October 23, 1997

Off-the-cuff escapee takes blames for missteps

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Career burglar Fred “Strollin”’ Nolan claims he was trying to be a good citizen, not a smart aleck, by mailing a pair of handcuffs back to the police captors he outwitted.

“I didn’t mean it in a malicious way,” says Nolan, 27, flashing a sheepish grin. “I guess I could have pitched the handcuffs over a bridge, but they (police) were just trying to do their job.”

Nolan enjoyed 10 days on the lam after pulling a Houdini-like disappearing act from a Spokane Public Safety Building interrogation room. The town erupted in guffaws after the brash felon returned the cuffs he wore via the U.S. Postal Service.

For the first time since his recapture Oct. 16, Nolan broke his self-imposed silence and agreed to tell his tale.

Dressed in jailhouse blues, he sits behind a glass protective window and laughs heartily at the nickname a reporter bestowed on him. “Strollin’ Nolan,” he says, relishing the words. “It almost sounds risque.”

It’s hard not to like this handsome young man with wavy brown hair and dark piercing eyes. His raw intellect and quick sense of humor set him worlds apart from the usual riffraff behind bars.

That’s the truly sad part. He’s smart enough to realize the extent of how he has ruined his life. A string of new burglary charges atop his 28 convictions could put Nolan away for 10 years.

“What I need is a good lawyer,” he says. “No, what I need is the Cochran team.”

Here’s Nolan’s version of how he became the first suspect in custody to escape the police station in 25 years:

After detectives left him alone, Nolan covered his bound hands with his coat and stepped into a hallway. “I saw the opportunity to prolong my freedom a little longer, and I took it.”

Getting away took some acting. Clutching his ribs, he says he feigned a stomachache and politely asked a passing man if he’d be so kind as to open a door. The Samaritan obliged. Nolan walked away smooth.

“Not too smooth,” he quickly adds. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

It didn’t take long to locate a handcuff key and remove the bracelets. Cops speculated the burglar mailed his surprise package with stolen stamps. Not so, says Nolan. An ex-girlfriend bought the stamps at a convenience store, he says.

Nolan is amazingly candid about his life and crimes. His father, Fred Nolan, did hard time for burglary, but Junior doesn’t use the old man as an excuse. Nolan says he was a toddler growing up in Spokane when his dad dropped out of his life.

Nolan began his own lawless journey at age 15. He and a neighborhood tough started breaking into businesses and taking items that gradually increased in value.

“I got complacent, lazy and unmotivated. I got addicted to easy money and the rush of crime.”

It’s a point of pride with Nolan to only steal from places of commerce, not residences. His home was burglarized when he was 13, he explains. “I felt awful. I was crushed.”

Nolan planned to leave town after his great escape. He claims an ex-girlfriend dropped most of his get-away money as they hurriedly scrammed from a cheap motel west of town when a sheriff’s deputy rolled by.

Whatever happened, the law got the final belly laugh on Oct. 16 as Nolan walked near Sixth and Monroe.

“Police were all out there laughing and giggling,” he says. “Ha, ha, ha. Hee, hee, hee. That’s fine. If I’d have gotten away, I’d have been laughing and giggling at them.”

It’s painfully obvious that this is an articulate man who could have amounted to something. Nolan says he tried going straight for a while, even filled out forms to attend community college.

Like always, however, crime had the greater appeal. Now Nolan won’t be strollin’ for a long, long time.

“I have to wake up every morning and think about it,” he says. “It’s depressing. But when a person comes to this point, what alternatives are there?

“They can’t say: `You’re a nice guy. You’re really smart. Don’t do it again.’

“I have no one to blame but myself. I’ve made the choices I’ve made. I’ll have to live with them.”


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