It was an alert cabbie who facilitated the capture of heavily pursued fugitives George and Jennifer Hyatte, suspected in the murder of a Tennessee corrections officer during an 8/9 escape. Not a band of highly trained investigators. Not a pack of K-9s. Not a fleet of police helicopters. It was a “regular guy” whose everyday contact with two criminals led to the information police needed to get suspected killers behind bars.
In an upcoming installment of PoliceOne Columnist Chuck Remsberg’s special series on cultivating and maintaining confidential informants, CI expert Pat McCarthy discusses in detail the value of looking to the “invisible army on the street” to provide information that would otherwise be difficult to surface. The “army” he refers to are the law-abiding citizens who come in close contact with criminals in the course of their legitimate business duties without drawing attention to themselves. They appear harmless, like part of the landscape, and their invisibility lends itself to having criminals feel comfortable talking in front of them. These are people like maintenance workers, delivery people, local business owners, utility personnel and yes, cab drivers.
McCarthy believes that one of the most effective ways officers of all ranks can help solve crimes is by tapping into the wellspring of insider information flowing through the streets. You do that, he says, by proactively develop relationships with the legit (or at least semi-legit) people who may overhear criminals discussing their crimes, see evidence of crimes in areas police officers couldn’t easily access or even witness crimes in progress.
Get out there and distribute your card to cabbies and other service people. Shake hands, tell them you’re interested in hearing from them anytime they think they might have a bead on criminal activity. McCarthy believes that the majority of people are interested in stopping criminals but they feel powerless to do so. If you let them know that you’re available 24/7 to confidentially listen to their tips and that you’re sincerely interested in hearing what they have to say, you’re empowering them and yourself.
(above) Food the couple was eating when they were found
(above)Inside the hotel room where the Hyattes were found hiding late Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio (AP)
(above) Outside of the hotel the Hyattes were found in late Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio (AP)
By TERRY KINNEY Associated Press Writer
NEWPORT, Ky. - The cabbie who picked up the couple suspected in a deadly courthouse escape in Tennessee said Thursday he did not buy their story that they needed to get to Ohio for an Amway convention.
A tip from cabdriver Mike Wagers led police to George and Jennifer Hyatte, who were arrested without a struggle Wednesday night at a budget motel in Columbus, Ohio, authorities said.
Wagers said the pair told him they were headed to an Amway convention and that he became suspicious because they didn't act like Amway representatives.
"Amway people are all about Amway, and when they didn't try any conversation further about it, that's when I pretty much thought, 'Well, they're not with Amway; they're doing something else.'"
But, he told reporters, "they gave me no cause for suspicion other than the Amway thing didn't really stick."
Wagers said he drove the Hyattes about 115 miles from Erlanger, Ky., to Columbus, and dropped them off at a budget motel. The fare was $185 and the couple handed him two $100 bills at the start of the trip, he said.
"In the cab business, technically that might've been a little bit light on the tip but when you're getting a $185 cash trip, when they only throw in another $15, you're not going to think anything bad. You're going to say you appreciate it and you're going to go on your way," Wagers said.
Jennifer Hyatte is accused of ambushing two prison guards Tuesday as they were leading her husband — a convicted robber — from a hearing in Kingston, Tenn., fatally shooting one before the couple sped away, authorities said.
Wagers said he did not realize during the trip that Jennifer Hyatte had been shot in the leg by one of the guards.
He said she favored one side when she got out of the cab, and told him she had hurt herself in a car accident in northern Kentucky. She had colored her hair black from light brown.
Motel manager Kundan Desai said Wagers checked the couple in around lunchtime, paying cash for a three-night stay in a room that runs $52.99 a night.
Wagers said he didn't make the connection with the killing until he returned to Kentucky and a friend told him the fugitive couple's van had been found near where he had picked up his passengers.
"I was at home relaxing, playing video games, when I heard I might be the one," he said.
The Hyattes were arrested at the America's Best Value Inn in Columbus after at least 25 officers surrounded their room, ending a more than 300-mile manhunt, authorities said.
When police finally tracked the couple down at the motel, Deputy U.S. Marshal Nikki Ralston called their second-floor room and told them they were surrounded.
"A female answered the phone," Ralston said. "And I said, 'Hey, Jennifer.' She said, 'Yes,' and I knew it was her."
"I said you need to get George, both of you need to exit the hotel room and follow the directions of the officers who will be to your immediate right," Ralston said.
Motel guest Robin Penn, who was watching from across the parking lot, said Jennifer Hyatte was limping as she left the room with her hands up.
John Bolen, a supervisor for the U.S. Marshals Service in Columbus, said Jennifer Hyatte was concerned for her husband and asked officers not to hurt him.
"She was hollering in to him, 'Baby, baby, it'll be OK! It'll be OK!'" Bolen said.
George Hyatte then came out with his shirt pulled over his head, walked backward toward the stairwell, got on his knees and was handcuffed, Penn said.
"They really didn't show any emotion at all," Penn said.
Inside the couple's motel room, cans of Mountain Dew and Hawaiian Punch littered the nightstand, and bags of takeout food wrappers were on a desk. One of the two mattresses was pushed halfway off the box spring.
Authorities said they also recovered weapons.
George Hyatte was taken to the Franklin County jail, said John Bolen, a supervisor for the U.S. Marshals Service in Columbus. Jennifer Hyatte was treated for the bullet wound to the leg, then taken to the jail early Thursday, police said.
The couple was expected to be brought back to Tennessee on warrants for first-degree murder in the death of Wayne "Cotton" Morgan, 56, authorities said.
Earlier Wednesday, outside a motel in Erlanger, authorities had tracked down a van the couple was believed to have used. The couple was gone, but authorities knew then that they were getting close.
Blood had been found in the motel room, and an employee at a nearby restaurant told federal agents she had given directions that day to a couple she later recognized as the fugitives.
George Hyatte, 34, had been in court to plead guilty to a robbery charge before the escape Tuesday. He was two years into a 35-year sentence for robbery and assault.
The escape was at least the fifth time he had gotten away from law enforcement officials between 1990 and 2002.
Jennifer Hyatte, 31, met her husband as a prison nurse and was fired last year for sneaking food to him. A few months later, she got permission from the warden to marry Hyatte, who has a long and violent criminal record.
Her ex-husband, Eli Gourdin, told the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City that he last spoke with her Monday when she told him she was excited because George was going to be released.
"We don't know George, we can't judge George ...," Gourdin's current wife, Katie, told the paper. "We only know what Jennifer's told us. She's very much in love with him."
Eli Gourdin said Jennifer Hyatte had custody of their three children, the oldest of whom is 12. The children have been staying with him for the summer, he said.
Associated Press writers Nick Juliano in Columbus, Ohio; Lisa Cornwell in Erlanger, Ky.; and Duncan Mansfield in Kingston, Tenn., contributed to this report.