Ohio gas station manager Jo Lynne Gates couldn't get over her shock yesterday after a trusted employee -- a man who had lived with her family, gone bike riding with her teen-age son and played with her 3-year-old daughter -- was identified as an escaped Maryland killer.
"He was the most courteous employee," said Mrs. Gates, who along with husband Frank manages the Reynoldsburg Sunoco station. "He was Mr. Cleanliness as far as cleaning the place. He was what you would call a super employee."
Federal authorities said the man Mr. and Mrs. Gates and half a dozen employees had known since February as "Ray" -- Edward Ray Ratliff -- is Harold Benjamin Dean, 40, who was serving life plus 105 years when he escaped from Maryland's Supermax prison 10 months ago.
Dean even told the couple that he was a killer -- not by gunfire after a daring holdup, but as a drunk driver who ran over a little girl and paid for that crime with five years in prison.
And it was all a lie.
Dean fessed up about that drunken driving case after the trusted gas station worker's startling arrest May 1 in Washington, Pa., on a charge of possessing stolen property.
It was part of his explanation for being caught in a truck borrowed without permission, and in possession of two guns that he said he wanted to sell back in Ohio, Mrs. Gates said last night.
Mrs. Gates said "Ray" Dean had asked two weeks ahead of time for two days off, and called from jail to explain his arrest when he did not return to work as scheduled:
"The reason he took the truck and went down there was several years ago, he was drinking and driving and ran over a little girl and killed her. Every year on her birthday, he goes down to visit her grave. He was on his way back to work when [the police] picked him up."
A month later, Mrs. Gates said, the man was given back his job because they believed his story.
He was, after all, a "super employee," she said -- and they could see why he didn't tell them before about his drunken driving and the five years he'd spent in prison for killing that little girl.
Informed that he could have told his friends and they would have taken him to visit the grave, "Ray" said "he didn't want to tell anyone about the little girl. He said, 'It's so hard to live with that I don't tell anybody.'
"I believed him. He was crying. He had me crying on the telephone."
Yesterday, an FBI agent called Mrs. Gates over to the car where "Ray" was sitting.
"This is what he told me: 'I'm sorry if I caused you any problems.' When I started asking questions, they made me leave."