The two gendarmes were transfixed in amazement, two grizzly bears suddenly challenged by a chipmunk. I myself stood gaping at the lovely apparition who demanded that I be released from my chains and who seemed determined to take me from my tormentors.
She extended a slender hand and placed it on my arm. «I am Inspector Jan Lundstrom of the Swedish police, the national police force,» she said, and gestured to the pretty girl behind her.
«This is my assistant, Inspector Kersten Berglund, and we are here to escort you back to Sweden, where, as I am sure you are aware, you face a criminal proceeding.»
As she talked, she extracted a small leather folder from her pocket and opened it to display to the French officers her credentials and a small gold badge.
The gendarme, perplexed, looked at his partner. The second gendarme displayed the sheaf of papers. «He is her prisoner,» he said with a shrug. «Take off the chains.»
I was unshackled. The crowd applauded, an ovation accompanied by a whistling and stamping of feet. Inspector Lundstrom drew me aside.
«I wish to make some things perfectly clear, Frank,» she said. «We do not normally use handcuffs or other restraints in Sweden. I never carry them myself. And you will not be restrained in any way during our journey. But our flight makes a stop in Denmark and my country has had to post a bond to ensure your passage through Denmark. It is a normal procedure in these cases.
We will be on the ground only an hour in Denmark, Frank. But I have a responsibility to the French Government, to the Danish Government and to my own government to see that you are brought to Sweden in custody, that you do not escape. Now, I can assure you that you will find Swedish jails and prisons far different from French prisons. We like to think our prisoners are treated humanely.
«But let me tell you this, Frank. I am armed. Kersten is armed. We are both versed in the use of our weapons. If you try to run, if you make an attempt to escape, we will have to shoot you. And if we shoot you, Frank, we will kill you. Is that understood?»
The words were spoken calmly and without heat, much in the manner, in fact, of giving directions to a stranger, cooperative but not really friendly. She opened the large purse she carried on a shoulder strap. Bulking among its contents was a.45 semiautomatic pistol.
I looked at Inspector Berglund. She smiled angelically and patted her own purse.
«Yes, I understand,» I said. I really thought she was bluffing. Neither of my lovely captors impressed me as an Annie Oakley.
Inspector Lundstrom turned to the clerk behind the ticket counter. «Were ready,» she said. The girl nodded and summoned another clerk, a young man, from a room behind her. He led us through an office behind the counter, through the baggage area, through operations and to the planes boarding stairwell.
Save for the shabby clothing I was wearing, we appeared to be just three more passengers. And from the lack of interest in my appearance, I was probably regarded as just another hippie.
We were fed on the plane before we landed in Copenhagen. It was the usual meager airline meal, but deliriously prepared, and it was the first decent meal Id had since being committed to prison. For me, it was a delightful feast and I had to force myself to refuse my escorts offer of their portions.
We had a longer layover in Denmark than was expected, two hours. The two young officers promptly escorted me to one of the terminals restaurants and ordered a lavish lunch for the three of us, although Im sure they couldnt have been hungry again. I felt it was strictly an attempt to appease my still ravenous hunger, but I didnt protest. Before we boarded the plane again, they bought me several candy bars and some English-language magazines.
Throughout the trip they treated me as if I were a friend rather than a prisoner. They insisted I call them by their given names. They conversed with me as friends, inquiring about my family, my likes, my dislikes and other general subjects. They probed only briefly into my criminal career, and then only to ask about my horrible treatment in Perpignan prison, I was surprised to learn I had served only six months in that hellhole. I had lost all track of time.
As a foreigner, you were not eligible for parole, but the judge had discretion to reduce your term, and he did so, said Jan. I was suddenly grateful to the stern jurist whod sentenced me. Knowing that I had served only six months, I realized I would not have lasted a full year in Perpignan. Few prisoners did.
The plane landed in Malmo, Sweden, thirty minutes after leaving Copenhagen. To my surprise, we disembarked in Malmo, retrieved our luggage, and Jan and Kersten led the way to a marked police car, a Swedish black-and-white, parked in the terminal lot, a uniformed officer at the wheel. He helped load our luggage-the girls» luggage, really, since I had none-into the trunk and then drove us to the police station in the village of Klippan, a short distance from Malmo.
I was intrigued by the Klippan police station. It seemed more like a quaint old inn than a police precinct. A ruddy-faced, smiling sergeant of police greeted us, Jan and Kersten in Swedish, me in only slightly accented English. He shook my hand as if he were greeting a guest. «I have been expecting you, Mr. Abagnale. I have all your papers here.»
«Sergeant, Frank needs a doctor,» said Jan in English. «He is very ill, Im afraid, and needs immediate attention.»
It was nearly 9 p.m, but the sergeant merely nodded. «At once, Inspector Lundstrdm,» he said, beckoning to a young uniformed officer who stood watching the scene. «Karl, please take the prisoner to his quarters.»
«Ja, min herre,» he said and grinned at me. «If you will follow me, please.» I followed him in somewhat of a daze. If this was the treatment accorded criminals in Sweden, how did they treat honest folk?
He led me down the hall to a huge oaken door, which he unlocked, opened and then stood aside for me to enter. I was stunned when I stepped inside. This was no cell, it was an apartment, a huge, spacious room with a great picture window overlooking the village, a large bed with carved head and footboard and a colorful spread, rustic furniture and a separate bathroom with both a tub and a shower. Prints of gallant scenes from Swedens past decorated the walls, and tasteful drapes, drawn at the moment, afforded privacy from outside passersby.
«I hope you will be well soon, min herre,» said Karl in his accented English before closing the door.
«Thank you,» I replied. I didnt know what else to say, although I wanted to say more. After his departure, I inspected the room closely. The windows were thick plate glass and could not be opened and the door also could not be opened from the inside, but no matter. I had no thoughts of escape from this prison.
I didnt get to sleep in the bed that night. Within minutes the door opened again to admit Jan and a balding, amiable but very efficient, doctor. «Strip, please,» he said in English. I hesitated, but Jan made no move to leave, so I peeled my scant attire, really embarrassed to stand naked before her. Her face mirrored nothing but concern, however. Nudity, I learned, is sexual only under the circumstances with the Swedes.
The doctor poked, prodded, looked and listened, using a variety of instruments, and tapped, felt and pressed, all in silence, before he put away his instruments and stethoscope and nodded. «This man is suffering from severe malnutrition and vitamin deficiency, but worst of all, he has, in my opinion, double pneumonia,» he said. «I suggest you call an ambulance, Inspector.»
«Yes, Doctor,» said Jan and ran from the room.
Within thirty minutes I was ensconced in a private room in a small, clean and efficient hospital. I was there a month, recuperating, a uniformed officer outside my door at all times but seeming more a companion than a guard. Each day, either Jan or Kersten, the sergeant or Karl visited me, and each time they brought me something, a bouquet, candy, a magazine or some other little gift.
Not once during my hospital stay was I questioned about my alleged crimes, nor was any reference made to my upcoming trial or the charges against me.
I was returned to my «cell» at the end of the month, before lunch, and at noon Karl brought me a menu. «We do not have a kitchen/» he said apologetically. «You may order what you wish from this, and we will bring it from the cafe. It is very good food, I assure you.»
It certainly was. Within a month I was back nudging two hundred pounds.
The day following my release from the hospital, Jan called on me, accompanied by a thin man with sprightly features.
«I am Inspector Jan Lundstrom with the Swedish National Police,» she said formally. «It is my duty to tell you that you will be held here for a period of time, and that it is also my duty to interrogate you. This is a minister, and he will act as interpreter. He speaks perfect English and is familiar with all of your American slang and idioms.»
I was flabbergasted. «Aw, come on, Jan, you speak perfect English yourself,» I protested. «What is this?»
«Swedish law requires that an interpreter fluent in the language of a prisoner be present when that prisoner is questioned, if he or she is a foreigner,» said Jan, still speaking in correct tones as if she had never seen me before.
«The law also says you have the right to an attorney, and your attorney must be present at all times during your interrogation. Since you have no funds to retain a lawyer, the government of Sweden has appointed you a counsel. Her name is Elsa Kristiansson and she will meet with you later today. Do you understand everything I have told you?»
«Perfectly,» I said.
«I will see you tomorrow, then,» she said, and left.
An hour later there was a knock on my door and then the portal opened. It was one of the guards with my supper, a bountiful and tasteful meal, which he arranged on a portable table as if he were a waiter and not a jailer.
When he returned to gather up the dishes, he grinned at me. «Would you like to take a walk?» he asked. «It will only be in the building, as I make my rounds, but I thought perhaps you might be getting tired of being shut inside.»
I accompanied him to the kitchen, where a waiter from a nearby restaurant took the tray and used dishes from him. The kitchen was not really a kitchen, just a nook where the guards could brew coffee for themselves. He then led me on a tour of the jail, a two-story affair that could accommodate only twenty prisoners. At each cell, he knocked before opening the door, greeted the occupant pleasantly and inquired of the prisoners needs. He bade each a cheery good night before closing and locking the door.
When I returned to my cell, Elsa Kristiansson was waiting for me, as was the interpreter, Rev. Carl Greek. I wondered at his presence until he explained that Mrs. Kristiansson did not speak any English at all. Nor did she spend any time inquiring about rny case. She merely acknowledged the introduction and then told me she would be on hand the next morning when Jan commenced her interrogation.
She was a tall, handsome woman of about forty, I judged, serene and courteous, but I had misgivings about her acting as my lawyer. Still, I had no choice. I had no funds to hire an attorney of my choice. The French police had seized all my assets in France, or so I presumed. They had not mentioned anything about my loot following my arrest or during my detention, and they certainly hadnt returned any money to me on my release. And, here in Sweden, I had no way of getting funds from one of my many caches.
Jan appeared the next morning with Mrs. Kristiansson and Herre Greek. She commenced immediately to question me about my criminal activities in Sweden, with Bergen translating her queries for Mrs. Kristiansson, who sat silent, merely nodding now and then.
I was evasive with Jan during the first two interrogative sessions. Either I refused to answer or I would reply «I dont remember» or «I cant say.»
On the third day Jan became exasperated. «Frank! Frank!» she exclaimed. «Why are you so defensive? Why are you so evasive? Youre here, youre going to go to trial, and it would be much better for you if you are honest with me. We know who you are and we know what youve done, and you know we have the evidence. Why are you so reluctant to talk?»
«Because I dont want to go to prison for twenty years, even if it is a nice prison like this one,» I replied bluntly.
Bergen translated for Mrs. Kristiansson. The reaction of all three was totally unexpected. They burst into laughter, the loud, tear-producing peals of laughter usually provoked only by fine slapstick comedy. I sat looking at them in amazement.
Jan calmed herself somewhat, but still shaking with delight, she looked at me. «Twenty years?» she gulped.
«Or five years, or ten years, or whatever,» I replied defensively, irritated at their attitude.
«Five years? Ten years?» Jan exclaimed. «Frank, the maximum penalty for the crime you are charged with is one year, and I will be very surprised if you receive that much time, since you are a first offender. Frank, murderers and bank robbers rarely receive over ten years on conviction in this country. What you did is a very serious offense, but we consider a year in prison a very serious punishment, and I assure you that is the maximum sentence you face.»
I gave her a complete confession, detailing what I could recall of my transactions in Sweden. A week later I was brought to trial in Malmo before a jury of eight men and women who would determine both my guilt and my punishment, my confession having excluded any question of innocence.
Yet I almost beat the rap. Or Mrs. Kristiansson did. She surprised me by challenging the whole proceedings at the close of testimony against me. The charge against me was «serious fraud by check,» she told the presiding judge.
«I would point out to the court that the instruments introduced here today are not checks, as defined by Swedish law,» she contended. «They are instruments he made up himself. They never were checks. They are not checks at this time.
«Under Swedish law, Your Honor, these instruments could never be checks, since they are utter counterfeits. Under the law, Your Honor, my client has not really forged any checks, since these instruments are not checks, but merely creations of his own, and therefore the charges against him should be dismissed.»
The charges werent dismissed. But they were reduced to a lesser felony, the equivalent of obtaining money under false pretenses, and the jury sentenced me to six months in prison. I considered it a victory and rendered my enthusiastic thanks to Mrs. Kristiansson, who was also pleased with the verdict.
I was returned to my cell in the Klippan jail, and the next day Jan appeared to congratulate me. However, she also had disquieting news. I was not to serve my time in my comfortable and homey little hostelry in Klippan, but was to be transferred to the state institution in Malmo, located on the campus of Lund University, the oldest college in Europe. «You will find it very different from the prisons in France. In fact it is very different from any of your American prisons,» Jan assured me.
My misgivings evaporated when I was delivered to the prison, known on the campus as «The Criminal Ward.» There was nothing of a prison atmosphere about the ward no fences, no guard towers, no bars, no electronic gates or doors. It blended right in with the other large and stately buildings on the campus. It was, in fact, a completely open facility.
I was checked in and escorted to my quarters, for I no longer looked on Swedish detention rooms as cells. My room in the ward was slightly smaller, but just as comfortable, and with similar furnishings and facilities, to those of the one in which Id been lodged at Klippan.
The prison rules were relaxed, the restrictions lenient. I could wear my own clothes, and since I had only the one set, I was escorted to a clothing store in the city where I was outfitted with two changes of clothes. I was given unrestricted freedom to write and receive letters or other mail, and my mail was not censored. Since the ward housed only one hundred prisoners, and it was not deemed economical to maintain a kitchen, food was brought to prisoners from outside restaurants and the prisoner prepared his own menu within reason.
The ward was a coed prison. Several women were housed in the institution, but sexual cohabitation was prohibited between inmates. Conjugal visits were allowed between a man and wife, a wife and husband or between an inmate and his/her boy/girl friend. The prisoners had the freedom of the building between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and they could receive visitors in their quarters between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily. The inmates were locked into their rooms at 10 p.m., curfew time in the ward.
The ward housed no violent criminals. Its inmates were check swindlers, car thieves, embezzlers and similar nonviolent criminals. However, prisoners were segregated, in multiroomed dormitories, by age, sex and type of crime. I was lodged in a dormitory with other forgers and counterfeiters of like age.
Swedish prisons actually attempt to rehabilitate a criminal. I was told I could, during my term, either attend classes at the university or work in a parachute factory situated on the prison grounds. Or I could simply serve my time in the ward. If I attended classes, the Swedish Government would pay my tuition and furnish my supplies. If I chose to work in the parachute factory, I would be paid the prevailing free-world wage for my job classification.
Escape would have been easy, save for one factor. The Swedes, at an early age, are issued identity cards They are rarely required to produce the card, but a policeman has a right to ask a citizen to display his or her identity card. And display of the ID is required for any border crossing, or international train or plane journey. I didnt have one. I also didnt have any money.
It really didnt matter. Escape never entered my mind. I loved it at Malmo prison. One day, to my astonishment, one of my victims, a young bank clerk, appeared to visit me, bringing a basket of fresh fruit and some Swedish cheeses. «I thought you might like to know that I did not get into any trouble because of your cashing checks at my station,» said the young man. «Also, I wanted you to know I have no ill feelings toward you. It must be very difficult to be imprisoned.»
I had really conned that kid. I had made him my friend, in fact, even visiting in his home, in order to perpetrate my swindle. His gesture really touched me.
I both worked in the parachute factory and attended classes, which seemed to please the wards supervisors. I studied commercial art, although I was more adept in some of the techniques taught at Lund than the instructors.
The six months passed swiftly, too swiftly. During the fourth month, Mrs. Kristiansson appeared with alarming news. The governments of Italy, Spain, Turkey, Germany, England, Switzerland, Greece, Denmark, Norway, Egypt, Lebanon and Cyprus had all made formal requests to extradite me on completion of my sentence, and had been accorded preference in that order. I would be handed over to Italian authorities on completion of my term, and Italy would determine which country would get me after I settled my debt with the Italians.
One of my fellow inmates in the ward had served time in an Italian prison. The horror tales he recounted convinced me that Italian prisons were as bad as, if not worse than, Perpignans jail. Mrs. Kristiansson, too, had heard that conditions in Italian penal units were extremely harsh and brutal. She also had information that Italian judges and juries were not noted for leniency in criminal cases.
We launched a determined campaign to prevent my extradition to Italy. I bombarded the judge who had presided at my trial, the Minister of Justice and even the King himself with petitions and pleas for sanctuary, asking that I be allowed to stay in Sweden after my release or at the worst that I be deported to my native United States. I pointed out that no matter where I went, if I was denied refuge in Sweden, I would be punished again and again for the same crime, and conceivably I could be shunted from prison to prison for the rest of my life.
Each and every one of my pleadings was rejected. Extradition to Italy seemed inevitable. The night before Italian authorities were to take me into custody, I lay in my bed, unable to sleep and mulling over desperate plans for escape. I didnt feel I could survive any amount of imprisonment in Italy if penal conditions there were as terrible as I had been told, and I actually felt it would be better for me to be killed in an escape attempt than to die in a hellhole similar to Perpignans.
Shortly before midnight, a guard appeared. «Get dressed, Frank, and pack all your belongings,» he instructed me. «Therere some people here to get you.»
I sat up, alarmed. «What people?» I asked. «The Italians werent supposed to pick me up before tomorrow, I was told.»
«They arent,» he replied. «These are Swedish officers.»
«Swedish officers!» I exclaimed. «What do they want?»
He shook his head. «I dont know. But they have the proper papers to take you into custody.»
He escorted me out of the ward and to a marked police car parked at the curb. A uniformed officer in the back seat opened the door and motioned for me to get in beside him. «The judge wants to see you,» he said.
They drove me to the judges home, a modest dwelling in an attractive neighborhood, where I was admitted by the judges wife. The officers remained outside. She led me to the judges study and gestured toward a large leather chair. «Sit down, Mr. Abagnale,» she said pleasantly. «I will bring you some tea, and the judge will be with you shortly.» She spoke perfect English.
The judge, when he appeared a few minutes later, was also fluent in English. He seated himself opposite me after greeting me and then regarded me in silence for a few minutes. I said nothing, although I wanted to ask a dozen or more questions.
Finally the judge started speaking, in a soft, deliberate manner. «Young man, Ive had you on my mind for the past several days,» he said. «I have, in fact, made many inquiries into your background and your case. You are a bright young man, Mr. Abagnale, and I think you could have made a worthwhile contribution to society, not only in your own country but elsewhere, had you chosen a different course. It is regrettable that you have made the mistakes that you have made.»
He paused. «Yes, sir,» I said meekly, hopeful that I was here for more than a lecture.
«We are both aware, young man, that if you are returned to Italy tomorrow, you might very well face a prison sentence of up to twenty years,» the judge continued. «I have some knowledge of Italian prisons, Mr. Abagnale. They are very much like French prisons. And when you have served your sentence, you will be handed over to Spain, I understand. As you pointed out in your petition, young man, you could very well spend the rest of your life in European prisons.
«And theres very little we can do about that, Mr. Abagnale. We have to honor Italys request for extradition just as France honored ours. The law is not something we can flout with impunity, sir.» He paused again.
«I know, sir,» I said, my hopes receding. «I would like to stay here, but I understand I cannot.»
He rose and began to pace around the study, talking the while. «What if you had a chance to start your life anew, Mr. Abagnale?» he asked. «Do you think you would choose a constructive life this time?»
«Yes, sir, if I had the chance,» I replied.
«Do you think youve learned your lesson, as the teachers say?» he pursued.
«Yes, sir, I really have,» I said, my hopes rising again He seated himself again and looked at me, finally nodding. «I did something tonight, Mr. Abagnale, that surprised even myself,» he said. «Had someone told me two weeks ago that I would take this action, I would have questioned his sanity.
«Tonight, young man, I called a friend of mine in the American Embassy and made a request that violates your rights under Swedish law. I asked him to revoke your U.S. passport, Mr. Abagnale. And he did.»
I gazed at him, and from his slight grin I knew my astonishment was visible. I was really puzzled at his action, but not for long.
«You are now an unwelcome alien in Sweden, Mr. Abagnale,» the judge said, smiling. «And I can legally order your deportation to the United States, regardless of any extradition requests pending. In a few minutes, Mr. Abagnale, I am going to order the officers outside to take you to the airport and place you on a plane for New York City. All the arrangements have been made.
Of course, you should know that police of your own country will be waiting to arrest you when you debark from the aircraft. You are a wanted criminal in your own country, too, sir, and I felt it only proper that they be notified of my actions. The FBI has been informed of your flight number and the time of your arrival.
«Im sure you will be tried in your own country. But at least, young man, you will be among your own people and Im sure your family will be present to support you and to visit you in prison, if you are convicted. However, in case you arent aware, once you have served your term in America, none of these other countries can extradite you. The law in the United States prohibits a foreign nation from extraditing you from the land of your birth.
I have taken this action, young man, because I feel it is in the best interests of all concerned, especially yourself. I think, when you have settled your obligations in your own country, that you can have a fruitful and happy life.... I am gambling my personal integrity on that, Mr. Abagnale. I hope you dont prove me wrong.
I wanted to hug and kiss him. Instead I wrung his hand and tearfully promised him that I would make something worthwhile of my future. It was a promise I was to break within eighteen hours.
The officers drove me to the airport, where, to my delight, Jan was waiting to take charge of me. She had a large envelope containing my passport, my other papers and the money I had earned in the prison parachute factory. She gave me a $20 bill for pocket money before handing over the envelope to the pilot. This man is being deported, she told the plane commander. Officers of the United States will meet the plane in New York and will take him into custody. You will turn over this property to them.
She turned to me and took my hand. Good-bye, Frank, and good luck. I hope your future will be a happy one, she said gravely.
I kissed her, to the astonishment of the pilot and a watching stewardess. It was the first overture I had made toward Jan, and it was a gesture of sincere admiration. I will never forget you, I said. And I never have. Jan Lundstrom will always be a fine and gracious person, a lovely and helpful friend, in my thoughts.
It was a nonstop flight to New York. I was seated up front, near the cockpit, where the crew could keep an eye on me, but otherwise I was treated as just another passenger. In flight I had the freedom of the passenger sections.
I do not know when I began thinking of eluding the waiting officers, or why I felt compelled to betray the judges trust in me. Perhaps it was when I started thinking of my short sojourn in the Boston jail, with its sordid tanks and cells. Certainly it was luxurious when compared to Perpignans prison, but if American prisons were comparable, I didnt want to do time in one. My six months in the Klippan jail and the ward had spoiled me.
The jet was
From past flight experiences, I knew the jet would land on Kennedys Runway 13 and that it would require approximately ten minutes for the aircraft to taxi to the terminal.
Ten minutes before the pilot was to make his landing approach, I rose and strolled back to one of the lavatories and locked myself inside. I reached down and felt for the snap-out knobs I knew were located at the base of the toilet, pulled them out, twisted them and lifted out the entire toilet apparatus, a self-contained plumbing unit, to disclose the two-foot-square hatch cover for the vacuum hose used to service the aircraft on the ground.
I waited. The plane touched down with a jolt and then slowed as the pilot reversed his engines and used his flaps as brakes. At the end of the runway, I knew, he would come to almost a complete stop as he turned the jet onto the taxi strip leading to the terminal. When I judged he was almost at that point, I squeezed down into the toilet compartment, opened the hatch and wriggled through, hanging from the hatch combing by my fingers, dangling ten feet above the tarmac. I knew when I opened the hatch that an alarm beeper would sound in the cockpit, but I also knew from past flights that the hatch was often jarred open slightly by the impact of landing and that the pilot, since he was already on the ground, usually just shut off the beeper as the hatch being ajar posed no hazard.
I really didnt care whether this pilot was of that school or not. We had landed at night. When the huge jet slowed almost to a stop, I released my hold on the combing and lit running.
I fled straight across the runway in the darkness, later learning that I had escaped unnoticed, the method of my escape unknown until an irate ORiley and other FBI agents searched the plane and found the lifted-out toilet.
On the Van Wyck Expressway side of the airport, I scaled a cyclone fence and hailed a passing cab. Grand Central Station, I said. On arrival at the station, I paid the cabbie out of the $20 bill I had and took a train to the Bronx.
I didnt go home. I felt both my mothers apartment and my fathers home would be under surveillance, but I did call Mom and then Dad. It was the first time in more than five years that I had heard their voices, and in each instance, both Mom and I and Dad and I ended up blubbering with tears. I resisted their entreaties to come to one of their homes and surrender myself to officers. Although I felt ashamed of myself for breaking my promise to the Malmo judge, I felt Id had enough of prison life.
Actually, I went to the Bronx to see a girl with whom Id stashed some money and some clothing, one suit of which contained a set of keys to a Montreal bank safe-deposit box. She was surprised to see me. Good lord, Frank! she exclaimed. I thought you had disappeared for good. A few more days and I was going to spend your money and give your clothes to the Salvation Army.
I did not stop to dally. I wasnt sure how many of my girl friends and acquaintances the FBI had been able to identify, or which ones, but I knew some had been ferreted out. I grabbed my clothes, gave her all but $50 of the money and grabbed a train for Montreal.
I had $20,000 stashed in a Montreal safe-deposit box. It was my intention to pick up the money and take the soonest flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I intended to go to earth. You pick up some interesting information in prison, and in the ward I had learned that Brazil and the United States had no extradition treaty. Since I hadnt committed any crimes in Brazil, I felt I would be safe there and that Brazilian authorities would refuse extradition even if I were caught in that country.
I picked up the money. I never made the flight. I was waiting in line at the Montreal airport to purchase a ticket when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to face a tall, muscular man with pleasant features, in the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Frank Abagnale, I am Constable James Hastings, and you are under arrest, said the Mountie with a friendly smile.
The next day I was driven to the New York-Canada border and handed over to the U.S. Border Patrol, who turned me over to FBI agents, who took me to New York City and lodged me in the federal detention facility there.
I was arraigned before a U.S. commissioner who bound me over for trial under a $250,000 bond and remanded me to the detention house pending a decision on the part of prosecutors as to where to bring me to trial.
Two months later the U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Georgia prevailed, and U.S. marshals took me to the Fulton County, Georgia, jail to await my trial.
The Fulton County Jail was a pest hole, a real roach pit. Its bad news, man, said another prisoner I met in the day room of our cruddy cellblock. The only decent facility in the joint is the hospital, and you have to be dying to get in there.
The only decent facility in the day room was a pay telephone. I plopped a dime in and dialed the desk sergeant. This is Dr. John Petsky, I said in authoritative tones.
You have a patient of mine as a prisoner, one Frank Abagnale. Mr. Abagnale is a severe diabetic, subject to frequent comas, and I would appreciate it, Sergeant, if you could confine him in your medical ward where I can visit him and administer proper treatment.
Within thirty minutes a jailer appeared to escort me to the hospital ward, leaving the other inmates who had heard my conversation grinning in admiration.
A week later a U.S. marshal appeared, took me into custody and transferred me to the Federal Detention Center in Atlanta to await trial. It was from this prison that I perpetrated what has to be one of the most hilarious escapes in the annals of prison history. At least I thought it was funny, and Im still amused by the episode, although therere several others who still hold an opposite view.
Actually, mine wasnt so much an escape as it was a cooperative eviction, made possible by the time and the circumstances. I was ensconced in the detention facility during a period when U.S. prisons were being condemned by civil rights groups, scrutinized by congressional committees and investigated by Justice Department agents. Prison inspectors were working overtime, and undercover, and earning the enmity and hostility of prison administrators and guards.
I was brought into this atmosphere under exactly the right circumstances. The U.S. marshal who. delivered me to the facility had no commitment papers for me, but did have a short temper.
The admissions officer to whom I was offered had a lot of questions for the U.S. marshal. Who was I? Why was I being lodged here? And why didnt the marshal have the proper papers?
The marshal blew his cool. Hes here under a court order, he snapped. Just put him in a damned cell and feed him until we come after him.
The admissions officer reluctantly accepted custody of me. He really had no choice. The marshal had stormed out. I think I could have followed him without anyones stopping me, in light of what I learned. Another damned prison inspector, eh? murmured the guard who escorted me to my cell.
Not me, Im here awaiting trial, I replied truthfully.
Sure you are, he scoffed, slamming the cell door. You bastards think youre slick, dont you? You people got two of our guys fired last month. Weve learned how to spot you.
I wasnt issued the white cotton uniform the other inmates sported. I was allowed to keep my regular clothing. I noted, too, that the cell in which I was placed, while not posh, was exceedingly livable. The food was good and the Atlanta papers were brought to me daily, usually with a sarcastic remark. I was never called by name, but was addressed as fink, stoolie, 007 or some other derisive term meant to connote my assumed status as a prison inspector. Reading the Atlanta papers, which twice the first week contained stories relating to conditions in federal penal institutions, I realized the personnel of this facility really did suspect I was an undercover federal agent.
Had I been, they would have had no worries, and I v as puzzled as to why large numbers of influential people thought American prisons were a disgrace to the nation. I thought this one was great. Not quite up to the standards of the Malmo ward, but much better than some motels in which Id stayed.
However, if the guards here wanted me to be a prison inspector, thats what Id be. I contacted a still loyal girl friend in Atlanta. The prison rules were not overly lenient, but once a week we were allowed to use the telephone in privacy. I got her on the phone when it was my turn.
Look, I know what it usually takes to get out of here, I told her. See what you have to do to get in, will you?
Her name was Jean Sebring, and she didnt have to do much to get in to see me. She merely identified herself as my girl friend, my fiancee, in fact, and she was allowed to visit me. We met across a table in one of the large visiting rooms. We were separated by a three-foot-high pane of glass perforated by a wire-mesh aperture through which we could talk. A guard was at either end of the room, but out of earshot. If you want to give him something, hold it up and well nod if its permissible, one guard instructed her.
I had concocted a plan before Jean arrived. It might prove to be merely an intellectual exercise, I knew, but I thought it was worth a try. However, I first had to persuade Jean to help me, for outside assistance was vital to my plot. She was not difficult to persuade. Sure, why not? she agreed, smiling. I think it would be funny as hell if you pulled it off.
Have you met an FBI agent named Sean ORiley or talked to him? I asked.
She nodded. In fact, he gave me one of his cards when he came around asking about you, she said.
Great! I enthused. I think were in business, baby.
We really were. That week, Jean, posing as a free-lance magazine writer, called at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C., and finagled an interview with Inspector C. W. Dunlap, purportedly on fire safety measures in federal detention centers. She pulled it off beautifully, but then Jean is not only talented, she is also chic, sophisticated and lovely, a woman to whom any man would readily talk.
She turned at the door as she left. Oh, may I have one of your cards, Inspector, in case some other question comes to mind and I have to call you? she asked.
Dunlap promptly handed over his card.
She laughingly detailed her success during her next visit, in the course of which she held up Dunlaps card, and when the one guard nodded, she passed it over the barrier to me.
Her visits only bolstered the guards» belief that I was a Bureau of Prisons prober. «Who is she, your secretary, or is she a prison inspector, too?» one guard asked me as he returned me to my cell.
«Thats the girl Im going to marry,» I replied cheerfully.
Jean visited a stationery print shop that week. «My father just moved into a new apartment and has a new telephone number,» she told the printer. «I want to present him with five hundred new personal cards as a house-warming gift. I want them to look exactly like this, but with his new home telephone number and his new office number inserted.» She gave the printer ORileys card.
ORileys new telephone numbers were the numbers of side-by-side pay telephones in an Atlanta shopping mall.
The printer had Jeans order ready in three days. She passed me one of the cards on her next visit, and we finalized our plans. Jean said shed enlisted the aid of a male friend just in case. «I didnt fill him in on anything, of course; I just told him we were pulling a practical joke,» she said.
«Okay, well try it tomorrow night,» I said. «Lets hope no one wants to use those phones around 9 p.m.»
Shortly before 9 p.m. the following day, I hailed the cellblock guard, whom I had cultivated into a friendly adversary. «Listen, Rick, somethings come up and I need to see the lieutenant on duty. You were right about me. I am a prison inspector. Heres my card.» I handed him Dunlaps card, which bore only his Washington office number. If anyone decided to call the Bureau of Prisons, theyd be told the offices were closed.
Rick scanned the card and laughed. «By God, we knew we were right about you,» he chortled. «Combs is gonna like this. Come on.» He opened the cell door and led me to Lieutenant Combs office.
The lieutenant was equally pleased to learn, as he also had suspected, that I was a prison inspector. We had you figured all along, he growled amiably, tossing Dunlaps card on his desk after looking at it.
I grinned. Well, it would have all come out Tuesday anyway, I said. And Ill tell you now that you people dont have anything to worry about. Youre now running a clean, tight ship, the kind the bureau likes to brag about. Youll like my report.
A pleased look began to spread across Combs» face and I plunged ahead with my gamble. «But right now Ive got some urgent business to take care of,» I said. «I need to get hold of this FBI agent. Can you get him on the horn for me? Hell still be at his office, Im sure.» I handed over the doctored card bearing ORileys name, his position with the FBI and the two phony telephone numbers.
Combs didnt hesitate. He picked up his telephone and dialed the «office» number. «Ive read about this guy ORiley,» he remarked as he dialed. «Hes supposed to be hell on wheels for nabbing bank robbers.»
The «office» phone started ringing. Jean answered on the second ring. «Good evening, Federal Bureau of Investigation. May I help you?»
«Yes, is Inspector ORiley in?» Combs said. «This is Combs at the detention center. Weve got a man here who wants to talk to him.»
He didnt even wait for «ORiley» to answer. He just passed the phone to me. «She said shell get him for you,» Combs told me.
I waited an appropriate few seconds and then launched into
my act. «Yes, Inspector ORiley? My name is Dunlap, C. W. Dunlap, with the
Bureau of Prisons. If youve got your list handy, my authorized code number is
Listen, Inspector ORiley, Ive come up with some information on that Philly case youre working, and I need to get it to you tonight.... No, sir, I cant give it to you over the telephone... its too sensitive... I have to see you, and I have to see you within the hour... . Time is important.... Oh, you are.... Well, look these guys wont blow your cover.... No, itll only take ten minutes.
... Wait a minute, let me talk to the lieutenant, Im sure hell go along.
I covered the mouthpiece of the telephone and looked at Combs. Boy, these J. Edgar Hoovers are really way out. Hes working undercover on something and doesnt want to come inside... some kind of Mustache Pete job or something, I told Combs. If he parks out front, can I go out and talk to him in his car for about ten minutes?
Combs grimaced. Hell, why dont you call your people and spring yourself right now? he asked. You aint needed here anymore, are you?
No, I said. But we have to do these things by the book. A U.S. marshal will come for me Tuesday. Thats the way my boss wanted it done, and thats the way itll be done. And Id appreciate it if you people wouldnt let on that I blew my own cover. But I had to. This is too big.
Combs shrugged. Sure, well let you meet ORiley. Hell, spend an hour with him, if you like.
I went back to the telephone. ORiley, its okay.... Yeah, out front.... a red-over-white Buick.... Got it.... No, no problem. These guys are okay. I really dont know why youre being so damned cautious. Theyre on our team, too, you know.
Rick brought me a cup of coffee and stood by the window while I sipped the brew and chatted with Combs. Heres your Buick, Rick said fifteen minutes later. Combs rose and picked up a large ring of keys. Come on, he said. Ill let you out myself.
There was an elevator, used by guards only, behind his office. We rode it down and he escorted me past the guard in the small foyer and unlocked the barred doors. I walked through as the guard looked on curiously but without comment, and strolled down the walkway leading to the curb and the parked car. Jean was behind the wheel, her hair hidden under a mans broad-brimmed hat and wearing a mans coat.
She giggled as I climbed in beside her. Hot dog! We did it! she gurgled.
I smiled. See how fast you can get the hell away from here, I said, grinning from sheer jubilation.
She peeled out of there like a drag racer, burning rubber and leaving tire marks on the pavement as a memento. Away from the center, she slowed to avoid attracting the attention of any cruising radio patrolman, and then drove a meandering course through Atlanta to the bus station. I kissed her good-bye there and took a Greyhound to New York. Jean went home, packed and moved to Montana. If she was ever connected with the caper, no one was inclined to press charges.
It was a very embarrassing situation for the prison officials. It is a matter of record in FBI files that Combs and Rick sought to cover themselves, when they realized theyd been had, by reporting I had forcibly escaped custody. However, the truth, as the sage observed, soon outed.
I knew I would be the subject of an intense manhunt, and I resolved again to flee to Brazil, but I knew I would have to wait until the hunt for me cooled. For the next few days, I was certain, all points of departure from the United States would be under surveillance.
My escape made the front page of one New York paper. Frank Abagnale, known to police the world over as the Skywayman and who once flushed himself down an airline toilet to elude officers, is at large again... the story commenced.
I didnt have a stash of money in New York, but Jean had loaned me enough to live on until the hunt for me died down. I holed up in Queens and, two weeks later, took the train to Washington, D.C., where I rented a car and checked into a motel on the outskirts of the capital.
I went to Washington because I had several caches in banks across the Potomac in Virginia, and Washington seemed to offer a safe haven, with its huge and heterogeneous population. I didnt think Id attract any attention there at all.
I was wrong. An hour after I checked into my room, I happened to glance out the window through a part in the drapes and saw several police officers scurrying to take up positions around this section of the motel. I learned that the registration clerk, a former airline stewardess, had recognized me immediately and had telephoned the police after an hour of fretting and wondering whether she should get involved.
Only one thing weighed in my favor, and I didnt know it at the moment. ORiley, on being informed that I was cornered, had told the officers not to move in on me until he arrived to take charge. ORiley, whom I had met briefly after my arraignment, wanted this collar himself.
But at the moment I was on the verge of panic. It was late at night, but both the front and back of this section of rooms was well lighted. I didnt think I could make it to the safety of the darkness beyond the lighted parking areas.
I knew, though, that I had to try. I slipped on my coat and fled out the back door, but held myself to a walk as I headed for the corner of the building. I had taken only a few steps, however, when two officers rounded the corner of the building. Both pointed pistols at me.
Freeze, mister, police! one barked in a command right out of a television police drama.
I didnt freeze. I kept walking, right at the muzzles of their guns, whipping out my billfold as I walked. Davis, FBI, I said, surprised at my own coolness and the firmness of my voice.
Is ORiley here yet?
The pistols were lowered. I dont know, sir, said the one. If he is, hes around front.
All right, I said crisply. You people keep this area covered. Ill check and see if ORiley is here yet.
They stood aside as I passed them I didnt look back. I walked on into the darkness beyond the parking lot.