. After escaping, she briefly moved to Florida and went by the name Margaret Valeus. She later returned to Fayetteville to be with her family.
In 2015, an FBI task force officer knocked on her door, ready to place her back in custody. Her capture was a result of a joint effort by the FBI and North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety to locate and return prison escapees from the State.
8 Squeaky Fromme
Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme was one of Charles Manson’s most trusted associates and was a member of his “family.” Manson and his family were famously arrested for multiple murders in 1969, but Fromme was not present at the murder scenes and avoided being arrested. She supported Manson during his trials, though, and she camped outside of the courthouse where they were held. He would soon be convicted and was constantly being moved from prison to prison, and she would move to each town with him in order to be near him.
In 1975, she pulled a loaded pistol on President Gerald Ford in Sacramento. She was convicted of attempted assassination and was sentenced to life in prison. In 1987, she successfully escaped a West Virginia prison in an attempt to meet up with Charles Manson after hearing he had been diagnosed with cancer. She would eventually be captured, and she remained in prison until 2009, when she was released after being granted parole.
7 The Niantic Five
In 1984, five women managed to escape the Niantic Correctional Institution in Connecticut. The women managed to squeeze between the steel bars of a window in a maximum-security section of the prison. This was the only state prison for women, and it featured an open-campus style with no fences around the perimeter.
The women magically escaped despite the fact that the bars on the window were spaced only 19.7 centimeters (7.7 in) apart and were 38 centimeters (15 in) high, covering the entire window. The prison didn’t realize that the women were missing until bed check was performed that night, which was about an hour after the women were last seen.
Their escape was short-lived, though, with two of the women being caught the day after escaping and one more captured two days after. The fourth suspect was caught just over a week from escaping, and the last of the women finally turned herself in to police ten days after walking away from the prison.
6 Judy Lynn Hayman
Judy Lynn Hayman was 23 when she escaped from the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Pittsfield Township, Michigan. She was about halfway through a 16-month to two-year prison sentence when she escaped in 1977. She was in prison for attempting to steal women’s clothing from a Detroit-area store.
Police in San Diego captured Hayman 37 years later, after Michigan police tipped off the department in San Diego. She had changed her name in 1983 and was now known as Jamie Lewis. She sat in a San Diego jail while awaiting extradition to Michigan, where local authorities wanted her to complete her sentence for larceny.
Hayman fought her extradition, and her lawyer claimed that her client surrendered to authorities in 1982. Court documents proved that she was telling the truth, and the judge sentenced her to time served, meaning that she’s a free woman.
5 Samantha Lopez
Samantha Lopez was serving a 50-year prison sentence for aiding and abetting a Georgia bank robbery. She was doing her time at a federal correctional institution in Dublin, California, which is where she would fall in love with Ronald McIntosh. The former Army helicopter pilot was in prison for wire fraud and was due to be released the following year. They met each other while working in the business office of the federal prison.
In 1986, McIntosh escaped during an unsupervised transfer to another California facility. He returned to the prison eight days later with a hijacked helicopter and escaped with Samantha Lopez. They successfully remained on the run for only ten days, though. They were caught buying wedding rings after McIntosh wrote a check from a bank account that the police were monitoring.
After being caught, the two would be married at the courthouse by a former prison chaplain. Then the two lovers were convicted on charges stemming from their escape. McIntosh was found guilty of air piracy and helping Lopez escape and was given a 25-year sentence. Samantha was found guilty of escaping, and five years was added to her sentence.
4 Susan LeFevre
Marie Walsh was a soccer mom with three kids. She was married to a waste industry executive, lived in a $800,000 house, and drove a Lexus, but she wasn’t exactly who she claimed to be. US marshals knocked on her door and asked if she was Susan LeFevre, a name she hadn’t gone by since she broke out of a Michigan prison in 1976.
She served more than a year of a ten- to 20-year sentence for drug charges before escaping prison. She managed to climb over barbed wire and ran to a nearby street, where her grandfather was waiting to pick her up. She bummed a ride to California weeks later, where she would live until being caught 32 years later.
She admitted to being Susan LeFevre, and she would have to serve the remainder of her sentence plus five more years for escaping. She told her story to the media and claimed that she only used drugs recreationally and was not a dealer like authorities said she was when first arrested. Her attorney had advised her to plead guilty back then, thinking the judge would be lenient since it was her first offense. Instead, she was sentenced to a lengthy prison term.
LeFevre’s new attorney asked the judge to throw out her case because she had been a law-abiding citizen since escaping. The judge decided to show mercy and only gave her two years of probation for escaping but left the previous drug charge up to the Michigan parole board. The board surprisingly voted unanimously to set her free, claiming that she did what they wanted offenders to do, which was live a crime-free life once leaving prison.
3 Sarah Jo Pender
In 2000, Sarah Jo Pender met convicted drug dealer and felon Richard Hull at a Phish concert. They would soon begin dating and started sharing a house in Indianapolis with Andrew Cataldi and Tricia Nordman. One morning, Pender bought a 12-gauge shotgun from a local Walmart, and that evening, Hull used it to kill their two roommates.
She wasn’t at home when he committed the double murder, but she would later return to the blood-filled house to find them dead. Pender then proceeded to help Hull grab blankets and ride with him in his truck to dispose of the bodies in a trash bin. She never reported the killings to local police, and she returned to work the next day as if nothing happened. She claimed that she was afraid that she would become Hull’s third victim.
Hull was arrested a couple of days later in the connection to the murders, and Pender would be arrested the following day. Almost a year after their arrests, evidence started pointing toward Pender as the mastermind of this double murder, indicating that she manipulated Hull into killing their roommates. The deputy prosecutor in her case labeled her as the “female Charles Manson,” and she would be sentenced to 110 years in prison.
In 2008, Pender managed to escape from Rockville Correctional Facility with the help of Correctional Officer Scott Spitler and former cellmate Jamie Long. Spitler claims that Pender manipulated him into driving her out of the facility in a prison van, and then Long would pick her up in her car. They would both later be arrested and convicted for helping Pender escape. The TV show America’s Most Wanted featured her story later that year, and she was soon arrested in Chicago, where she was living and working under a new name. She remains in prison today.
2 Limerick Gaol
The little-known story of the Limerick Gaol in 1830 is incredible, not only because nine women managed to escape but because one was also with an infant. The nine women escaped from the Ireland facility just hours before they were to be transferred to another prison.
Days before they broke out, someone secretly provided them with a file, aqua fortis (nitric acid), and a short iron bar to help facilitate their escape. They also gained the help of two men outside the prison. These men scaled the outside walls using ladders that were used by repairmen at the prison, and they easily gained access to the women’s ward. They were there to break the cell locks, which would be an extremely noisy job. The men waited until the evening, though, when the prison would always join together in singing at night, and the prisoners were particularly loud and excited on this night.
During the loud singing, the men broke the locks, and the women began their escape. One by one, they climbed down the ladders and escaped over three sets of walls. After they all safely made it over the third wall, they made their way to a nearby street, where they all went unnoticed.
1 Assata Shakur
One of the most famous prison escapes by a woman was by Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard. She was an African American activist, a member of the Black Liberation Army, and the step-aunt of hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur. She was involved in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in which a New Jersey state trooper and BLA member were killed. Four years later, she was convicted of murder in the killing of the tropper and of seven other felonies, resulting in a life sentence.
Members of the BLA started planning and conducting her escape soon after she was sentenced. Members of the group captured two prison guards who controlled the prison vans, and they used a prison van to flee with Shakur. Once they were away from the prison, they switched vehicles and took her to a safe house.
After escaping prison, Shakur fled to Cuba, where she gained political asylum. The FBI classified her as a domestic terrorist and offered $1 million for assistance in her capture. In 2013, the FBI added her to the Most Wanted Terrorist List, which made her the first woman to make the list. Now close to the age of 70, she remains a US fugitive hiding in Cuba.
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