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The daily Tar Heel. (Chapel Hill, N.C.) 1946-current, July 23, 1981, Page 11, Image 11

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r ) f I I r "! p -n I 3 V" f frer ?e has been in prison nearly 24 years, n ZT"v '"IT'S. xT'x r r "? ' -if u u some still cannot forget Fran': Wetze By JOHN DRESCHER Second of two parts: On the night of Nov. 5, 1957, High way Patrolman W.L Reece switched duty time with another trooper so he could be at his Rockingham home for dinner to celebrate his oldest daughter's birthday. After dinner he returned to his job. Two hours later he lay dead on a highway, an innocent victim of an es caped prisoner's bullet Two months later, amid swooning bobbysoxers and a vengeful crowd in Rockingham, the handsome and suave Frank Edward Wetzel, a 36-ycar-old es capee from a mental hospital in New York, was convicted of killing Patrol man Wister Lee Reece and was sen tenced to life in prison. Later he was convicted in the murder of the other pa trolman, J.T. Brown, and was given another life term. Immediately he was sent to maximum-security Central Pri son in Raleigh. . For more than 20 years while con- sidered the most dangerous prisoner in North Carolina he has sought various transfers to lower-security prisons that would end in his parole. Each time an outcry against his transfer arose from prison officials and the public Nearly 24 years after tho murders, Frank Wet-, zel is a legend a legend that especial ly to some, continues to live. Susan Reece turned 13 the day her father was killed. "The rest of the night my sisters, ages five and 10, and I hud dled, frightened in our parents' bed wait ing for the killer to come and kill us too' she recalled 23 years after the fact Now she is Mrs. Susan Ciles, mother of three, secretary at the First Methodist Church in Roanoke Rapids and possessor of a nightmare that won't leave. ' . - ' "After ail these years, it seems like something I read in a book," she said in a telephone interview from her office. "It still doesn't seem like it could have happened to me." For years, in fact until Tuesday, she had never talked to the media about the incident He mother's lawyers had recommended that they not speak about the subject There was another reason too. "If s something I haven't talked about because it hurts," said Mrs. Ciles, now 36. "People were in shock that any one would kill Dill Reece. He was a good, kind man." A recent rash of newspaper stories appearing about Wetzel's alleged in volvement in an escape from Caledonia Prison prompted her to write a letter to a local paper. "According to reports . '. . and officials inside Centra! Prison, he does not regret his crimes cf murder only that he committed them in 1957, a time when "ccp killing" was considered a heinous crime," she wrote. She said in the interview Tuesday that Wetzel apparently was net sorry he committed the murders. "He's never been in touch with my family," she said. She is not against parole and she . believes in rehabilitation she even did volunteer work in a nearby prison but . she feels, based on discussions' with pri- son officials, that Wetzel has riot been rehabilitated. ' . ' ' ; ' "It scares me to pieces to open the paper in the morning to see this man," she said. "I try to be fair and say he deserves rights but ifs very hurtful. "I feel like the man deprived me of a father and my children of a grandfather." ' After his conviction, Wetzel was sent to Central Prison, where he became the most guarded man in the stats. Because son officials found a pistol, loaded and ready for use, smuggled into Central for Wetzel and four to seven other of the most dangerous convicts in Central to use to overpower guards and escape. The sister of Thomas Callahan, a close prison friend of Wetzel's, was convicted of smuggling in the gun and bullets. Prison officials to this day do not know how 'it was accomplished. Wetzel was never charged but for years that plot remained the rationale for refusal to transfer him to a medium custody field unit There, officials said, ' he could earn minimum-custody status and be transferred to a unit where es cape is easy. : For months after the incident, Wetzel was shuttled back and forth between an isolated cell at Central and the state's A ..... . i H ..;....-. f A c-- i; . -ft ': ? I i i ,i 4'Mr " LI -v I ! I v V - :jT's 1 11 of his cunning intelligence Wetzel has an IQ over 130 'and leadersh:p abili ties, prison officials were especially wary of Wetzel. They called him "potentially the most dangerous con vict" in the state prison system, which boused 11.000 prisoners. " In this case you've got a man who is highly inte!!:gent but he maneuvers his intelligence in a criminal manner," said Warden K.B. Oai'ey in 1C53. Cut for more than two years, Wetzel eppeared to be a model prisoner, with only minor infractions. Then, on Oct 9, 1SG0, pri- "Little Alcatraz," Ivy Bluff Prison in Caswell County. "We didn't want him to get set" said Prison Director Ceorge Randall in 13. On June 23, 1961, Wetzel made his last trip from Ivy Bluff to Central and re mained in a single cell in a cell block that houses the most dangerous and troublesome inmates. After the smuggled gun incident Wet zel again became what was often called "the modd prisoner." He participated in prison chaper service each Sunday, was associate director of the prison Jaycees and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He passed a high school equivalency test and several college courses and compiled a $2,000 savings . account from his tiny prison earnings. "At one time I was mentally not of the right mind as to society and law." he said in a 1974 interview. "But I've completely changed in my thinking. I am striving to show that now." Prison Chaplain J. P. Moorman in 1974 called Wetzel's chang3 "spec tacular." "They say he's the most dangerous man in North Carolina, but . it's hard to say that if you know Frank. Frank has made innumerable contribu . tions to the betterment of the prison community. The only way he can prove himself is in prison, in the surroundings available. "Ism sure all Frank wants to do is get out of prison, get married, settle down and make a contribution to society." In February 1C31, Wetzel, 53, won a four-year legal battle to be transferred from Central to the Caledonia unit Al though he had received medium-seci-rity status through good conduct six years before, the transfer was held up . because he was regarded as a high risk by prison officials. He had been the on ly medium-security prisoner at Central. Then, in June, another bizarre chap ter in the Wetzel chapter was authored. On June 2, a Caledonia prison guard said he overheard Wetzel plotting to escape from the prison with fellow in mate Ceorge Harp. Wetzel was stripped of his medium-security status, shipped back to Central and put in solitary con finement. Wetzel, since returned to Caledonia, has appealed the ruling by the prison authority. The guard who overheard Wetzel was. in a tower about 50 feet away and 15-feet 'in the air. An aero space engineer at N.C. State has said "it would be highly unlikely" that an out door conversation from that distance would be intelligible. It also would seem unlikely that Wet zel, prison-wise after 23 years, would discuss an escape plan in front of a highly visible guard. Wetzel's appeal is currently being reviewed, Wetzel feels he was set up md that prison officials, and the public, refuse to forget crimes he committed nearly a quarter of a century ago. Undoubtedly, his legend remains alive in the hearts and minds of many North Carolinians. For some it is a legend that won't go away. "I don't see how you can forget about his past and the life he's lived," Mrs. Ciles said. "It still hurts very much when I see an officer has been killed , and what his family has been through. "If you knew what these people had been through, you wouldn't forget" , John Qrcschcr, a senor journalism and khtory fwjot from Rah;t;h, is associate editor for The l&t Heel. , 'tlhyrsUay. 1-11:3, 11 311 f? Jar I fret 11

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