All that stood between Robert Stackowitz and freedom was a paper shredder.
The septuagenarian fugitive who had allegedly been on the lam for half a century may have gotten away with escaping life on a Georgia chain gang were it not for a deputy warden doing spring cleaning.
“We actually had a little aid in getting him,” Otis Wilson, Carroll County Correctional Institution’s deputy warden, told The Daily Beast. “I was contacted by the Georgia Department of Corrections that they know where [Stackowitz] is and asked me if we had the file. It just so happens I had begun to purge some files and told my secretary, ‘Let’s keep some of them.’”
The paper save was clutch.
“I was about to throw them all away except all two,” Wilson added. “It just seems like destiny that he would come back here and face these charges.
For most of the few thousand that call the tiny hamlet of Sherman, Connecticut home the man they knew for decades wasn’t a thug.
“We’ve known him as Bob Gordon,” longtime family friend Jonathan Orosz told The Daily Beast. “He was a great mechanic, always going to car shows and stuff.”
But the man Orosz and his friends knew around town as a kind of boat savant and seaman through and through may have been living a 50-year lie.
U.S. Marshals along with Connecticut State Troopers swarmed a home located on Route 39 South early Monday morning and took the 71-year-old man they believe isn’t Bob Gordon but fugitive Robert Stackowitz who has been lamming it in New England after escaping from his chain gang work detail in Carroll County, Georgia back in April 1968.
When he was once again wearing bracelets Stackowitz didn’t hesitate to acknowledge his real identity.
“He was taken without incident and he admitted who he was,” U.S. Marshals Supervisory Inspector Tony Schilling said.
“I’m still kind of baffled by this,” the 29-year-old Orosz who works in agriculture and known the man for 20 years added. “He was a very trustworthy person and I would never think for a minute that he would be dishonest or anything like that.”
“Bob” managed to shed his Southern drawl that he had acquired back when he had been brought down.
Stackowitz had only served two years of his 17-year sentence for the felony of robbery by force, according to the warrant for his rearrest. The convicted thief had become ill while out on a work detail beyond prison walls and after checking into the infirmary he gave the guards the slip.
“It was a walkoff,” Carroll County Deputy Warden Otis Wilson said. “Back then inmates weren’t separated by security as they are now. They had chain gangs and an officer on a horse carrying a shotgun, and the guys that were in high level security inmates were mixed in with county inmates.”
Nowadays harder felons are serving in separate institutions than their lower offending crooks.
“Bob” wasn’t very chatty about his past.
“I had no idea he came from Georgia,” the stunned friend said.
These days “Bob” was homebound and dealing with health afflictions.
“Six months ago his health took a turn for the worse,” Orosz said, noting he’d last been in touch with the alleged fugitive a month ago and that he needed help around the house.
“He wasn’t able to be active anymore,” Orosz said.
The cold case is the second cracked by the Georgia Department of Corrections’ fugitive apprehension unit. Last August, Marshals netted jail breaking armed robber Willie Lee Austin who vanished on Dec. 27, 1981.
To bring Stackowitz back to custody, investigators started on the case five months ago and “they realized he was located in Connecticut,” said GDC spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan.
They had acquired a Connecticut driver’s license with the name “Robert Gordon” and cross-referenced it with images they had on the wanted man’s mugshot.
Stackowitz is awaiting extradition to Georgia where he will might have to start learning to draw boats given the authorities there are ready for his return.
Having their man in custody is symbolic.
“This is one of the oldest ones I can remember,” Schilling said.
But he believes the catch proves that the dogs of justice are unrelenting.
“If we have an active warrant we aren’t going to forget about you,” he said.
Deputy Warden Wilson concurred.
“The old adage ‘You can’t escape the long [arm] of the law’ holds true,” he said. “I certainly believe this capture will let anyone who has the intention of escaping to realize it is not the answer.”
And when he is extradited back Wilson believes the law should take into consideration the nature of the crime.
“Even if this gentleman has poor health or is up in age the crime occurred and he was convicted of it and there were victims,” he said. “There were also people who didn’t see justice served and probably passed away already.”
The fact that he dies on Georgia’s terms remains the silver lining here.
“What the system decides to do with him is up to the system but at least justice is served with him coming back into the system,” Wilson said. “No matter if it’s 100 years in a nursing home the law will get you and this will put fear in anybody who might think they don’t have to face it.”