Escapees Snagged in Swan and Flathead

By Beacon Staff

SWAN LAKE, Mont. (AP) – Two Montana State Prison escapees, one once accused of plotting to kidnap David Letterman’s son, were taken into custody separately Wednesday in apprehensions several hours and a mountain range apart.

Lake County Sheriff Lucky Larson said Undersheriff Jay Doyle and a deputy Wednesday morning arrested Kelly A. Frank while on patrol as part of a search for the inmates. A Missoula County SWAT team arrested William J. Willcutt on Wednesday afternoon, Larson said.

Frank was arrested at a home along Montana 35 between Polson and Bigfork and Willcutt at one in the Swan Lake area, where the men were seen Tuesday. The men fled the prison ranch on Friday.

Frank was serving 10 years for overcharging Letterman for painting at his Montana ranch. Authorities arrested Frank in 2005 on suspicion that he plotted the kidnap of Harry Letterman and his nanny for ransom of $5 million. A charge of solicitation to kidnap was dropped in return for pleas of guilty to other charges.

Willcutt has been convicted of burglary.

Lake County Undersheriff Jay Doyle said he was checking homes along Montana 35 between Polson and Bigfork when he heard the sound of breaking glass Wednesday morning. He called for backup and officers surrounded a residence.

After about 20 minutes of instructing the person in the house to come out with hands in sight, Frank said he would emerge through a doorway and he did so peacefully, Doyle told KERR-AM in Polson. Doyle said the arrest took place near a house owned by a relative of Willcutt.

Frank, who told officers he believed Willcutt still was in the Swan Lake area, was taken to the Lake County jail. Montana State Prison Warden Mike Mahoney said Frank would have “a nice laundry list of additional felony charges.”

Willcutt was arrested on the other side of the Mission Mountains, at a home that he entered while the residents were in their yard, Larson said. The SWAT team that arrived after the residents contacted authorities apprehended Willcutt without incident.

The home was about two miles from a campground where U.S. Forest Service personnel spotted Frank, 45, and Willcutt, 22, at about 6 p.m. Tuesday. The campground is on the east side of the Mission Mountains. Frank was arrested on the west side.

The men fled the campground area once they realized they had been spotted, Doyle said. The Forest Service workers found, at the campground, Department of Corrections clothing plus an address book and other items that identified the men as Willcutt and Frank, authorities said. Mahoney said early Wednesday that it was believed the men were “scantily clad because they got jumped.”

The warden said he gathered from talking to law enforcement officials in the Swan Lake area that “these guys looked like they had been in the river. One was out long enough to get partially dressed, but the other didn’t have a chance to get much on.”

The search for the two men had been in mountains near the Deer Lodge prison and moved to the Swan Lake area Tuesday, after a vehicle found abandoned in the woods was traced to Anaconda. The car’s owner had been out of town and did not know his vehicle had been taken from his home, Mahoney said. The man also found his house had been burglarized and three weapons were missing.

After the sighting near the campground on Tuesday, dozens of people participated in a search that included checking recreational cabins, a Lake County dispatcher said.

The search continued Wednesday with officials from local, state and federal agencies along with six dogs and a U.S. Department of Homeland Security helicopter equipped with heat-seeking equipment.

“The searchers were out all night, with the highway patrol doing stops and vehicle checks,” Mahoney said.

On Tuesday night, residents of the Swan Lake area were advised to stay inside, lock their doors and remove keys from vehicles.

Frank and Willcutt drove away from the prison ranch Friday in a ranch vehicle.

Frank’s record includes convictions for felony theft and misdemeanor obstruction. At the time of his arrest, he was on supervised release for a 1998 conviction for stalking and intimidating a woman.

Willcutt has been convicted of burglary, and was denied parole earlier this year. He lived in a prison work dormitory. Frank lived within the prison and would have been eligible for parole in three months.

Each man faces an additional prison sentence of up to 10 years for escape, prison spokeswoman Dana Eldredge said. She said prison officials expected the speedy return of Frank and Willcutt, perhaps as early as Wednesday.