He was masquerading as a West Palm Beach lawyer when the police burst upon him. Millionaire Dexter Drake Coffin III's Virginia license plates and one too many visits to the doctor had given him away.
Coffin, 37, a playboy whose life style led him to drugs and an 11-year prison sentence, was arrested Wednesday in Tilton, N.H., six weeks after escaping from guards en route to a Charlottesville prison.
Police said Coffin, heir to a multimillion-dollar tea bag fortune, had tried to obtain the prescription drugs Percodan and Tussionex from several physicians in the central New Hampshire resort town of 3,000 when Dr. Paul Friend grew suspicious.
"It's a small town and people talk," Friend said. "We see few people claiming to be a West Palm Beach lawyer and driving a bronze Lincoln Continental."
In an unlucky coincidence for Coffin, two doctors he had visited mentioned to Friend that they had examined an unusual guy from Florida. Suspecting the man was a smooth-talking drug addict, Friend, a recent Georgetown University Medical School graduate, alerted the other doctors in town. As he described Coffin to Dr. Susan Bayer's nurse, the nurse said, "That man is in the examining room."
On Tuesday, Coffin had walked into the emergency room of Tilton Hospital asking for a painkiller. On Wednesday, he went to another doctor asking for more drugs.
"He said he was just in the area for the summer," said the nurse, who asked not to be identified. "He was well-dressed, neat-looking. He had made a regular appointment."
As Coffin left the doctor's office and headed toward the same Lincoln Continental he used April 22 to speed away from two Virginia jail guards in Harrisonburg, Va., Tilton police ended his freedom.
The Tilton doctors said they could not discuss what ailments Coffin claimed he had. At least two physicians gave him narcotics, Friend said.
Coffin's fourth wife, Jo Ann, said her husband was suffering from "a precancerous condition of the mouth. He doesn't have any teeth right now." She said he has had several operations on his mouth and has been in severe pain.
Coffin's attorney, Colin Guy of Charlottesville, could not be reached yesterday. An extradition hearing is scheduled Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H.
"It doesn't surprise me he was so close to the Canadian border," said Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr. Coffin now faces an escape charge, punishable by a maximum of five years in prison, in addition to the 11-year prison term he was serving for fraudulently obtaining drugs and writing bad checks, Dorrier said.
The prosecutor said that when Coffin returns to Virginia, he will not be placed again in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Joint Security Complex.
Two armed guards from that jail were transporting Coffin from a court-allowed session with a psychiatrist when Coffin persuaded them to stop at a Harrisonburg hotel. As the guards waited outside the hotel restroom, Coffin ducked out a back door.
After Coffin escaped, he telephoned The Washington Post to say that he fled because the administrator of the jail complex, Michael McMahan, had threatened his life.
McMahan, calling Coffin a "con's con," denied making any threats.
Virginia state police are investigating the jail and the circumstances surrounding the escape. The two guards who were with Coffin when he fled were suspended and Lt. David C. Wallace, the second in command at the jail, was fired as a result of the incident