Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme was recaptured yesterday, two days after the convicted assailant of then-President Gerald R. Ford scaled an eight-foot prison fence and disappeared into the West Virginia woods.
Fromme, a follower of mass murderer Charles Manson, was found about two miles from the Federal Correctional Institution for Women in Alderson, W.Va., where she is serving a life sentence for pointing a loaded pistol at Ford in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 5, 1975. Her escape Wednesday night had prompted a nationwide alert by U.S. authorities fearful that she might seek vengeance for Manson's imprisonment in California or her own.
Associate Warden Maureen Atwood said Fromme was spotted by two prison employes at 12:50 p.m. yesterday as she emerged from the woods along a road just south of the 96-acre facility.
"She offered no resistance," Atwood said. "It's been raining here, and she was pretty soaked."
Atwood identified Fromme's captors as Chuck Holmes, an employe in the prison's mechanical services department, and Kitty Loudermilk, who works in the records department.
The recapture ended an intensive search that began when Fromme, 39, was discovered missing during a routine check at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Dozens of local law enforcement officers, accompanied by tracking dogs, scoured the mountainous terrain surrounding the 935-inmate prison in a cold December drizzle. State police set up roadblocks to seal off the largely rural area in southern West Virginia.
By yesterday morning, U.S. marshals had received reports of sightings from Pennsylvania to Minnesota. Authorities took seriously a report that a small, red-haired woman had been seen trying to hitch a ride Thursday morning a dozen miles from the campus-like prison.
Officials said it was unlikely that Fromme would get far in the rugged area on foot, but they feared that she might be able to elude capture by relying on her wilderness survival experiences as a member of the Manson cult.
Atwood said Fromme apparently had prepared herself for cold weather and was in good health despite overnight temperatures that dipped into the mid-20s. "She had on a military-type peacoat and two pairs of pants," Atwood said. Fromme also had exchanged her customary red bandanna for a knitted ski cap.
After a physical checkup, Fromme was placed in a high-security area of the prison. Atwood said she is likely to face additional charges for the escape, which carries a maximum sentence of five years.
Fromme was the 15th inmate to have escaped from Alderson in the last two years. Two, both convicted of drug offenses, are still missing. Sara Jane Moore, a political activist convicted in an assassination attempt on Ford that was made 17 days after the Fromme attempt, escaped from the prison in 1979 but was recaptured less than four hours later.
Atwood said prison officials planned no immediate changes in security procedures but added: "Obviously, we'll have a postmortem."
Inmates at Alderson, which is reportedly more than 50 percent over capacity, live in cottages that are not locked at night because of fire codes. Fromme apparently slipped out by climbing over an eight-foot fence topped with barbed wire, and then eluding two guard vehicles that patrol the perimeter.
Her recapture ended a nervous holiday for several attorneys who helped prosecute Manson and several of his disciples for the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six other people.
Prison officials confirmed that Fromme corresponds regularly with Manson, who is serving a life sentence at San Quentin, but said that the letters are monitored by prison staff and any "inflammatory" passages are excised.
"She's threatened my life before, and I'm very concerned . . . , " Los Angeles County prosecutor Stephen Kay told the Mutual Broadcasting System before Fromme was apprehended. "What makes her so dangerous is that she will do anything that Manson wants her to do without question."
Vincent Bugliosi, another prosecutor who later wrote the book "Helter Skelter" on the Manson family, told reporters that Fromme was "slavishly obedient" to Manson. Bugliosi said he feared that she and other followers might have been planning some action to free him.
Chief prison psychologist Lane Wagaman said Fromme had no contact with other Manson family members, not even Sandra Good, her former roommate and closest friend, who was paroled from Alderson two years ago. Good is not on Fromme's approved list of correspondents, he said.
Wagaman said Fromme has had no visitors since June or July of 1986, when her mother came to see her. He described her as a "loner" who had given Alderson officials little trouble in the eight years she has been an inmate there.