PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – Back in custody after using forged documents to escape their life sentences, two convicted killers were being grilled Sunday by law enforcement authorities who said they expect to make more arrests in a case that has given both court and corrections officials in Florida a black eye.
“I can tell you, there will be more arrests,” Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said at a news conference Sunday, hours after Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, were arrested without incident at a motel in Panama City.
“We will be backtracking to those who helped carry out this fraud and along the way we will be looking closely at anyone who may have helped harbor these fugitives,” Bailey said.
Jenkins and Walker, both 34, were captured Saturday night at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City Beach, a tourist area. Hours earlier, their families had held a news conference in Orlando – 350 miles away – urging them to surrender.
The men, who had fled the Orlando area after word of their ruse became public, did not know law enforcement was on the way to Panama City. They were waiting in the motel for someone to arrive from Atlanta to take them out of state, Bailey said, adding that authorities don’t yet know who that person was or where the convicts planned to go. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is working with Georgia authorities to answer those questions, he said.
“They had to have had help – a lot of help – to get to where they were last night,” Bailey said. He said the men were unarmed and didn’t have much money on them.
Bailey’s department is pursuing a tip that someone was offering to forge documents for prisoners for $8,000. He said there are at least two other recent cases where prisoners were thwarted trying to use fake documents to escape.
“The documents themselves looked good, they looked official,” Bailey said, although they contained the signatures of people who normally don’t deal with release documents, something that maybe should have raised questions, he said.
Meanwhile, Corrections Secretary Michael Crews scheduled a meeting with court clerks today to find ways to prevent future escapes through bogus documents.
“It is embarrassing, but my concentration at this point is making sure that we come up with a process and a procedure that prohibits this from happening in the future,” Crews said.