The two hunters had roamed the mountainous Buck Hill area of Berkeley County, W. Va., often enough to know that the mound of dirt and the cold spring shack, newly built about 200 yards off Secondary Road 20, did not belong there.Before they ended their scouting, for turkey season in October, they made sure to tell the West Virginia State police.
And so at 6:45 a.m. yesterday, 12 state troopers and a conservation officer surrounded the shelter for the underground spring, and within minutes had captured the notorious Franklin brothers, convicted killers and suspected kidnapers, without firing a shot.
Officials said the 8-by-8-foot shelter -- complete with bunk beds, woodburning stove and medicine cabinet -- had served as the brothers' underground hideout since their escape from a Jefferson County jail two months earlier.
Charles Bruce Franklin, 25, and Bruce Douglas Franklin, 23, convicted of murder in Maryland and attempted murder in Virginia, had been at large since July 10, when they escaped from the Jefferson County Jail in Charles Town, W. Va., along with a third inmate serving time for grand larceny.
The third inmate, Charles Warnick, 26, who authorities said had furnished the Franklins with the hacksaw used to saw their way to freedom from the jail, was recaptured along the Shenandoah River only two days after his escape.
But the Franklin brothers, awaiting trial for assault, kidnaping, and grand larceny in connection with an earlier escape from Maryland Correctional Institute, had eluded authorities in three states until yesterday. The brothers were immediately transported to the Berkeley County Jail in Martinsburg, W. Va., where they were being held in lieu of $100,000 bond each.
"I am very relieved; oh, my lands, yes," said William (Shug) Kisner, Berkeley County sheriff and the man who now will have responsibilty for keeping the Franklins under lock and key. Kisner said they will be kept in separate cells under extra security.
"Anywhere you go for the last few months that's all you'd hear: 'Have you got the Franklins yet? Have you got them?,' " Kisner said, adding, "Of course, now it's going to be: 'Can you hold them?' "
The question is of particular concern to the residents of this largely rural area of West Virginia, wedged between the Maryland and Virginia borders, which has been the scene of the Franklins' alleged exploits during the last few months.
On March 7 the brothers escaped from the Maryland Correctional Institute, where they were serving life sentences for the beating death of a Hagerstown, Md. man. They were recaptured in April, but not before they allegedly kidnaped a Morgan County, W. Va., family of three, shot a fourth family member, stole the family's car and locked them in the trunk of it, then kidnaped two more people and stole a second car.
When finally apprehended, they were sent to the Jefferson County jail in Charles Town, presumably because it offered greater security than the smaller one in Morgan County.
But the jail, the scene of nine escapes last year, proved no match for the Franklins, who hacksawed their way through the bars of their cell, overpowered the lone officer on duty, and escaped with Warnick in the officer's pickup truck. Warnick had received the hacksaw through the mail, authorities said.
The Franklins offered no resistance at their capture yesterday,although police found a loaded .22 caliber rifle in their dugout, according to police Cpl. Ronald L. See, who led the operation.
The 13 officers, armed with service revolvers and rifles, surrounded the dugout, and after identifying themselves as police, told the inhabitants to identify themselves. Upon receiving no response, the police threatened to use tear gas, and the Franklins, cleanshaven and wearing clean dungarees and shirts, came out.
"They just didn't have the appearance of living in the woods for two months," said See. "It indicates to me that they can adapt to live outside like that."
Police had suspected that the Franklins might stay in the area, where they have many relatives and are familiar with the rugged terrain, enabling them to use their hunting and outdoors skills to survive. Their hiding place was located less than five miles from where they were born in Gerradstown, W. Va., according to a report from United Press International.
The dugout had been constructed from uncharred boards and tin from a house that had burned down some months ago. The Franklins built a shack to cover the spring, and behind it, a subterranean chamber covered by a trapdoor. The only access to the shelter was by a four-step ladder.
The room held the beds, the stove and the medicine cabinet, as well as a sink. It had a wooden floor and a tin roof, police said. A supply of food was stacked on wooden shelves, along with a supply of clothing.
"If they'd been there two more months, they might have had electricity," said See.