Run to Ground

Lynette Barnett swiped her ID card at the security gate. Then she swiped it again for the man four feet behind her. The blond prison guard at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, walked through the last check the way she did every day and strolled to the parking lot.

The control tower guard stopped the man behind her.

"I don't recognize you," the sentry said. She made him take off his black baseball cap and hand over his ID card. She looked up the name: Chad Mathews was on the prison employee list.

"You know who this guy is?" she asked the other guard working in the booth.

No, he said. But there are 500 employees at Crossroads, and about 100 people come and go during shift changes. He didn't know everybody.

The man had a uniform, an ID card and a face that matched the picture, so at 3:53 p.m. on October 29 he was buzzed through.

The prison's four o'clock count came up short that day. They counted again. Inmate number 514829, convicted murderer Terry Banks, was missing.

Love is what locked Terry behind bars, and love is what set him free -- at least for a seven-week chase that ended on a foggy December morning in Victoria County, Texas.

Terry's parents met in a bowling alley in Benton Harbor, Michigan. His dad was a 22-year-old doughnut baker, and his mother was an unemployed, 17-year-old high school dropout. They were young, and they were in love, but Charlie Banks was often in jail. Their son, Terry, was born, and they divorced two years later. Terry and his dad moved to Missouri to get away from the snow. Shortly after they moved, his dad landed in jail, again. Charlie Banks has a lengthy criminal history in Michigan, Missouri, Florida and Texas, which includes indecent exposure, aggravated assault, burglary with intent to rape, breaking and entering, larceny, DWI and a 1970 fugitive charge in the Houston area. When Charlie was in jail, Terry lived with his mother. His parents remarried when he was six, but then they divorced again and Terry lived with his dad.

Terry and Charlie went fishing, camping and hunting for deer, squirrel and rabbits. Terry was a good kid, Charlie says, and a pretty good shot. "I never whipped him, hardly." Terry collected stamps, hated vegetables and wanted to be a professional baseball or football player. He let those dreams die when he dropped out of high school; instead of playing ball, he worked as a janitor with his dad at the Kansas City Trade Mart.

The two moved to Miami to visit family for a couple of months in 1992 and then back to Joplin, Missouri, where Charlie's brother, Robert, lived. At 19, Terry met Sheena Eastburn in a bar in nearby Rocky Comfort. He fell for her and said he'd do whatever she wanted. She wanted her drug-dealing husband dead. On November 19, 1992, Terry and Matt Myers went to Tim Eastburn's house to rob and murder him. From outside, Terry fired the first shot. Inside the house, Matt fired another bullet into Tim's head to make sure he was dead.

"He killed for drugs, for money and for her," says Kurt Lipanovich, special agent in the St. Joseph, Missouri, office of the FBI.

Matt turned state's witness and got his charge lessened to second-degree murder and a 67-year sentence. Sheena and Terry were both convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

"He was raised up right," Charlie says. "He just fell in with the wrong girl."

In 1997 Terry was moved to Crossroads, a $53 million maximum-security prison opened that year, the first Missouri prison with an electric fence. "The Intimidator" is 4,100 feet long, with 20 times the voltage needed to kill someone. The American Civil Liberties Union argues that inmates trying to escape are sentenced to the death penalty.

In the four years prior to his escape, Terry had 14 conduct violations for "possession of intoxicating substances," "contraband" and being "out of bounds," says Tim Kniest, public information officer for the Missouri Department of Corrections. Terry, now 26, had a history of getting what he wanted and being where he shouldn't be.

Love is what led Lynette Johnnie Moots Barnett to Crossroads, too. The 27-year-old met her future husband, David Barnett, when she was 16 and working as a cashier at Esry's IGA (like a small Piggly Wiggly). Dave, five years older, worked in the produce department. Lynette was a quiet girl who didn't have much to say, remembers Irvin Esry. She drank a six-pack of Diet Pepsi a day, loved 90210 and named her Himalayan cat Putty-tat. She and Dave dated a year before their pink-and-powder-blue June wedding. Lynette's parents had married and divorced each other twice, and both her older sisters were divorced. Lynette wanted her marriage to last.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Wendy Grossman
Contact: Wendy Grossman