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Carr stayed free
by staying invisible

By JO BECKER, KELLY RYAN and JEFFREY GETTLEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 21, 1998


Hank Earl Carr had mastered when -- and how -- to disappear.

A convicted felon who knew how to use guns, aliases and his own handcuff key, Carr managed to slip away from police again and again, just when it appeared he had been caught. Even when he did go to prison, starting in his teens, he never stayed for long.

He benefited from the inattention of law enforcement officers. He abused women but charmed them into helping him. He built up a criminal record in at least four states; its length was more remarkable than the crimes themselves.

Cunning and overcrowded prisons helped his cause.

"Just being invisible -- for a while, that's what happened," said Erio Alvarez, a Department of Corrections official in Tampa. "He was just another criminal who wasn't following the rules."

This week, Carr, 30, escaped for the last time.

• Carr stayed free by staying invisible
Outpouring of support is overwhelming
Survivors are offered financial aid

Trooper from small town gave life for job he loved
A grandmother grieves for the boy she raised
'Stress' teams offer comfort to officers

How could such a man have such a lethal arsenal?
• An evil beyond words robs us all
Phone calls to gunman raise concerns about media's role
Hometown mourns for trooper
Killing leaves student shaken
Standoff leaves Shell in disarray
Killer's shirt gives cafe unwelcome publicity
Police in Citrus reviewing guidelines after officers' deaths

On Tuesday, he freed himself from handcuffs, then killed two veteran Tampa detectives and a young highway patrol trooper. He took a woman hostage at a Shell station in Hernando County, where he later shot and killed himself.

The rampage raises a troubling question: How could a man with Carr's violent history be free to build up an arsenal of weapons and lead police on a three-county chase?

"He was very wise. He knew how to play the system," said Kathy Stevens, 27, a St. Petersburg woman who lived with Carr for several months in the late 1980s.

Born in Georgia, Carr cultivated his criminal pattern growing up in Sarasota County. He was accused of 15 crimes before he was 20, stealing guns and smoking crack cocaine.

The first time he was sentenced to prison was in 1986 -- two years for burglary and assault in Sarasota -- and he got out early. He had the good fortune of being in prison at a time when felons were serving only about a third of their sentences. The next time he got in trouble, Carr got an even sweeter deal.

He violated his community control and in March 1988 was sent back to prison. Thanks to an experimental early release program, he served only six weeks of a two-year sentence.

Carr moved in with his sister in St. Petersburg and met Stevens. She was only 17 and quickly fell for the attentive man who showered her with "I love you's." She said yes when he proposed and persuaded her to move to a small town in Georgia.

"There was also the Jekyll and Hyde kind of thing," said Stevens. "After he knew I fell in love with him, and he got me, he turned possessive."

After Carr kept her from eating and threw her through a glass window, she left him in fall 1988.

Within six weeks, Carr had followed her back to Florida. He cursed her parents and threatened their lives. And he returned to his pattern of burglaries, drug possession and assaults.

In December 1990, however, he escaped a prison sentence altogether. Charged with aggravated assault for attacking a man in his house, Carr was given a suspended prison sentence and placed on community control for two years.

But as before, he moved on to a new girlfriend and left without a trace. Authorities didn't know he had followed girlfriend Belinda Sue Simpson to her hometown of Marietta, Ohio.

Though Carr's name was entered in Florida's crime computer, Hillsborough County officials did not put his name in the national criminal index. Violating probation was not a serious enough crime to warrant the expense of extradition, said Lt. Greg Brown, Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman.

"We have over 15,000 violation of probation warrants," Brown said. "We have 67,000 warrants total, and that's after we just purged 40,000 to 50,000 old warrants from our system just a few months ago. There's not a county in the state that has the money to extradite everyone that flees the area."

So, when Marietta police picked up Carr for questioning in a case, they didn't know he belonged in a Florida prison.

But a Washington County sheriff's detective did call both Hillsborough and Sarasota county authorities to ask about Carr's background, said Lt. Jeff Seevers. Someone in Florida confirmed Carr's violent past but never mentioned the active warrant.

Over the next three years, Carr became a familiar name in Marietta. He was arrested seven times, on charges of domestic violence, assault and theft.

He served a total of 68 days in the county jail. In one case, the charge against him for hitting Evelyn Sacks, a woman with whom he fathered two children, was dismissed.

"He would beat me constantly," Sacks said Tuesday. "I'm glad he's dead. Live like that, die like that."

In February 1995, a Washington County grand jury indicted him on three counts of drug trafficking, three years after authorities said he sold marijuana to undercover police.

As always, Carr ran when police got too close.

With the drug charges hanging over his head, he skipped town with Bernice Bowen, a mother of two who left her husband for Carr, saying she "wanted to live a little."

On the run with Bowen, Carr's luck held in July 1995 when a rookie sheriff's deputy, Gordon McCarty, pulled them over in Spalding County, Ga.

McCarty ran Carr's name through the national crime computer and discovered Carr was wanted on three felony drug trafficking charges out of Ohio.

McCarty's partner asked Carr to step out of the car and got Carr in a hold. Then Carr broke free and ran, fleeing into the shadows cast by a JCPenney store.

They never caught him.

In August, the Harley-Davidson-loving couple headed to Sturgis, S.D., home to the nation's biggest biker rally, authorities there said. By the end of the year, Carr was in trouble again.

Meade County, S.D., Sheriff Ron Merwin said Carr got into a fight with locals who were hassling Bernice. He was charged with assault and being a fugitive on the Ohio drug charges.

Within days, he had posted $5,000 bail. The next day, thanks to a town too small to handle the influx of biker fugitives, Carr got off scot-free again.

The assault charge was dropped. He never appeared in court on the fugitive charge.

"The judges once in a while get a little bit lax and let them bond out," Merwin said. "And that always makes us nervous and that's what happened in this case."

What path Carr took next is unclear.

He didn't return to Florida until sometime last year. Stevens, the St. Petersburg woman who followed him to Georgia, ran into him about three weeks ago at her uncle's house in Tampa.

He had returned to his old ways, carrying and selling guns. Now remarried, Stevens said she was stunned that Carr still was walking free, that no one had killed him yet.

"He tried to be Mr. Nice Guy," she said. "He tried to say he was all nice and dandy now. I think everybody feared him."-- Information from the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal News and the Associated Press was used in this report.


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