ST. PETERSBURG — Oscar Richardson was a 61-year-old father living a low-key life in Missouri, working as a handyman when he was arrested over the weekend, accused of escaping a Florida prison 30 years ago.
Investigators found Richardson, who was going by the name Eugene Ward, when a tipster recognized him from the “12 Days of Fugitives” campaign, which posts photos of Florida’s oldest and most violent prison escapees on billboards across the state.
After Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents heralded the arrest at a news conference Monday, The Associated Press told the agency Richardson had been released from jail in Taney County, Mo., on a $25,000 bond.
The news prompted an angry response from agency commissioner Gerald Bailey, who blasted the Missouri judge for allowing the release.
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“I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the irresponsible decision of Judge Tony Williams to allow Oscar Richardson to post bond,” Bailey said. “Allowing this fugitive to walk out of a courtroom after hiding from authorities for 30 years diminishes the seriousness of his crimes and shows a lack of sensitivity for those he victimized.”
Jim Madden, the special agent in charge of the agency’s Tampa office, said Richardson was surprised when authorities showed up in Ridgedale, Mo., near the Arkansas state line over the weekend.
“It’s not me. How did you find me? Who told you?” Madden said. “Those were the things he was most interested in finding out.”
Richardson’s criminal history dates to January 1977, when he held two employees at gunpoint at a Tampa drugstore and demanded money from the store safe. Later that year, he used a gun to rob a Tampa convenience store. He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to serve 10 years in prison.
But in March of 1979, Richardson escaped from the Kissimmee Work Release Center. Madden said shortly after his escape, Richardson made his way to Missouri, where he lived in the same house for 26 years.
Richardson used a fake social security number, and at some point, he began a long-term relationship with a woman, even fathering a child.
Richardson’s girlfriend apparently didn’t know about his past.
“The girlfriend seemed truly surprised,” Madden said. “The information we have received from the sheriff’s office out there, she actually had inquired through them why he was arrested and the circumstances.”
Richardson’s lawyer, Dee Wampler of Springfield, Mo., said his client has refused to waive extradition.
A man who answered the phone at Richardson’s home said Richardson wasn’t there and he was “advised not to speak about anything right now.”