16-year U.S. fugitive tells of escape



Convicted robber Clifford Laframboise says it was frustration at continually being denied parole that drove him to flee a South Dakota prison and eventually make his way back to Manitoba, where he then lived quietly for 16 years.

The RCMP recently arrested Laframboise, now 42, on the strength of a U.S. extradition warrant after police tracked him to the Jackhead First Nation about 300 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Since then, news of his arrest has made international headlines.

South Dakota justice officials have long wanted him found so he can finish the remainder of an 18-year sentence he was handed in 1988 for multiple counts of robbery. He escaped a Sioux Falls prison on Dec. 26, 1994.

At the time of his arrest, he was considered one of that state's most wanted fugitives.

If he's sent back, he'll have to serve at least 7½ years more behind bars before being eligible for release. He also faces additional prison time if convicted on charges related to the escape.

But in a Winnipeg jailhouse interview with CBC News on Thursday, Laframboise said he's going to do what he can to fight to stay in Canada. He said he'd battle extradition mainly for the benefit of remaining close to the six children he's fathered since his return in 1995.

"I’m Canadian," he said. "This is where I was born. I don't wanna go back. Now that I have something here, I don't want it taken away."
Stole $20 from church office

Laframboise said he lived in Rapid City, S.D., as a boy after being placed into a series of foster homes, eventually being adopted by a family of Mormons.

It was the era of the so-called "Sixties Scoop," where many Canadian aboriginal children were taken from their home communities and adopted by white families.

The family that adopted him was troubled by physical and alcohol abuse, he said, so he turned to petty theft and break-ins to pay for hotel rooms to stay in.

"It was all right for a little while, but when I got older, I wasn’t doing good in school," Laframboise said. "I got hit. I started running away, I got kicked out of the house and told to leave."

At age 20, he pleaded guilty to two robberies — one in which he took a ring from a man's home, and another in which he stole about $20 from the office of a Rapid City church.

For those crimes, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

By 1994, Laframboise said he had cleaned up his act and applied for parole. After being rejected for the fifth time, Laframboise ran away from the minimum-security facility where he was being held.
'Just walked out the door'

But his escape was very much the opposite of a daring prison break, Laframboise suggests.

"I just walked out the door," he said. "It's not like you see in the movies — that big breakout type thing. … "I just got mad and left — went under the bridge, hit the train tracks and I just ran as far as I could," he said.

His flight from justice saw him hitchhike and tramp on train boxcars to the southern U.S., where he was tossed in jail overnight during a stint in New Orleans, he said.

After moving along from Louisiana to Dallas, he decided it was time to try to head home to Manitoba. Hitching rides got him to the Canadian border and he crossed at Emerson, Man.

He said he was allowed into the country by border guards despite having no identification. He then hitchhiked to Winnipeg, where he was reunited with some family members after contacting local child-welfare workers, he said.

After learning he was from Jackhead First Nation, he moved there, living under the name Clifford Thomas.

Over the years, he earned a driver's licence and worked on the reserve, first as a night watchman and later as a driver for the community's medical van. He took a common-law wife and celebrated the births of his five sons and one daughter.

The only person he ever told about being wanted and on the run was his partner, Laframboise said, and only after about a year of dating her, he said.

The thought that he could be caught and returned to prison was never far from his mind, but he's adamant he didn't live in fear of being caught.

"I always had in back of [my] mind somewhere, 'Maybe someday — what are they gonna do to you?,'" he said.
'I should have told them'

Laframboise gets emotional and his voice cracks when asked if he feels he's been living a lie and about how he suspects people in his home community feel, now that the truth of his past is out in the open.

"In a way, I haven't been honest with the people down there, on the reserve [about] what I did," he said, his voice cracking.

"In a way, I'm glad … people know, I guess," he said. "I guess I'd just tell them I'm sorry ... just for lying, not being honest, I guess. Maybe I should have told them."

Next week, Laframboise faces a bail hearing as the judicial portion of his extradition process begins. He's also facing several sex-related charges laid against him by the RCMP in November.

He told CBC News he is not guilty of those charges and will contest them in court.