On Sept. 1, 1991, convicted murderer Phillip Paul was released on a buddy pass that allowed him and a buddy to roam the grounds of Eastern State Hospital unsupervised. Paul was committed to ESH after he murdered an elderly woman in Yakima County.
He fled the grounds and the next morning was caught by myself and two reserve deputies, along with several farmers. During the wait for booking, Paul, who was a very accomplished wrestler, attacked me and knocked me to the floor, shattering my shoulder and knocking me unconscious. Corrections staff rescued me from Paul, who was beating my head into the concrete floor.
Imagine how surprised I was on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009, to hear a broadcast of a missing person from the fairgrounds, a walk-away from ESH, named Phillip Paul.
We searched the fairgrounds but quickly became convinced that he had fled, aided by a two-hour delay in ESH reporting his absence.
Friday we learned he had been diagnosed as homicidal towards children. Saturday we got our break and spoke with the friend who had transported him to the Goldendale area where he had hunted as a young man.
After confirming our information, several Spokane County deputies went to the Goldendale area and met up with officers from Klickatat Sheriffs Office, Yakima County Sheriffs Office and police department, Benton County Sheriffs Office, the U.S. Marshall and even an FBI agent new to the area who volunteered to assist in the search, along with three aircraft.
We quickly realized we didn’t have enough officers—our search area was at a minimum 13,000 acres of very rough land separated only by a barb wire fence from thousands of additional acres of remote property, BLM land, etc.
In short, there was no way in hell we should have ever seen Phillip Paul again.
On Sunday, three Spokane County deputies, Sgt. Bill Beeman, Det. Mark Renz and myself, were driving back roads and finally were heading back to our staging area to check in before heading back to Spokane.
As we came around a light curve, we spotted an individual coming out of the scrub tree line. As we got closer, we saw he was carrying a sleeping bag and had a guitar. As we got almost to him he turned, looked at us and we all recognized him as Phillip Paul.
He was trying to head back to an area known as Harrison Canyon, where he had done some hunting many years ago. The man who owns that land was very fearful and asked for law enforcement to stay with him. The area is very rough with long, deep ravines. Paul had been avoiding the aircraft, but we were in a minivan and drove right up to him. I got out with the others and handcuffed him. I couldn’t believe it. What an incredible coincidence.
We took him into custody with no drama. He was glad to see us, severely dehydrated, and he had been consuming his own urine to counter the effects of the drugs for at least a week prior to his escape.
We had limited communications as due to the terrain. Cell phones only worked intermittently. The statewide radio channel we were using worked with very limited effect, again due to the terrain. We were able to contact the command post via radio, but the problem was that, even with GPS, we had no idea of our location.
We flagged down a car after some time and they gave us a location as several miles from where the search had started. The car contained Paul’s brother who had met with state patrol and showed them on the map where Paul may be hiding. It was 180 miles from where Paul walked away to the point where he was captured.
If someone would have made a bet that not only would deputies from Spokane County find Phillip, but that I would be the one to handcuff him a second time, I don’t think we could have gotten anyone to take that bet.
It’s an amazing story and one that I will certainly remember for some time.
Det. Roger W. Knight is in the property crimes unit at Spokane County Sheriffs Office. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.