Escapees Placed in Maximum Security Prison

By Beacon Staff

DEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) – Two inmates who fled the Montana State Prison ranch last week were in the institution’s maximum-security unit on Thursday, a day after authorities apprehended them in the Flathead Lake area.

Kelly A. Frank, once accused of plotting to kidnap David Letterman’s son, and William J. Willcutt were transported to the prison near Deer Lodge after brief court appearances in Polson on Thursday morning.

Lake County officers arrested Frank at a home along Montana 35 between Polson and Bigfork while on patrol Wednesday morning as part of a search for the inmates. Willcutt was arrested Wednesday afternoon at a home in the Swan Lake area after the residents, who were in the yard, called authorities because a man had entered the dwelling.

Frank, 45, and Willcutt, 22, appeared Thursday in Lake County Justice Court on arrest warrants from Powell County, which includes the prison. They were informed they were arrested on allegations of felony escape and that bail would not be set. Prison spokeswoman Dana Eldredge said earlier that each man faces an additional prison sentence of up to 10 years for escape.

The men were placed in separate, escorted vehicles for the 150-mile trip from Polson to the state prison near Deer Lodge. Warden Mike Mahoney said Frank’s feet were in such bad condition that after arriving at the prison, officials decided he should not walk to maximum security but should be transported. He was put in a vehicle similar to a golf cart, Mahoney said.

The inmates fled the prison ranch last Friday.

Authorities outside the prison system are investigating the men in connection with crimes that include automobile and store thefts that happened while they were on the loose.

Employees at a store in Clancy, near Helena, reported that a man they believed was Willcutt stole three knives, a box of .38 caliber ammunition and food from the business on Sunday. An automobile was stolen from Anaconda early Tuesday and found abandoned at a trailhead near Swan Lake, moving the manhunt to the Swan Valley.

Frank had been a painter at the Letterman ranch near Choteau and was serving 10 years for overcharging the TV talk-show host. 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, including felony theft and misdemeanor obstruction. He was on supervised release for a stalking conviction when he was arrested.

Willcutt has been convicted of burglary.

He was arrested after entering a house about two miles from a campground where U.S. Forest Service personnel spotted the escapees Tuesday evening, apparently as they finished bathing in a creek.

Mahoney said that he received information indicating the men appeared to have been in the water, and that one was out long enough to dress partially but the other wore little as he fled.

When Frank was arrested he was wearing pants but no shirt or shoes and his feet looked “pretty raw,” Lake County Undersheriff Jay Doyle said. Frank apparently had walked about 10 miles to cross the Mission Mountains. He and Willcutt were arrested on opposite sides of the mountain range.

Willcutt was denied parole earlier this year. Before the escape, Frank would have been eligible for parole in three months.

Mahoney said prison officials will conduct a “critical incident review” to determine whether any changes are necessary to help prevent escapes.