Beyond the Breakout
←Click here to go back to Part II: Purgatory in Plymouth
Charles Taylor’s internment in international limbo was a quarry-sized quandary for the commonwealth.
He’d been taken into custody by federal authorities, but was not charged with breaking any American laws. Instead, he faced an international indictment filed by the Liberian government. After extradition talks between Monrovia and Washington flamed out, Taylor found himself beached in an overcrowded South Shore house of correction.
“The feds didn’t know what to do with Taylor,” former Sheriff Peter Flynn told the Quincy Patriot Ledger decades later.
“They couldn’t ship him back to Liberia because he would have been shot the minute he was on the ground, creating a diplomatic problem. They left him at our jail for months. I think they were almost relieved when he escaped.”
Flynn’s successor, former Sheriff Peter Forman, told the press that authorities always suspected that Taylor was going to make a getaway.
“We know that the escape had been planned,” Forman told the Patriot Ledger in October 1997.
“We’re also told by a reliable source that a story of the planned escape was told to another law enforcement agency prior to the event.”
Twelve years later, Forman claimed he “didn’t recall making the remark.”
“I said that?” He backpedaled in an interview with the Patriot Ledger.
“I had had some conversations with people in the jail who were there at the time … that wasn’t to suggest that it was planned in cooperation with law enforcement.”
Charles Taylor had already evaded arrest attempts on two separate continents with considerable ease.
Marooned in the South Shore stockades, the mild-mannered maniac’s diplomatic predicament turned out to be a brief layover in purgatory en route to raising literal bloody hell overseas.
“He told me, ‘Tupee, I am here living like a fugitive and it is not fair to my children and my family that Doe will not let us return to Liberia,’” the warchief’s ex-wife told United Press International in 1990.
“[He said] ‘Whatever it takes, I will go back to Liberia.’ I guess that’s when he decided to lead the uprising. When Charles wants something, he will get it and nothing will stop him, not even his mother.”
As it turns out, Tupee Taylor was reportedly in on the jailbreak plot from the jump. She told the author of The Liberian Civil War that she “collected $4,000 as payment for two other prisoners, an American and a Cape Verdean-American, both from Massachusetts, who said that for a price they would take him along with them if they escaped.”
The alleged brains behind the breakout was a 22-year-old car thief from New Bedford named Thomas DeVoll. DeVoll took a shine to “Charley,” a soft-spoken and supportive fatherly figure.
The two spent hours together, boxing on the prison’s heavy bags and playing cards. He claimed he connected all the dots in the plot to smuggle his incarcerated mentor to freedom with “no help from government or prison officials,” according to American Warlord: A True Story.
He was a runner in the jailhouse, doling out ice cream sandwiches and cheeseburgers from the prison canteen cart, which gave him the chance to map out the blueprint of the breakout.
Then, he got his hands on some high-tempered hacksaw blades.
“Getting out of there is no different than planning a score,” DeVoll told his confidant.
Rec time on a Sunday night in the big house was reportedly business as usual at about 8:30 pm on Sept. 15, 1985.
Until the Liberian business wiz busted out.
After polishing off the last supper he’d ever suffer in that dungeon, Charles Taylor convinced a guard to leave his post and escort him to the rec hall.
“He said he wanted to play cards with a friend in the east wing,” then-Plymouth County Deputy Superintendent John V. Polio Jr. told the Providence Journal.
There, he teamed up with Anthony Rodriques of Fall River, Frederick P. O’Connor, and Carlos Guilbe of Brockton.
While on trial decades later, Taylor recalled sneaking through the lower-security area on their way to the laundry room, “where there were two other detainees standing there [who] were already out.”
“Those two guys and myself with the guard, this one guard, and I do not know and will not lie if he was operating with anybody else, but I believe that he had to be operating with somebody else.”
There was no time to make small talk about agencies and allegiances.
“I was taken out, we got to the window, these guys took a sheet, we tied it on the bar and a very short distance and we came down, got over the fence,” Taylor testified in the Hague decades later.
“A car with two men was waiting outside in a kind of secure car, a kind of government car. They had instructions to take me as far as New York, where I wanted to go.”
The dumbfounded deputies of Plymouth County had a long day ahead of them on Sept. 16, 1985.
They leashed up the hounds and set out on a fruitless manhunt around the prison facility, while futile patrol efforts drifted along Route 3 between Boston and Cape Cod before dawn.
“A piece of hacksaw blade believed used to cut through the window bar was found in the courtyard,” William Renny, chief deputy sheriff, told the Associated Press.
Former Sheriff Peter Flynn told the Patriot Ledger he was confident the cops would make short work of rounding up the local lunkheads. One of them was eventually busted hiding in a tree in a park in Brockton after he’d exhausted all his other options.
“But the fifth [Charles Taylor],” Flynn pondered to the Patriot Ledger. “I don’t know.”
Police sifted through a sleepy seaside Scituate neighborhood, and even caught up with a New Bedford woman who visited one of the prisoners hours before the breakout.
They all came up empty.
“He was just a very good inmate,” Flynn said.
“At the time, we held federal prisoners for 60, maybe 90 days. In the case of Mr. Taylor, if I recall, it was about a year and a half.”
Not long after, Flynn found himself at odds with the US Marshals, who were pursuing a potential organized crime syndicate which may have had a hand in smuggling Taylor out of the country.
“If he is underground in this country, I think we’ll see him again,” US Marshal James Roche told the Patriot Ledger in 1986.
“There’s speculation that he could be in a country bordering Liberia, planning a coup. If he is in one of those countries, rallying the troops together for a coup, then he is lost to us.”
After four days on the run with “Charlie,” Thomas DeVoll surrendered to police in Fall River. He told authorities Tupee Taylor and another woman picked up him, Taylor, and Anthony Rodriques at a prearranged spot on the nearby Jordan Hospital campus.
“I was happy he left,” Tupee told the United Press International from her home in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, five years after he vanished.
“I didn’t ask him how he did it.”
DeVoll said they pulled up to a motel in Staten Island. There, one of the women gave the two fugitives $300 for a room, and the caravan drove off into the night.
Back then, Flynn claimed the Marshal’s office informed him that Taylor “died mysteriously” not long after vanishing.
“We got a call from the Marshals asking me to withdraw the warrant,” Flynn told the Patriot Ledger.
“They said he’s dead. I said, ‘You send me the death certificate and I’ll withdraw the warrant.’”
The confirmation never came. Instead, years later the locals would read headlines about a familiar cunning convict becoming a head of state in Africa.
“The federal government wanted Taylor for violating immigration law by breaking out, but the charge was dropped and eventually he ended up in Liberia, where they wanted him anyway,” the supervisor of the Marshal’s Boston office warrant squad said in an attempted mea culpa.
“So it’s kind of like a Catch-22.”
The theory that the CIA may have aided Charles Taylor’s transatlantic escape from indefinite internment in a Massachusetts prison remains prominent, but is unconfirmed.
During a battlefield interview, Taylor said he “wouldn’t even be in the country today if it weren’t for the CIA. … My escape … I think they must have arranged that.”
In his testimony in the Netherlands decades later, the disgraced despot maintained his passport had been verified weeks in advance, but he had no idea who was pulling the strings.
“One night I was told that the gate to my cell wouldn’t be locked … that I could walk anywhere. I walked out of jail, down the steps out into America. Nobody stopped me. I came home to Liberia.”
Experts identified multiple powerful figures who could have had a hand in securing Taylor’s safe passage.
“Taylor’s skillful exploitation of a network of contacts built up since his early years in Massachusetts, in the corridors of power in Washington D.C., and through connections with revolutionary heads of state in North and West Africa, were a key element in his later ascent to military and political power in Liberia,” according to Charles Taylor and Liberia, Ambition and Atrocity in Africa’s Lone Star State.
Court documents show a Monrovian diplomat accompanied by Liberian militant Prince Johnson, a seditious NPFL acolyte who later double crossed Taylor, visited the disgruntled dissident in the Plymouth County House of Correction a few months prior to the breakout. It is alleged that the three revolutionaries plotted a breakout with Uncle Sam’s blessing.
Taylor figured the guard who set him free “had to be operating with someone else.”
After all, the escape came just days after Liberian Army General Thomas Quiwonkpa led a doomed coup attempt against President Samuel Doe.
Taylor claimed he was briefed on the CIA’s role in training Liberian insurgents, and later testified he was “one hundred percent positive” that the insurrectionists’ weapons “were paid for by the CIA.”
“I am told that General Quiwonkpa had a diplomatic relationship with the United States government, and with contacts he has at the level he had them at, he could have said ‘release Mr. Taylor.’”
Taylor later claimed there was “full cooperation between me [the NPFL] and Washington” throughout his campaign: “The NPFL at the time did provide information to the CIA and there was information from the CIA to us too.”
He specified: “There was exchange of information, mostly from between 1991-92.”
Taylor said the partnership continued after he emerged as a political victor in 1997: “Throughout my presidency, an agency of my government collaborated with the CIA. Every move we took, we consulted Washington first.”
Plymouth County officials, on the other hand, speculated that a guard acted alone in letting him go, scoffing at the supposed CIA link.
“I think that’s a lot of nonsense,” former jailhouse supervisor Brian Gillen told the Patriot Ledger in 2009.
“I suppose anything’s possible, but I don’t think so.”
Some officials even mocked the CIA hypothesis.
“In fairness to the folks here previously, that was probably one of the few successful CIA missions we know about,” a sheriff’s department spokesman told Wicked Local.
Defense attorney Ramsey Clark told Taylor’s biographer the former client “didn’t realize that the U.S. was getting him out. But that’s what it was. The CIA want deniability.”
He mimicked the government’s narrative: “Charles escaped from jail, came to Staten Island, then went to JFK airport and flew to Europe direct. Friends got him out.”
As for his own two cents, Clarke said, “I don’t think he escaped. I think he went to people who wanted him on that adventure. And the U.S. government couldn’t accuse Charles of escaping if they actually helped him.”