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the first letter | the second letter | the third letter
the New Yorker magazine article

A convicted killer who escaped prison three times, made the U.S. Marshals' Top 15 fugitive list and was featured on America's Most Wanted 12 times, Richard Lee McNair was captured as the result of the keen observations of a New Brunswick Mountie in October 2007.

Richard Lee McNair - U.S. Marshals image Richard Lee McNair - U.S. Marshals image Richard Lee McNair - U.S. Marshals image

And while he may have answered a lot of questions posed by law enforcement, McNair never answered any questions posed by media until he wrote to Edmonton crime reporter Byron Christopher.

Sentenced to two terms of life in prison for the November 1987 murder and attempted murder of two men in Minot, North Dakota, McNair also got 30 years for burglary – read more »

McNair then escaped from three different prisons: once by using lip balm to slip himself out of a pair of handcuffs, once through an air duct, and once by hiding inside a pallet-load of mailbags that had been repaired in a prison workshop.

Most recently on the lam since April 2006, McNair was spotted all over the United States and Canada. He was also spotted by millions on the TV show America's Most Wanted, and on the internet through a clip taken from a dashboard camera that showed him fast-talking a state trooper (see YouTube or Google Video).

On October 24th, 2007 off-duty Const. Dan Melanson of the RCMP detachment at Bathurst, New Brunswick spotted an expensive-looking white cube van with Ontario plates (with "crappy-looking" tinted windows) driving near Nash Creek. He noted the plate number. Initial reports indicated a check showed the van had been stolen but it turned out McNair had pulled another fast one – read more »

The next day, six-week rookie Const. Stephane Gagnon spotted the van in Campbellton, about an hour's drive from Bathurst. After a low-speed car chase and a short foot chase, McNair was caught by Gagnon and his field coach, Const. Nelson Levesque. He was returned to the U.S.

According to Christopher, any car chase in Campbellton would be slowed down by pot-holes – and stop signs every 50 feet.

In October 2008, Cpl. Daniel Melanson was awarded the Looking Beyond the License Plate Grand Prize as presented by the U.S.-based International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Supermax at Florence, Colorado - The Alcatraz of The Rockies

American authorities wanted to make sure they hung onto their man this time and they placed McNair in their Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado. The prison has a guest list that includes that country's best known public enemies.

McNair now spends every day (except for a short solitary outdoor exercise period) in a twelve-by-seven foot cell made entirely of concrete – view images »

Sequestered in a pod with five other prisoners that he can't see, his only human contact is with prison guards – and even that is filtered by steel and bulletproof glass.

In late 2008, Christopher (who hails from the same New Brunswick town where McNair was captured) decided to write to the prisoner.

Byron Christopher image

Christopher included a picture he took of Campbellton on a recent visit. Taken from Sugarloaf Mountain, the photo overlooks the place where McNair last saw freedom. Three American dollars were also included in the letter to cover McNair's postage and writing paper. Prison authorities returned the money.

The veteran crime reporter told McNair that he had put Campbellton on the map and hoped the local Chamber of Commerce had sent him a cheque of some sorts for all the publicity.

Christopher also brought McNair up to date on the just completed World Series and the U.S. election (asking McNair if he had voted).

Surprisingly, McNair wrote back. It was his first response to media.

Byron Christopher image

The two-page handwritten letter showed McNair to be as intelligent and charming as police described him to be.

Byron Christopher image Byron Christopher image

A near full-sized copy of the letter can been seen here.

In the letter McNair revealed something that even New Brunswick RCMP didn't know: that he also spent time in Fredericton while hiding from the law.

Byron Christopher image

McNair said he found the people of New Brunswick's capital to be friendly and well-educated. Asked about how he got caught, the three-time escapee indicated it was simply a matter of bad luck.

Byron Christopher image

McNair wrote of some of his restrictions, telling the reporter he had yet to wait three years before he could get to a phone.

Byron Christopher image

And about voting in U.S. federal prisons, McNair explained that only a few states allowed the exercising of that franchise. He also offered his assessment of the political situation and regrets that his favourite reading material, the Christian Science Monitor, is now only available online. It appears that McNair does not have access to the internet, Christopher surmised.

Byron Christopher image

McNair seemed receptive to further questions in his reply. Christopher has indicated he has sent the man a second letter with hopes the lifer has more on his mind.

"I have more questions than George Bush in a sex shop," the reporter quipped.

And should McNair respond, Christopher confirmed that this website (and its readers) would be the first to know.

The Campbellton Tribune's coverage of McNair's letter can be seen here.

The second letter

Richard Lee McNair has gone from sending himself out of prison to sending out his thoughts.

As Christopher expected, McNair wrote back on January 20th, 2009. The letter took two weeks to reach Edmonton (a near full-sized copy of the five-page letter can been seen here).

Byron Christopher image

McNair reveals that he spent time in Jasper, Alberta while on the lam and that he tracked law enforcement's search for him through the internet. He also pokes fun at a reporter for Maclean's magazine.

The correspondence finds McNair in an upbeat and expansive mood, first 'hinting' that the delay in responding to Christopher's second letter would likely be due to prison authorities giving his writings the once-over.

Byron Christopher image

McNair tells Christopher not to send him any more money (for postage) lest Dick Cheney bring out the thumbscrews – thinking the inmate was profitting from his letters. He reminds Christopher that he is locked up in the "most secure section of the most secure prison in the world," and writes that the less said about the place the better for all concerned.

Included in Christopher's letter to McNair were some photographs of Jasper. McNair wrote back that he loved the town while he stayed there, riding a mountain bike and kayaking in the national park. He also wrote that while he was in British Columbia he panned for gold, adding that he lived for the outdoors.

McNair writes that his ability to learn about the real world "is minimal. Very restrictive." He does not have internet access in prison but he does receive print-outs sent to him (as long as it isn't about prison security issues or persons incarcerated).

And while he was on the run, he followed his own case – adding that the coverage was "for the most part true."

Byron Christopher image

He cites the efforts of Louisiana Deputy U.S. Marshal Glenn Belgard and a criminal profiler who was helping the "Feds trying to sucker me in." McNair also noted "the lady on the net who said 'she would like to hide me in her basement.' "

McNair said he was surprised by the coverage extended him, especially the eleven-page article written by Mark Singer in the October 9th, 2006 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

Byron Christopher image

While he had the text of the article, McNair said he would love to see the cartoon that accompanied the piece. Christopher has since mailed him the drawing – it can be seen here.

Supermax at Florence, Colorado - The Alcatraz of The Rockies

In his initial letter to McNair, Christopher wrote of the numerous high-profile criminals once or currently held in the Florence supermax facility. McNair wrote back saying he never got the list (it was seized by prison authorities) but added he doesn't care about 90% of the people there.

"Thank God for prisons. There are some very sick people in here.

Byron Christopher image

"Animals you would never want living near your family or the public in general," McNair wrote. "I don't know how corrections staff deal with it ... They get spit on, shit on, abused and I have seen them risk their own lives and save a prisoner many times."

The list Christopher included in his letter can be seen here.

In seeming contrast to those he is imprisoned with, McNair prides himself on his gentle nature.

Byron Christopher image

"Am very proud that at no time did I hurt anyone (physically) while on the run. Promised myself that no matter what – would not raise a hand to anyone."

McNair also passed along a "funny" to the crime reporter.

"One of your brothers from Maclean's contacted me for an interview. He enclosed his e-mail but no snail mail."

It seems the reporter for the Rogers-owned Maclean's failed to realise that prisoners do not have e-mail privileges.

Charlie Gillis (Maclean's national affairs correspondent) wrote to the Last Link on February 18th, 2009 and explained the circumstances – read more »

McNair also wrote Christopher of the only other reporter he wished to share his story with – a British TV journalist. The interview never took place. McNair wrote: "Have a feeling this place nixed our correspondence," suggesting words from the outside are closely watched.

The convicted murderer closes his letter by wishing that Christopher "stay out of trouble." He also thanks the reporter for a picture he sent of Honeymoon Lake in Jasper National Park. McNair fondly recalls mountain biking and kayaking in Jasper.

Byron Christopher image

Christopher snapped the picture early on July 18th, 2008. McNair, the man who lives for the outdoors, has it on the wall of his cell. The photograph can be seen here.

The third letter

In March 2009 Richard Lee McNair wrote a third letter to crime reporter Byron Christopher revealing even more about his life on the lam. The 22-page document almost served as a manual on how to escape the long arm of law enforcement while at the same time keeping tabs on their efforts.

KALB image

Christopher detailed highlights of the letter in a story filed with KALB News Channel 5, the NBC/CBS affiliate in Alexandria, Louisiana.

KALB image

Alexandria is just a few miles away from the federal penitentiary that McNair mailed himself out of – and near where Ball, Louisiana police officer Carl Bordelon stopped McNair just hours after his escape (the dash-cam video of the meeting has been a must-see staple on YouTube for years).

What follows is Christopher's report as filed with KALB TV, supplemented with material exclusive to the Last Link on the Left.

Richard Lee McNair Breaks His Silence
by Byron Christopher

Richard Lee McNair – the convicted killer who escaped from Pollock Penitentiary by shipping himself out in a pallet in April 2006 – is now mailing out letters from his new digs: the super maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.

Ball, Louisiana Police image

McNair hadn't enjoyed more than a few hours of freedom when he was stopped by Ball police officer Carl Bordelon. Bordelon spotted McNair ... aka 'Robert Jones' ... walking on train tracks. Bordelon's exchange with McNair (who minutes later would tell the officer he was now 'Jimmy Jones') was all caught on the officer's dash video-cam.

In all the excitement it was evident Bordelon wasn't able to keep up with all the Joneses. From his perspective, McNair described what happened that day.

KALB image

“Had left Pollock Pen at about 09:45 and could not exit mailbag pallet until around 11:00. I would have until 16:00 (main count) before it was known I was missing. At the least felt would hear sirens when the bed count was discovered.”

McNair writes that just before he ran into Bordelon he stashed “food, clothes, water, etc” under a train trestle. “Felt I was within range of Alexandria, LA (my destination)”, he revealed, “and a makeshift backpack would stick out.”

“Jogged along the tracks not really seeing the cruiser because the trees paralleling the tracks blocked it ... my plan was to get back in the trees if he (Bordelon) truly confronted me.”

Some have said it was fortunate the officer didn't confront McNair because the Duncan, Oklahoma native would have turned on him.

Byron Christopher image

To that McNair responded, “No! had already made a promise to myself and God I would not lay a hand on anyone. I proved true to that pledge several times.”

McNair said he feared that while the officer was talking to him that backup was on the way.

The con says he realised he was getting a “get out of jail free card” when the officer was on the phone to his detachment. His reaction to talking his way out of an arrest: “relief, disbelief, bewilderment.”

Byron Christopher image

McNair said he realised “the trail would get hot again” as soon as Bordelon or others found out their mistake.

McNair pointed out that several things went in his favour out on the tracks – the photo of him from the pen was not the best (“I look different in person versus posed photo”) and prison officials had told police they weren't even sure McNair had bolted.

McNair said the heat also helped. He pointed out the temperature that day was more than 90 degrees, the humidity over 80 per cent – and the officer was “wearing black uniform, body armor and equipment.” Bordelon's dash-cam video indicates the temperature was actually 113F or 45C.

Richard Lee McNair isn't saying yet how, that same month, he got to Penticton, British Columbia. Nor is he saying exactly where he crossed into Canada.

About three weeks after his pallet caper at Pollock, Mounties in Penticton chased McNair after confronting the fugitive sitting in a stolen car. McNair outran them and fled into a forest.

Said McNair, “After the incident in Penticton, rode a bike to Kelowna. Not a bad view, but a bit concerned about Mounties looking for me. Later learned I was safe.” What McNair didn't know is that the Mounties didn't know the man they had chased was the Richard Lee McNair. It suddenly dawned on the officers who the sprinter was when they watched America's Most Wanted.

Byron Christopher image

McNair revealed he snuck back into the States at least once. “Drove a Subaru Outback from Vernon to the border at Blane, Washington and crossed into the U.S. on bike.”

He also said he panned for gold somewhere between Vancouver and Williams Lake, a town about 300 miles northeast of Vancouver. He admitted he never got much more than dust. For a crime reporter like Christopher, details of McNair's get-rich-quick scheme were nuggets.

McNair confirmed he was in the Calgary area ... and from there travelled west to Banff, Revelstoke, Kamloops and Vancouver. He figured this happened around January 2007.

Byron Christopher image

The former car salesman says he only stole vehicles from auto dealers, checking buyer information stickers on the windows to see if the vehicle was equipped with a GPS-type tracking device. If it did, McNair didn't touch it.

The fugitive said he really wanted a Hummer, but felt that would have stuck out. So he kept to white “everybody has it” type autos.

McNair revealed he planned on a 3/4 ton truck/camper “but one of the supposed sightings of me was in North Dakota (of all places) in a truck with camper ... rigged the van instead.”

The fugitive demonstrated that he kept pace with developments within the automotive world, musing on how General Motors failed to upgrade their Onstar system.

Byron Christopher image

Although he said that while being on the run he didn't get the constant feeling that bloodhounds were on his tail, he recalled a time when he was driving through the Canadian Rockies and cars ahead of him came to a stop. McNair feared it was a roadblock. Turned out, some tourists had pulled over to get pictures of “some beautiful rams lazily chewing their cud”. McNair said he also took photos of the rams, shelving his plan to climb the side of a mountain to photograph them. “Instead just went fishing.”

McNair indicated that when he wasn't behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle he was on his mountain bike. He said he travelled everywhere on his bike, especially around Jasper and, later, Quebec.

Byron Christopher image

McNair said not long after he bought a Sony HD video camera he was staying at a motel close to Chilliwack, B.C., and left to buy something. He returned to find the motel surrounded by a police 'SWAT' team. “I was like, 'okay time to ride into the sunset'. As I drove off I switched on the local AM news station and discovered a man was holding someone hostage. Returned and filmed a very cool 20 minutes of the standoff. Suppose the Mounties are looking at the tape going, 'What the heck?' " – view McNair letter excerpt »

Every sighting of McNair earned him another alert on Fox Television's America's Most Wanted. Millions watched the show, but no one as intently as Richard Lee McNair himself. McNair, who described the show as a “thorn," said on the day America's Most Wanted was broadcast he would buy food (“sandwich stuff, milk, fruit, etc”) and fuel his vehicle. “Then if featured would keep it low for a couple of days."

He said his biggest fear were the random TV features: Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, etc. “Can't keep up with all of those”, he wrote. McNair said he did searches of transcripts and on occasion would catch a show ... “and find myself going 'Wow' ” – view excerpt »

“The Internet is a curse” McNair mused, “and of course has many benefits for one on the run." He said he tried not to key in Richard Lee McNair on Google ... would instead find a story about him in it and hyperlink to his name. However, the con admitted he didn't know if this really made a difference – view excerpt »

According to McNair, his initial plan was to buy a couple of parcels of land in central British Columbia, at Williston Lake, near the small town of MacKenzie. After seeing ads for the property, he said “Took the trip up there and almost cried. Drought had hit the lake level hard and the pine beetle infestation had devastated the area.

Byron Christopher image

"Only one road in and out didn't help my comfort level either,” wrote the wanted man.

The fugitive pointed out that the information he had on land, passports, etc was lost on the laptop the Mounties grabbed in Penticton. “Sure found out about USB memory sticks after that”, he added.

McNair said he had a number of laptops while on the lam. The computers, with the help of a scanner and a pet ID website (and a little Photoshop magic) produced a fake Alaska driver's licence – view excerpt »

He said he also rigged up his video camera to his laptop so he could cut his own hair – view excerpt »

Near the border at Derby Line, Vermont, McNair revealed he thought about crossing back into the U.S. “Simply acted as if on a Sunday bike ride, rode around to see if possible to drive a vehicle across. 50/50 chance. Lots of cameras on U.S. side.”

According to McNair, he also drove to the Laurentian Highlands of south-central Quebec where he spent a lot of time near Lac Saint-Jean. McNair may not have known this, but during World War Two Lac Saint-Jean was home to a couple of prisoner of war camps.

McNair would later complete his Canadian tour with visits to Halifax, Nova Scotia and Saint John, New Brunswick. He described the people of Fredericton as “very nice and well-educated” and the people of Campbellton, where he was eventually captured, as “friendly."

It was an observant RCMP officer who cut short McNair's freedom, his third and likely final unapproved furlough from prison. Off-duty Constable Melanson, travelling on a highway in northern New Brunswick, spotted a new-looking van with “crappy looking” window tinting.

Byron Christopher image

McNair said he “had quickly thrown together that window tint job in the beautiful city park in London, Ontario.”

The officer suspected the vehicle might have been stolen and was involved in smuggling cigarettes and alcohol. Melanson called ahead to the RCMP detachment in Campbellton and next day one of America's most wanted was wanted no more.

A gracious McNair recalled the day he was captured, following a low-speed chase and an even slower foot chase in Campbellton on October 27th, 2007. “I just turned left instead of right and an observant officer got me. Just one of those days.”

KALB image

Mounties told reporters that McNair was co-operative and even joked with them. McNair said one officer wanted to know what the reward was for him. “$25,000,” he replied.

Byron Christopher image

“That's not much”, said the cop. McNair wrote that was because “all of the government money is tied up in Osama Bin Laden's reward."

The U.S. fugitive described the RCMP in Campbellton as “good men doing their job.”

Richard Lee McNair was once one of American law enforcement's most wanted but after he was captured it was reporters who wanted him most. It is believed that dozens of media outlets tried to contact the man – but Edmonton crime reporter Byron Christopher was first to get the felon to talk.

News of McNair writing to a Canadian reporter created quite a stir in Alexandria, Louisiana near where the convicted killer last escaped. KALB-TV, the local NBC/CBS affiliate, led their supper hour newscast with the story two nights running and featured extended audio interviews with Christopher on their web site – read more »

KALB TV's coverage of the McNair story prompted one Louisiana man to write Christopher about his own connection to the saga. It seems John Neal, a local high school teacher, was also out jogging the day McNair escaped and was stopped by police just after officer Carl Bordelon had encountered the fugitive – read more »

A portion of KALB's coverage has been posted on YouTube and can be seen here.

The New Yorker magazine article

While Richard Lee McNair was on the run, Mark Singer of The New Yorker magazine wrote an essay about the fugitive in their October 9th, 2006 issue.

New Yorker Magazine image

The extensive article, titled "Escaped - a killer who can't be kept in prison," can be seen here on a separate page.

Crime reporter Christopher said this of McNair's last escape: "It's a good thing he didn't try mailing himself out of a Canadian prison – he may have died during one of many postal strikes."