For the seven years Lester Eubanks was in jail, reports said he acted like a model prisoner. Eubanks, then 22, had been convicted of murdering 14-year-old Mary Ellen Deener in 1966. Prosecutors alleged he tried to rape her before beating her and shooting her twice. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972 when the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.
While at the Ohio State Penitentiary, Eubanks was so well-behaved that he became an Honor Inmate at the facility, enabling him to be given certain privileges. On December 7, 1973, Ohio State Penitentiary granted him a furlough to go Christmas shopping at a local mall as a reward for good behavior. Eubanks was supposed to get back at a specific time and place near the mall when he was done. Rather, he disappeared and hasn’t been seen to date.
His escape baffled many. The family of the 14-year-old he killed was traumatized. “We thought it was over,” said sister Myrtle Carter who was 18 at the time of the murder. “And then lo and behold, he goes Christmas shopping, first of all — that’s a shock — and then escapes. My mom, she was just beside herself.”
“…It bothers me that he’s still missing, that he’s still free and took her innocent life. That bothers me.”
Mary Ellen Deener, a 14-year-old Mansfield, Ohio girl, had gone to do laundry with her younger sister when she ran out of change. She told her little sister to sit tight while she walked to another laundromat five minutes away in search of change. Eubanks, who was out on a bond on an attempted rape charge, was apparently watching Deener, the News Journal reported. He grabbed Deener and dragged her behind a home where he tried to rape her and shot her when she refused to stop screaming, the report added.
Deener’s family later found her dead in the streets, with change still in her hand. The following day, Eubanks confessed to the murder after being arrested by the police. He was subsequently charged with first-degree murder while perpetrating rape. Reports said he tried to plead insanity, without success. On May 25, 1966, a jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972. The following year, he escaped.
The Ohio Department of Corrections immediately listed Eubanks as a fugitive, but federal authorities would do the same after decades. In the 1990s, the head of the Detective Bureau of the Mansfield Police Department, John Arcudi, delved into Eubanks’ disappearance and found out that the National Crime Information Center had not listed him as wanted. “It had been 20 years and it was like nobody was working the case that we were aware of,” said Arcudi. “He was just out there on his own and nobody seemed concerned about it.”
Arcudi contacted the 1994 TV episode America’s Most Wanted about Eubanks, directing the attention of the public to his case. Several calls came in, with many saying they had spotted him in Northern California. The U.S. Marshal’s officially listed Eubanks on their 15 Most Wanted List.
Eubanks’ case received renewed attention when it was featured last year on the Netflix true-crime documentary series “Unsolved Mysteries”.
On Monday, authorities said they are now closing in on Eubanks. “We believe that he may have never left the Greater Los Angeles area,” Deputy US Marshal David Siler, a member of a cold case squad seeking Eubanks, said, according to KABC-TV. “We’re just hoping for that one, one piece of the puzzle that’s going to get us to his front door.”
Eubanks, after escaping from prison, fled to Los Angeles and worked under the name “Victor Young”, authorities said. He is also believed to have lived off and on with a woman named Kay Eubanks between 1975 and 1996. He worked different jobs including in a waterbed factory and as a hospital janitor. “Fugitives on the run as long as Eubanks tend to use that time to change their appearance, use aliases, and even start new lives,” Siler said, according to City News Service. “He literally could be hiding in plain sight. This is why we are asking citizens to be vigilant and contact us with any information they believe will help us apprehend him.”
Investigators say they know Eubanks has friends and associates in the Los Angeles area. “We just need to talk to those people,” Siler told KABC.
Eubanks, who loved music and art, would be in his 70s now, authorities say. He is described as 5-foot-11-inches with a huge scar on his right arm. “This is one of these cases that you go to bed with, it’s one of these cases that you wake up with. It’s just so disgusting, so unjust,” Siler said, according to KABC. “We continue to fight for [Deener] so that someday she will get justice when we’re able to put Lester Eubanks in custody.”