After nearly 40 years as a fugitive, South Carolina escapee is finally caught

LEFT: Dallas Smallwood booking photo from 1977. (Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Corrections) RIGHT:This booking photo provided by the Ottawa County Sheriff, shows Dallas Smallwood, a man accused of escaping from a South Carolina jail nearly 40 years ago. Smallwood has been captured in western Michigan. Federal marshals say Smallwood was arrested Monday, May 12, 2014, in Zeeland, 25 miles southwest of Grand Rapids. He's accused of escaping from an Anderson County, South Carolina, jail in 1977 while under a five-year sentence for grand larceny and receiving stolen goods. The U.S. Marshals Service says Smallwood, a trucker, was using the name Waylon Wilson. (AP Photo/Ottawa County Sheriff
Left: Dallas Smallwood in a 1977 booking photo. (Courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Corrections)Right: A booking photo of Smallwood in 2014. (AP Photo/Ottawa County Sheriff)

Four decades after his escape from a South Carolina prison, a fugitive task force knocked on the door of his mobile home earlier this week in Zeeland, Mich., southwest of Grand Rapids.

They asked him if his real name was Dallas Smallwood. “No, but I’ve been to Dallas,” he said. He had reportedly been hiding behind the alias Waylon Wilson for years.

“Obviously, our guys didn’t believe him,” Steve Hetherington, who oversees the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force in west Michigan, told the Grand Rapids Press.

Still, he maintained his alias until a fingerprint comparison at the Ottawa County Jail confirmed his true identity, authorities told Wood-TV.

Smallwood, 58, was arrested Monday in Zeeland. He’s accused of escaping from South Carolina’s Anderson County Stockade in 1977 while serving a five-year sentence for grand larceny and receiving stolen goods, the Associated Press reported.

Smallwood, then 21, escaped Oct. 3, 1977. Police tracked him to Texas and Kentucky, where they said he had used the fake name to get a driver’s license. But he was never found, so investigators from the Marshals Operation Intercept Task Force in South Carolina took on the case last year. He had used the same birthday for both names, which helped investigators find him.

Thirty-seven years and 56 pounds later, police found Smallwood in Michigan, where he was working as a truck driver, the Grand Rapids Press reported. He had no criminal record there.

Smallwood reportedly had a girlfriend who knew nothing about his criminal past. She told Wood-TV she had lived with him for five years and was kept in the dark. Neighbors told the Grand Rapids Press she was distraught.

Smallwood is in custody on felony escape charges at the Ottawa County Jail, awaiting extradition to South Carolina, according to Fox News.

“Thirty-seven years is a long time,” Hetherington said.

Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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