Allegany guard's flight with prisoner no surprise to those who knew her best

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CUMBERLAND -- Sandra Kay Beeman was 46, divorced, living in a mobile home with an adult son and daughter she fought with, working the graveyard shift on a job she didn't like as a guard at the Allegany County Jail and fighting a losing battle with bills.

She was down so low that Edgar Eugene Kerns, one of the most dangerous inmates in the jail, looked like up to her, her friends and co-workers said in interviews last week.

So they believe that she traded her worries for life on the run with Kerns, a man who had been charged with attempted murder and kidnapping his girlfriend and her daughter and who had led police on a two-state manhunt, a man who was one of only two inmates confined in the maximum-security area of the jail.

And when Mrs. Beeman left, on the August night when she is alleged to have helped Kerns, 29, escape from the jail, she left behind a broken-hearted inmate at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown, who claims Mrs. Beeman stood him up at the altar in a planned prison marriage ceremony four days earlier.

She also left behind hurt and confused friends and co-workers who knew she was unhappy but could not have imagined the depths of her despair.

"I was shocked when it all came out," said Gary C. Huffman, a co-worker at the jail who described himself as a close friend of Mrs. Beeman. "I thought I knew her very well.

"She was very unhappy with her home life," he said. "She had financial problems, and she didn't get along with her son and daughter. To me, it seemed like she had very low self-esteem.

"I think she was just looking for a way out."

Authorities say Mrs. Beeman, a guard at the Allegany County Jail for 10 years, helped Kerns and James Vernon Barnes, 35, escape at about 2:30 a.m. Aug. 29.

Kerns appeared in the jail control room that night, with his arm around Mrs. Beeman's neck. He was holding a sock with an object inside, threatening the only guard in the room, Michelle Puderbaugh, and trusty Donald Matthews.

Police first assumed Mrs. Beeman had been taken against her will. However, within hours they suspected Mrs. Beeman might be implicated, and, after she telephoned her daughter saying, "I'm fine, I'm with him," they concluded that she was a willing participant.

Barnes was captured four days later near his home in Hampshire County, W.Va. He had been brought to Allegany County from Virginia, where he was serving a 50-year sentence for rape and kidnapping, to face trial on kidnapping and sex offense charges from a 1988 incident in Cumberland.

Kerns and Mrs. Beeman remained at large until Oct. 18, when a couple managing a motel in Hamilton, Canada, saw their photos on the television program "Unsolved Mysteries" and recognized them as motel guests registered as Mr. and Mrs. Fred Smith.

The hotel managers, Nancy and Joseph Mitchell, called police, who arrived to discover that Kerns and Mrs. Beeman had gone. The fugitiveswere traced to another motel where they were arrested without incident, Hamilton authorities said.

They were deported by Canadian authorities on Oct. 26 and returned to Allegany County on Tuesday.

They left little doubt about the nature of their relationship when they kissed several times in front of reporters while being taken from the county sheriff's office to district court.

This public display of their jailhouse romance may have shocked some, but not Karen L. Mellott, a former co-worker and friend of Mrs. Beeman.

"I wasn't surprised by all this," she said. "I knew about relationships with other people. It's not just been one prisoner, you know."

Thomas E. Bowman, 33, said he is one of those prisoners. Now incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown, he claims he met Mrs. Beeman while he was held in the Allegany County Jail last year on a breaking and entering charge. They developed what he called a love affair, and after he was transferred last November to Hagerstown, she wrote to him regularly and visited him twice a week, "like clockwork," he said.

Bowman said he and Mrs. Beeman had planned to marry on Aug. 25. He had arranged for a minister, and she got his birth certificate for a marriage license and the wedding rings, he said. When she didn't show up, he tried calling her several times in vain. When he finally reached her, she spurned him, saying she wanted nothing to do with him, Bowman said.

Four days later, he heard she had fled with Kerns.

"I loved this woman," Bowman said last week in an interview at the prison, where he is serving time for breaking and entering. "This had been the first woman who stuck by me. She met me in jail and stuck with me. I still love her, that's the worst part about it."

Nancy Rouse, spokeswoman for MCI at Hagerstown, confirmed that Bowman had made arrangements for a marriage ceremony on Aug. 25.

Allegany County Undersheriff Gary Simpson said department officials believe Mrs. Beeman "did have some sort of ongoing relationship with Bowman, although we had no idea about it at the time." At one time, police believed Kerns might have been using Bowman's birth certificate for identification while on the run.

Craig Robertson, a detective in the sheriff's department, said there are no written rules against fraternization with inmates, but "a verbal policy does exist that you are not supposed to get involved with inmates."

Mrs. Mellott said she had urged Mrs. Beeman not to become involved with inmates. "We used to argue about the company she was keeping," Mrs. Mellott said. "I would tell her that there were other people out there than those in the prison system and the county jail."

But Mrs. Beeman ignored those pleas, Mrs. Mellott said, and sought happiness behind bars.

"Kay was a very unhappy person," she said. When Mrs. Mellott would see Mrs. Beeman shortly before the escape, Mrs. Beeman would say, " 'It won't be too much longer, then I'll be free.' I didn't know what she meant. Now I see it was her way out," Mrs. Mellott said.

Mrs. Mellott, Mr. Huffman and Mrs. Puderbaugh said Mrs. Beeman did not get along with her son, Eric, 24, and daughter, Leslie, 21, who lived in her mobile home in Frostburg. The Beemans have since lost their home, and the children live apart from each other in Allegany County. Neither would talk about their mother.

At her bond review hearing last week, Mrs. Beeman gave her address as that of Kerns' home, in Gerrardstown, W.Va. When asked by District Court Judge Paul Stakem if she had any ties to Maryland, she mentioned her children and two sisters. No relatives attended the hearing.

Bond was set at $500,000 each for Kerns and Mrs. Beeman.

She is charged with helping Kerns and Barnes escape, conspiracy to escape, delivering contraband -- two hacksaw blades -- for use in an escape, and conspiracy to deliver contraband. Kerns is charged with escape, assault and battery, receiving contraband, conspiracy to escape and conspiracy to receive contraband. Each could be sentenced to 30 years.

The attempted murder and kidnapping charges against Kerns were dropped because his girlfriend refused to testify, said Detective Robertson. Kerns was sentenced Friday to six years for forgery and eluding police, the crimes he was awaiting sentencing on at the time of the escape. He was taken back to the Allegany County Jail, but will be transported next week to the state prison system's reception, diagnostic and classification center in Baltimore for processing, Detective Robertson said.

Mrs. Beeman is being held in lieu of bail at the Garrett County Jail. She was kept in the Allegany County Jail for one night, then transferred to Garrett so that her former co-workers would not be put in an "uneasy" situation, Mr. Simpson said.

One of those co-workers was Mrs. Puderbaugh, the guard who locked herself in the jail's bathroom when confronted by Kerns and Mrs. Beeman in the control room on the night of the escape. She said Kerns indicated that he wanted to take her along as a hostage. Barnes had not yet appeared, and she didn't know what kind of weapon he had, if any.

"I felt I had to do something, I couldn't let this happen," she said of her decision to lock herself in the bathroom to avoid being taken hostage.

After Matthews, the inmate trusty who was also in the control

room, told her it was safe to come out, Mrs. Puderbaugh alerted police to the escape, and the search began.

Mrs. Puderbaugh, who described Mrs. Beeman as bitter toward the sheriff's department, said several of her actions that seemed unusual on the night of the escape now make sense.

Mrs. Beeman said at the time that her children had driven her to work, which was unusual and turned out not to be true, Mrs. Puderbaugh said. The fugitives used Mrs. Beeman's car to make their getaway, then abandoned it later.

Mrs. Beeman also volunteered several times to make more than her share of early rounds and asked Mr. Huffman to make the nightly run to a local convenience store, something she usually did herself, Mrs. Puderbaugh said.

And, Mrs. Puderbaugh recalled, she seemed happy.

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