Family and friends of murdered Washington cardiologist Dr. Michael Halberstam reacted with anger but little surprise to the escape Tuesday of his convicted killer Bernard C. Welch.
Welch, who escaped from a federal prison in Chicago along with another prisoner, once told his lawyer he could, "break out of any prison and does not intend to serve his sentence."
"I'm damn angry about it," said Dr. Charles Waters Thompson, a Washington physician and longtime friend of the Halberstams.
"He swore he was going to break out after the trial and now he's loose again," Thompson said. "I think that S.O.B. outfoxed them dumb Chicago people who let him out of the maximum security. Don't they know who he is?"
Halberstam's widow, Elliot Jones, spent most of Wednesday with Thompson at his suburban Maryland home after a friend called to tell her of the escape, he said. She was "very upset," he added.
Jones, who still lives in the upper Northwest home where her husband was shot after he surprised a burglar on Dec. 5, 1980, said she had a "lady's agreement" with authorities not to comment on the escape.
But she questioned the transfer of Welch from maximum security Marion Prison in southern Illinois to the barless downtown Chicago prison where he smashed a cell window and climbed down an electrical extension cord 75-feet to the street. He was serving a sentence of 143 years to life.
"I want to know why he was transferred so many times when they knew he would try to escape?" she said. "I think that's the real story here."
Federal prison records show that Welch had been transferred within the federal prison system five times since his conviction of first degree murder in the Halberstam slaying.
District police said they have been in constant contact with Jones since the escape, and were "taking steps to protect her."
Halberstam's brother, David, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, reached at his home in New York, declined to comment on the escape.
"I heard about it, but it's not something I want to be interviewed about," Halberstam said. "The whole thing is just something that is awfully private with me."
Eben Halberstam, 22, the youngest of Halberstam's two adopted sons, said, "I didn't think it was possible because I thought they had put him in a maximum security prison out West somewhere, but I really did not want to know where he was. You would think after he escaped once or twice they would have been a little more careful."
Welch escaped from a New York prison in 1974 and lived a comfortable life as a burglar preying on the homes of well-to-do Washingtonians until his apprehension in the Halberstam murder.
Jay B. Stephens, a deputy associate attorney general, was one of the prosecutors in the Welch case. In his new post, he is indirectly responsible for organizing federal agencies trying to recapture Welch.
"We viewed Welch as a very clever, bright, conniving individual who has escaped from secure facilities before and who had every intention of attempting to escape again," Stephens said.
"We're doing everything we can to get him back."
Federal authorities have begun a nationwide manhunt for Welch and Hugh T. Columb, 31, and opened a toll-free hot line for tipsters with information regarding their whereabouts.