Three days after he slipped away from a group of mental patients at the Spokane County fair, Phillip A. Paul was caught Sunday afternoon near Goldendale, Wash., after conning a friend into giving him a ride out of Spokane last week.
The criminally insane killer whose disappearance attracted national attention was taken into custody about 4 p.m. without incident along a roadway. He was carrying a backpack with food, clothing and personal items. He also had a guitar and sleeping bag. A hand scythe protruded from the pack.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Paul “duped” the friend into transporting him from Spokane to Goldendale, where he was hiding out in a wooded area along the road between Goldendale and Bickleton to the east.
Paul, 47, who had been undergoing treatment at Eastern State Hospital, disappeared Thursday from an Eastern-sponsored outing for mental patients to the Spokane County Interstate Fair, triggering the largest manhunt in the region in years. Paul was found insane in the brutal killing of a well-known Sunnyside woman in 1987.
Goldendale is the county seat of Klickitat County along the Columbia River Gorge in south-central Washington, about 60 miles south of Sunnyside, Paul’s hometown. Goldendale is also located along U.S. Highway 97, a main route to California.
Searchers were led to Goldendale by a tip on Saturday and launched the effort to apprehend Paul on Sunday morning. The high school in Goldendale became a staging point for the effort involving federal, state and local law enforcement officers.
Knezovich did not provide details about Paul’s ride to Goldendale, which occurred Thursday.
Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan said the friend reported that Paul wanted to meet his parents in the Goldendale area. The friend had not seen news reports of the escape and believed that Paul had been released legally. The friend gave him the guitar and sleeping bag, Reagan said. On Saturday, the friend learned about of the escape and contacted deputies, taking them to the point where he had dropped off Paul on Thursday.
The Spokane sheriff’s helicopter was flown to the location and spent much of Sunday circling the wooded area looking for the escapee.
Paul was arrested along a county road between Bickleton and Goldendale by three Spokane deputies – Sgt. Bill Beeman, Detective Roger Knight and Detective Mark Renz, who were in an unmarked undercover van. They drove up to Paul, who had come out of the wooded area to try to hitch a ride.
The three deputies jumped out of the van with service pistols drawn and ordered Paul to the ground, Reagan said. Paul responded that he was “done” and complied with commands. He made no move to threaten deputies with the scythe.
Paul was booked into Yakima County Jail about 9:30 p.m. Sunday and was being held on a warrant accusing him of failure to comply with terms of his commitment in connection with the murder case, deputies said. He was scheduled to appear in Superior Court for arraignment at 1:30 p.m. today, according to the county prosecutor’s office.
Paul had been living away from Eastern off and on in recent years and was returned to the hospital in January from The Carlyle Care Center at 206 S. Post St.
The sheriff said it appeared the escape was planned after Paul’s efforts to be returned to The Carlyle were rejected by a judge earlier this month. The judge found that Paul “does represent a threat to public safety.” Paul had petitioned and won conditional release to The Carlyle in 2005.
Knezovich said Paul had $50 in his pocket from a Social Security check. Deputies have said the field trip was an annual event that Paul could have anticipated, and that he had shown signs of preparing to flee by ordering packaged food products online.
State authorities have come under heavy criticism for allowing a violent killer out on a field trip, and for waiting two hours after his disappearance before notifying law enforcement. The head of the state Department of Social and Health Services has promised a review will be completed within 15 days.
“I can tell you there was an extreme amount of anger throughout the law enforcement community,” Knezovich said.
The sheriff said he is going to ask lawmakers to ban such trips. He also said he will submit his department’s expenses for helicopter flight time and overtime for about 10 deputies to the state for reimbursement. Up to 40 officers had participated in the local search at one point, he said.
John Wiley, a spokesman for DSHS, said the head of the state’s mental health division arrived in Spokane on Sunday to oversee the review this week, and that the review should address potential changes in practices.
Paul, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was committed for the 1987 strangling and slashing of 78-year-old Ruth Mottley in Sunnyside. Paul, who was 25 at the time, snapped Mottley’s neck and slashed her throat twice. He then doused her body with gasoline and buried her in her own flower garden. Paul told authorities that the voices in his head told him Mottley was a witch who was casting spells on him.
Mottley was a retired educator who had founded the town’s historical society and appeared on a list of Washington’s 100 most influential women, according to news files.
Paul was among 31 criminally insane Eastern patients who were taken to the fair Thursday along with 11 supervisors. The patients were all from the hospital’s “forensic ward,” inhabited by people found not guilty of serious crimes by reason of insanity or people judged incapable of assisting in their own defense.
Greg Davis, president of the state employees union representing Eastern employees, said last week that hospital staffers have long opposed outings such as the trip to the fair.
He said that Eastern workers at the fair notified the hospital administration within two or three minutes of Paul’s disappearance, and that the subsequent two-hour delay in notifying police was the fault of administrators.
Eastern’s CEO, Hal Wilson, said last week he couldn’t be sure why there had been a delay in reporting, and said the state investigation would provide answers.
Eastern patients have taken outings into the community – including the fair – for years, and hospital officials say they can be a useful tool in treatment. Wilson said last week that Paul was not considered “extremely dangerous” and that a treatment team had approved him for the trip to the fair. He said Paul had been “a fairly model patient.”
Some took issue with that description. Davis said several union members were surprised Paul was approved to attend the fair, and Knezovich said he had not been complying with his medication schedule. Reagan said that records showed Paul has had homicidal fantasies about killing children.
Paul has struggled to stay on his medications for years. In August 1990, he was refusing to take his medication and later escaped from Eastern. He was arrested near Fishtrap and while being booked into the Spokane County Jail, overpowered Knight – the same deputy who arrested him Sunday. Knight’s shoulder was shattered. A jury later ordered the state to pay the deputy more than $100,000.