Manuel Pardo Jr., is profiting from the long, empty hours he’s spending on death row.
Pardo, 39, a former Sweetwater police officer awaiting execution for nine 1986 slayings, places lonely-hearts ads in tabloids and carries on torrid correspondences with lonely, vulnerable women. Then, he scams them out of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars, prison officials say.
Twenty-six women have sent Pardo money since January 1995, according to prison records.
At one point, Pardo had $3,530.08 in his prison canteen account. Prison officials say they are powerless to stop him since nothing in the Constitution prohibits Pardo from requesting or receiving small sums of money.
“I know it sounds cruel, but basically our hands are tied,” said Debbie Buchanan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. “He has broken no rules.”
But he has broken many hearts.
Barbara Ford, 46, an Ohio resident who earned $7,500 last year cleaning houses, sent Pardo $430 from May to November after reading an ad he placed in a newspaper.
“FLA. 116-156 CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTE INMATE,” the ad began. “Ex-cop Vietnam vet. Took law into own hands and ended up on Death Row. He needs letters from sensitive-understanding female, for real-honest relationship.”
About three weeks after Ford responded, a letter arrived from Pardo, along with some favorable clippings from his career as a police officer.
“I want one special lady in my life,” he wrote. “I don’t play emotional games cause I hate emotional games. I also hate liars and users.”
Ten months earlier, he had written pretty much the same thing to Betty Ihem, 54, of Oklahoma.
By the time Ford answered Pardo’s ad, Pardo and Ihem were calling each other husband and wife, though they never met face to face or heard each other’s voice.
Ihem had received 275 letters from Pardo - and sent him $1,200, sometimes in money orders of $3 because she worked only part-time at Wal-Mart and was impoverished.
Then, in October, a letter Pardo sent Ford mysteriously ended up in Ihem’s mailbox. The two women contacted prison officials, who explained they weren’t the only ones who had been duped.
“I could kick myself, but I’ve learned one thing - there are a lot of diabolical people out there,” Ihem said. “From now on, before I deal with a man, I want to see wings sprouted on his back.”