Escapee Search Turns To Md. Area Norman Johnston Had Been Seen Near The Town Of Fair Hill, Sitting On A Guardrail, Police Said.

Posted: August 09, 1999

FAIR HILL, Md. — Police were scouring an area near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border yesterday after two women saw a man resembling a photograph of escaped murderer Norman Johnston that they had just seen in a local newspaper.

The women, who were at a fruit stand, called 911 shortly after 12:30 p.m., but the man, who had been sitting on a guardrail at the intersection of Routes 273 and 213, apparently saw them making the call. By the time police arrived 10 minutes later, Johnston was gone.

Police from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware immediately began an intensive search, using helicopters and tracking dogs. One of the dogs identified Johnston's scent.

As has been the case since he escaped last Monday from a maximum security prison in west-central Pennsylvania, this latest sighting occurred in the mostly rural countryside that characterizes Chester and Lancaster Counties in Pennsylvania and nearby sections of Maryland and Delaware.

It's the area in which the members of the notorious Johnston gang used to operate and live, and in which Norman Johnston still has relatives and friends.

Police said yesterday that they had traced the call Johnston was making Friday night when he was spotted - and nearly caught - at a pay phone in a Chester County park. Police said the call was to a relative whom they would not identify.

"He has been in touch with a number of family members in this area," Pennsylvania State Police Capt. Henry Oleyniczak said late yesterday afternoon. "He has a lot of friends."

One Fair Hill resident, who said she was too frightened to give her name, said Johnston's mother and sister lived in Childs, Md., eight miles northwest of Fair Hill.

Oleyniczak said that when Johnston was spotted yesterday, he might have been waiting for someone to pick him up.

Oleyniczak also said Johnston "may try to get a gun in one of the homes" near which he has been seen.

Police are urging motorists not to pick up hitchhikers and area residents to keep their house and car doors locked.

Residents and visitors to this community were puzzled and alarmed by thepolice activity yesterday.

Sitting in a van parked at an antiques store near where Johnston had been seen, an Oxford, Pa., couple worried about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I'm afraid he's going to take somebody hostage,"said Lisa Bernardo. Indicating some youngsters in the back seat, Bernardo said: "I have children; what's it to him if he takes someone hostage? He's just going back to jail anyway. He's got nothing to lose."

Johnston, serving life sentences for the murders of four gang members to keep them from testifying, escaped from Huntingdon Prison - about 200 miles, or five hours by car, from Chester County.

He was nearly captured on the weekend after he was spotted Friday night in Nottingham County Park. But although he was at one point physically in the grasp of a park ranger, he escaped.

Johnston, who turns 49 today, reportedly was spotted again Saturday night outside an apartment complex in East Nottingham, where he dumped the car and was believed to be trying to enter an apartment.

But he disappeared into surrounding cornfields.

The saga of the Johnston gang, a multimillion-dollar burglary ring that became murderous when some of its own members began cooperating with investigators, inspired the Sean Penn movie At Close Range.

Fair Hill, too, has been in the movies, when Oprah Winfrey filmed Beloved here.

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