If it weren't for the beach cocaine parties, the private planes, the glamorous women and his millions, tea bag heir Dexter Drake Coffin III said, he might not have spent the past six weeks eluding police.
Sitting in a jail house in this tiny central New Hampshire resort town, Coffin, a cocky 37-year-old millionaire, said it was too much of everything that brought him from a life of riches to a prison term.
"Frankly, I consider the money I've had a curse," he said, eating cherry Jell-O behind the visitor's screen at the Belknap County jail. "If I had not known there would always be money, I would have done something more constructive with my life."
Now Coffin, who escaped from Charlottesville jail guards six weeks ago, is awaiting extradition to Virginia, where he is to begin serving an 11-year sentence for drug convictions. He was arrested in Tilton last Tuesday after trying to obtain Tussionex, a highly addictive cough syrup.
Tall, with hazel eyes and brown hair, Coffin has become a celebrity, with television cameras following him into court. On the day Coffin was captured, local lifeguard Damian George said, he heard the news four times on the radio in one hour.
"They way they played it up, it was like the president was here," George said.
Coffin, who posed as a West Palm Beach, Fla., lawyer here while trying to elude police, reflected on his escape, his want-for-nothing childhood and the prolonged adolescence that landed him behind bars.
"Like a lot of people with money, I thought I had an automatic place in heaven," said Coffin, whose family earned a fortune from a patent on the webbed paper used in making tea bags. "I thought life was to be savored; I was special."
At age 13 he learned to fly, and soon he had his own plane. By the time he was 18 he was roaring in a Jaguar Mark IX from his Park Avenue apartment in New York City to his oceanfront home in West Palm Beach, where, he said, the "duPonts, Coles, Wakemans, Pulitzers were friends."
He vacationed in Rio and on the Riviera, and he lived for a while in London. Coffin said he never worked for a living.
Publicity has followed him throughout his life.
In a Florida jail on a grand larceny charge several years ago, Coffin told police that another inmate confessed to the killing of a Palm Beach City Council member. Coffin was the star witness that led to the man's conviction, and in 1982 Coffin said on a national television news program that he had lied. The conviction was upheld because authorities said they believed that he lied on television and because he passed a polygraph on his original testimony.
In recent months, Coffin has frustrated Michael McMahan, the administrator of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Joint Security Complex.
The Virginia State Police are investigating the jail's procedures because of the escape and because of Coffin's accusations that McMahan had threatened his life. And today the jail's board of directors met to discuss 20 grievances filed against McMahan by employes Coffin had organized into the Employees Solidarity Union.
On April 22, Coffin coaxed two of McMahan's guards to stop at a Harrisonburg hotel for dinner en route from a court-allowed psychiatrist visit. While they were eating, Coffin said, he politely excused himself to go to a restroom.
Instead, he walked into the parking lot where his wife's 1985 Lincoln Continental was parked, punched in a special entry code, scooped the keys from the glove compartment and drove home to pack. He drove north on I-95, at one point waving to a sheriff's car, and went to Hartford, Conn., where he stayed briefly. He spent most of his six weeks of freedom in Quechee Gorge, Vt., near several of his family's homes.
Now, at age 37, he is married for the fourth time and has five sons. He said it is time for him to throw away the ideas of his youth.
Coffin said he has a severe gum disease that has forced the removal of all of his teeth and some of his jawbone. The pain from the temporary dental plate led him to try to obtain the potent cough syrup illegally, Coffin said, adding that he used his own name when he asked several Tilton doctors for painkillers and Tussionex.
Now, sitting in a bare cell, with his solid gold family crest ring and what the guard calls "his upper-crust manners" the only reminders of his past, Coffin said his main goal is to raise his sons differently than he was.
"I wouldn't give them everything," said Coffin, noting that he has not spoken to his father in almost 10 years. "I would spend more time with them. I wouldn't wait until they were 24 to tell them I love them."