By Mike Frassinelli
The New Jersey Star-Ledger
HARTLY, Del. — He was an obese Houdini, a corpulent escape artist who confounded cops for years.
A seven-time subject of the popular crime-fighting show "America's Most Wanted," he had the body of Ralph Kramden to go with the nimbleness of Ed Norton.
Officials still marvel at how a nearly 300-pound Scott Alan Hornick fit through a 20-inch hole to escape from the Warren County jail in 2001.
Or how he eluded police by jumping from the second floor of an extended stay hotel in Burlington County, without breaking so much as a fingernail.
Or how he made bail on burglary charges in Passaic County by assuming the identity of a man who had no prior record.
Or how he allegedly fenced goods in between thrill-seeking visits to amusement parks such as Disney World and Busch Gardens.
"You've got to hand it to him — he was a very determined and desperate guy," said Warden Byron Foster of the Warren County jail, among a long list of law enforcement officials who cheered the arrest over the weekend of Hornick in the state of Delaware.
Hornick nearly wriggled away once more, making bail in Hartly, Del., before fingerprints from an FBI database revealed his true identity and prompted police to take him into custody for a second time on Friday.
Hornick, 35, originally from Raritan Township, was jailed in Delaware on charges of third-degree assault, offensive touching, violating a no-contact order, and providing false identification.
Those are added to a list of charges from New Jersey and Maryland, including escape, obstruction, burglary and probation violation.
"With his criminal behavior apparently up and down the Eastern Seaboard, I'm just relieved that he's off the street and can't continue to victimize people," Warren County Warden Foster said. "He's just been a parasite on society."
In Warren County, Hornick was jailed for a parole violation in a bad-check case. A detainer was put on him to face charges from his 2001 escape. "We're just waiting in line," said Prosecutor Thomas S. Ferguson.
"America's Most Wanted" has featured Hornick seven times on its program since the jail escape and plans to make his capture its lead story at 9 tomorrow night on Fox.
Peter Gillespie, a Morris County native who is producing tomorrow's Hornick segment, found it amazing that such a huge man could be so elusive and could even fit his head through the 20-inch hole at the Warren County jail.
Instead of a Public Enemy Number One who committed hard crimes, Gillespie said, "He's more like Public Nuisance Number One."
Authorities believe that in August 2001, Hornick and a fellow inmate, who was later captured, opened a hatch at the Warren County jail, one of the top-rated lockups in New Jersey, and worked their way through a vent.
From there, they broke open a roof drainage pipe, piled up chairs and tables to climb through a 20-inch-wide hole that led to the roof, then scaled a fence before fleeing into a nearby getaway car.
How did such a large man get through such a small hole?
"Desperate people," Foster said, "can accomplish things through desperate acts."
At other points, authorities said, Hornick made bail by giving a false identity after an attempted burglary at a Circuit City in Wayne in 2002, and jumped from the second floor of a hotel in Mount Laurel.
Despite the big guy's nimbleness, Gillespie said, an ironic thing happens at the end of tomorrow's "America's Most Wanted" segment.
"In the end, during the grab shot, he trips and falls and you're like, 'Wow, this guy's supposed to be so agile?'
Copyright 2007 The New Jersey Star-Ledger
Police nab elusive 'Public Nuisance Number One'