Sunday, November 14, 2010

Escaped Convict Caught After Vowing To Kill Star Reporter’s Family: Police Prevent Mass Murder

Escaped Convict Caught After Vowing To Kill Star Reporter’s Family

Indianapolis Star, September 14, 1971

By Joseph Gelarden

(This story is family legend. The photo is from the news story of the day. I remember my mom commenting on the horrible photo of dad and saying, "If their names weren't underneath their pictures, you couldn't tell who was the good guy or who was the bad guy. They both look awful!")

A life-term convict, plotting to kill the family of Rick Johnson, a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, was captured yesterday about two hours after escaping from a prison guard on the city’s Westside.

The prisoner, Buford R. Lipps, 29, retrieved a knife from a restroom in James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Hospital for Children, where it had been hidden for a year, to gain his temporary freedom from the guard, Sgt. Melvin Hood.

Lipps was one of seven inmates of the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City brought yesterday to the Medical Center of Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis for examination and treatment.

After his capture, Lipps, from a cell in Marion County Jail, told another reporter for The Star that his first objective was to bind Johnson in his home and kill his wife and children as Johnson looked on helplessly.

Lipps said he wanted to gain revenge for testimony Johnson presented at Lipps’ trial stemming from a shootout with two policemen Dec. 14, 1966, at the former Damon’s Lounge, 30th Street and Lafayette Road.

(This robbery was a bloodbath, and probably a set-up by a rival group of thugs. Allegedly, there was $32,000 in the bar's safe. The loot wasn't there, but the cops were probably tipped off and were waiting. It went south quickly. One cop was seriously injured, one of the bad guys was shot and killed, most likely in a double-cross by one of his fellow robbers, and the bartender got a leg blown off by a shotgun blast. Not pretty...)

Partly as a result of Johnson’s testimony, Lipps was convicted of inflicting injury in the commission of a robbery and sentenced to life in prison.

When Lipps was captured yesterday in a telephone booth in the 1300 block of Shelby Street by Detective Sgt. Robert Kirkman and Detective Cpl. James R. Alfrey, both of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, he was clutching a torn sheet from the telephone directory listing the city’s Johnsons.

En route to the Southside, Lipps said, he had stopped at The Star Building, 307 North Pennsylvania Street, to look for Johnson, and then changed his mind.

“All I could think of was getting even with Rick Johnson,” Lipps said in the interview.

Lipps, described by Warden Russell Lash of the state prison as “one of our most dangerous inmates,” had been taken to the medical center for tests to determine whether he might be suffering from epilepsy.

He was the fifth prisoner to escape from the IPI complex this year, but all were recaptured, Indiana State Police records showed.

Lash and Robert Heyne, state corrections commissioner, said it was necessary to bring prisoners with special diseases to the IPI complex for diagnoses and treatment because the prison hospital and Michigan City’s St. Anthony Hospital in some cases lack the required “sophisticated” equipment.

Lash also pointed out that treatment of prisoners in the IPI hospitals is free and many “bureaucrats” object to paying hospital costs for prisoners treated in private hospitals in the Michigan City area.

Lash labeled this as “false economy,” however, pointing out that “when you add the security factor, salaries of guards to transport the prisoners, expenses for meals and mileage, it would be cheaper to take the men to a local hospital and pay for the service.”

In the case of Lipps, Heynes said, he was treated first in the prison hospital, and then referred to a consulting physician in the hospital before the decision was made to bring him to Robert W. Long Hospital for tests on an electroencephalograph to determine if he was a victim of epilepsy.

The other six inmates were undergoing tests and treatment while Lipps and Hood were waiting about 9a.m. in Riley Hospital for Lipps’ 10a.m. appointment for examination.

Lipps, his wrists handcuffed together, told Hood he needed to visit the restroom.

Lipps was permitted to enter one restroom alone but immediately came back out and told Hood it was occupied.

Lipps pointed to another restroom. The two went outside and entered one of the compartments. Hood unlocked Lipps’ handcuffs, freeing one of his hands and waited outside.

Lipps later related that he knew in advance precisely where the knife was hidden and had gone in the first restroom to “establish a need” and then “fool” the guard.

He felt behind the water tank of the toilet, Lipps said, and found the knife that had been hidden there a year ago by another Michigan City inmate. Lipps said he had learned of the hidden weapon, and its exact location, through the prison “grapevine.”

Emerging from the compartment, Lipps thrust the knife at Hood’s throat and ordered him to “freeze.” The two struggled but Lipps succeeded in grabbing the guard’s .38 caliber snub-nosed revolver.

Lipps cocked the revolver and pulled the trigger while holding the hammer with his thumb. But during the struggle the gun went off, the bullet passing through the tab of Hood’s shoulder epaulet.

Lipps placed the gunpoint against Hood’s head and ordered him to remove the handcuffs or “I’ll blow you away.”

Lipps then marched Hood to the nearby parking lot and first entered a car occupied by Phillip Carpenter, 33, Muncie, and his two children.

The youngsters began crying and Hood argued with Lipps to take another car, urging, “Don’t hurt the kids.”

They stepped from the Carpenter vehicle and walked a short distance to commandeer another car driven by Billy J. May Jr., 52, Anderson.

After ordering May from his car, Lipps forced Hood to drive to 20th and Talbott streets where he told Hood he could leave. Lipps said he then drove to the 500 block of Alabama Street, abandoned the car, and walked to Monument Circle, stopping briefly at The Star Building en route.

At the Circle, he said, he hailed a cab and went to Fountain Square. There, he entered a store, spent $2 for a red shirt, and went to a tavern nearby and ordered a beer.

Lipps, it was learned later, left the prison with $6 which he had hoarded carefully over a period of several months. He told a reporter he had been plotting to “get even” with Johnson ever since his trial.

Lipps went back outside the tavern, according to his account, walked down Shelby Street to the 1300 block where he entered the outside telephone booth and started looking for Johnson’s address and telephone number in the telephone book.

Meanwhile, Kirkman, who knew Lipps personally, was cruising with Alfrey and spotted the escapee in the booth about 11:20a.m.

Kirkman tapped on the glass door with his revolver and ordered Lipps to surrender.

Lipps later said, “I thought about grabbing for my gun and going out in a blaze of glory but then I thought, no, I won’t commit suicide.”

In his interview with The Star, Lipps said his plans were to go to the Johnson home and hold Mrs. Johnson and the children captive until Johnson returned from work, and then bind his arms and legs.

“I wanted to shoot one of the kids, bang, bang, look back at Rick and say, ‘How do you like that? How do you like that? Ha, ha.’

“I’d shoot his old lady and say, ‘How do you like that, Rick?’”

Johnson, who has served on many stories as an investigative reporter, entered the Lipps case at Lipps’ own request while he was awaiting trial for the shoot-out at Damon’s Lounge.

Lipps asked Johnson first if he could arrange for Lipps’ wife to visit him in the cell.

Johnson replied he would see what he could do then asked, “What about the crime you are charged with?”

At this point, Johnson said, Lipps admitted his participation in the shooting and gave the reporter all the details of the incident.

As a result, the Marion County prosecutor called Johnson as a witness to tell the jury the story Lipps had recounted in jail.

As a result of yesterday’s escape, Lipps was charged with kidnapping, armed robbery and escape. He is scheduled to appear today in Municipal Court, Room 10.

“I know I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison now,” Lipps said. “When I get back to prison they’ll probably whip my head and I’ll get a year in the ‘hole.’ I’ve got no hope. I’ll die there.”

Warden Lash agreed that all Lipps’ privileges would be removed.
Lash also said he would recommend that no parole board ever grant Lipps clemency.


I have my father's notes and old newspaper clippings regarding Buford Lipps.

Lipps was a multiple-time loser crook, and a seriously bad dude. While in the Marion County Jail in 1966, Lipps somehow acquired saw blades, whiskey, and also fashioned some sort of handcuff key out of an ink pen refill cartridge.

Lipps was trying to use my father in an escape attempt. As soon as Dad learned Lipps had handcuff keys, the information was passed on to the proper authorities, a search was conducted, and the keys were found in Lipps' hip pocket.

For whatever reason, (probably a bullshit story told by Lipps himself), my father was accused of somehow helping Lipps get some of these items. It was a ridiculous accusation, of course, and my father was quickly cleared of any wrong-doing.

After my dad died, I found this old Christmas card amongst his personal effects. The card is from the sister of Buford Lipps! I find this terribly amusing! Apparently, so did my father!


I got a wild hair and decided to see if I could find the two Marion County Sheriff Detectives who nabbed Lipps in the phone booth way back in 1971.

I used the online white pages and did a search on their names...James R. Alfrey, and Robert Kirkman. I found two James R. Alfreys listed, and their ages were about right.

The first one I called wasn't the cop, but he knew of the one I was looking for, and had his phone number!

I called him, and he was one of the cops who arrested Lipps!

He said he remembered it like it was yesterday.

He was a cop from 1965 to 1984.

He says he is 67 years old, in great health, and owns a neighborhood bar on the near east side of Indianapolis.

Alfrey said his partner, Bob Kirkman, died in 2002, and that he was a good man.

Alfrey said he remembered my dad as a good and honest reporter who told the truth and was trusted by the "good" cops.

I thanked Alfrey for his actions, and told him how he and his partner changed the course of our family's history by capturing Lipps before he could commit his mass murder plan.

I told Alfrey of the children and families that my sisters and I had, and that none of it would have been possible if he hadn't done what he and his partner did.

He seemed genuinely touched and pleased by my phone call.

He said he has never gotten a call such as mine before.

He said he is at his pub most days, so I think some day soon I will pay him a visit, shake his hand, have a beer or dozen with him, take some pictures, and do some kind of story on him.

It should be cool.

I bet he would like to see pictures of our families too.

He'd get a kick out of that, I think.

He is a hero, in my book at least...

Just something interesting I thought I'd pass along...


Note from my mom regarding Lipps

September 22, 2008

"When Lipps went back to prison, we were promised if he ever got out we’d be told.

He was out for some time years later before your dad found out he was loose.

However nothing happened. Your dad was really mad because no one told us he was loose.

Lipps died and there was no investigation.

Natural causes they said..."


Letter I sent to James Alfrey

July 18, 2010

Dear Mr. Alfrey:

What a pleasure it was for me to speak to you over the phone recently regarding you and your partner’s capture of Buford Lipps in 1971.

It is an incident I have thought about many times over the years, and I recently thought it would be interesting to write about it and try to do some kind of update about the story.

I am a big history buff, and I believe history needs to be recorded for the benefit of future generations.

You, sir, helped changed the course of my family’s history. I, for one, will be eternally grateful.

As I said during our brief conversation, I would love to meet you face to face, shake your hand, and thank you personally for what you have done for me.

I would like to interview you in regards to your life before, during, and after the Lipps incident. I would like to know more about your partner, Robert Kirkman.

If possible, I would like to use photos of you and your partner during your service with the department in the story I want to write. I would copy those photos and return them to you promptly.

A little bit about me…

I was born in 1962 and raised in Speedway. I graduated from high school in 1981. In 1984 I enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. I served in Desert Storm, and was honorably discharged in 1992.

I married my wife in 1990. We recently celebrated our 20th anniversary. We have three children.

I am a truck driver by trade. My family has lived in Beech Grove for 16 years.

I have kept my nose clean and have tried to live an honorable life.

None of this would have been possible without you and your partner’s vigilant actions that fateful September day back in 1971.

My mother is in good health and still lives in the Speedway home I grew up in. She enjoys being surrounded by family, children, grand children, and now, a great grand child.

My oldest sister has been married forever, and has two daughters, ages 21 and 14.

My younger sister has been married a long time also, and has a young son aged 5. He is the cutest thing you ever saw.

My older brother is a perpetual bachelor. He has a good-paying job as a computer specialist, enjoys life, and is generous to a fault.

Again…none of this would have been possible without you and your partner’s vigilant actions that fateful September day back in 1971.

I would like to meet with you at your convenience.

If you feel uncomfortable with any of this, I understand, and I will not bother you any further.

Just know that I am a man who enjoys life, and appreciates what you and your partner did those many years ago.

If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to contact me.

It’s the least I could do…

Thanks again.


Paul A. Johnson


Mr. Alfrey did not reply to my letter.

Stayed tuned. When I get the chance, I will interview Mr. Alfrey if he will allow it.


  1. that's a cool story. maybe you aren't a total asshat after all?

  2. Your logic is flawed. Must be that quality Purdue edumacation...

    How does a story, the majority of which I didn't write, preclude me from being an asshat?

    Is it the fact that I avoided being murdered as a child of 8 years old?

    Please reconsider.

  3. because you were all cool and stuff all these years later to that old-timer who kept you from becoming humanskin rug in some dirtbags den.

    ....but you're right. you probably are still an asshat.

  4. You bet your ass I am! I guess I was feeling charitable and grateful the day I called the retired cop.


Feel free to comment away with your bad-ass selves.

Cursing and foul language is fine...even encouraged here. In fact, I think cussing is fucking wonderful.

Just remember...this is MY house, and I will not be insulted or maliciously messed with here.

Good-natured ribbing is cool, but if you and I don't have some kind of previous relationship, you had best mind your fucking manners or I will relegate you to the intardnets dustbin for being a cunt.

To know me is to love me.

Or something.