The search for escaped inmates Milton Wallace and Arnold Nash officially ended mid-afternoon Aug. 5, 1981.

A large squad of police officers, wardens, deputies and prison guards, including 18 K9 teams, had combed a triangular area of dense woods where these men were thought to be hiding. But the all-out effort had been unsuccessful.

Upon returning home, I enjoyed a warm shower and was ready to eat a hot meal when I unexpectedly found myself rushing to Morrill to once again hook up with Trooper Hayden and Skipper.

It was around 5 p.m. and, as the old cliché goes, it was raining like cats and dogs. I dreaded running another track in such horrible conditions with my pal, Dennis and his faithful mutt, but duty called and this sounded like a hot lead.

One that couldn’t wait.

The Butlers, upon returning to their Higgins Hill Road home in Morrill a little after 4:30 in the afternoon, discovered that someone had been inside their house. Food was cooking on the stove and cigarettes were burning in the ashtrays. Articles of wet clothing had been left behind by the culprits.

When the Butlers pulled into the yard, the intruders fled through a side door and ran to the woods.

I met with Trooper Dick Reitchel, Capt. Lamontagne, Waldo County Chief Deputy John Rainfrette and several other officers in the Butlers’ dooryard. Trooper Hayden and Skipper arrived soon after as Trooper Reitchel interviewed the visibly shaken owners of the small rural home.

Much to the obvious disgruntlement of my pal, Dennis, Capt. Lamontagne asked him whether the agency might be better off using Maine State Prison bloodhounds to track the men, instead of utilizing his K9, Skipper.

Apparently, Capt. Lamontagne wasn’t convinced the German shepherd was capable of tracking in the downpour.

“We’re ready to go right now, Cap, just give us a chance,” Dennis begged. “We’ll bring ’em back, I guarantee you,” Dennis assured his commanding officer.

Reluctantly, the captain agreed.

Skipper was primed and anxious to get started. Dennis rubbed the clothing left behind in the dog’s face, giving him a good scent to follow. All the while, he continued cranking him up, “Go get ’em boy! Get the bad guy, Skip – go get ’em boy!”

On a dead run, within minutes we were deep in the woods behind the rural residence.

We followed a narrow woods-road covered with low-hanging branches. As the rain steadily pelted us, it was as if we were standing in a shower at home.

Skipper was hot on the trail, and he excitedly pulled and tugged the leash, demanding that we step up the pace to keep up with him.

I had an uneasy feeling as we hiked along behind the dog, especially with all the branches concealing the view ahead. The mere presence of the low-hanging limbs was reminiscent of a few days earlier when Trooper McLellan and I suddenly found ourselves ambushed.

Dennis kept saying, “Good boy, Skip! Good boy! Go get the bad guys, Skipper, get ’em boy,” as he encouraged the dog to run even faster.

The men had more than an hour’s head start on us, giving them the advantage to seek shelter and hide from authorities.

I feared the heavy rain might cause Skipper to lose the scent, but he seemed to be staying right on track as he kept his nose close to the ground and pulled hard on the leash his master held.

It seemed as if every five minutes someone at the command post radioed to check our progress. This constant distraction was a nuisance as we desperately tried keeping our eyed peeled for another possible ambush.

In frustration, I turned off the radio so we could concentrate and not find ourselves in the midst of another ambush while communicating with those at the command post.

We’d traveled a little more than a mile along the tote road when, to our left, we came upon a large bog. The trail led us across an open meadow toward a small island in the middle of the swamp.

As we hiked across the meadow, we were completely exposed to anyone who might be watching. I cautiously scanned the small wooded island a few hundred yards ahead, hoping we hadn’t been detected. It was eerily quiet as we floundered through knee-high bushes and wet grass, heading for the dry land ahead.

“I bet they’re on that island, so we want to be ready, John Boy,” Dennis said as Skipper tugged harder at the leash, signaling us to move even faster than we already were.

Personally, I felt more secure out in the open than I did poking through the thick bushes covering the narrow tote road. Dennis, on the other hand, thought that if they were watching us from afar, we were sitting ducks. We raced toward the tree-covered island a few hundred yards ahead.

Skipper remained glued to the track like a hungry mosquito hooked to a bloody vein. As we made our way to the island, Dennis suddenly made a hand signal that we were getting close. He knew by the way Skipper was acting we were about to have a confrontation.

At that moment, to our right, we both noticed a raincoat draped over low-hanging branches. Obviously, it was a makeshift shelter. Skipper turned and started pouncing in that direction.

There were no signs of movement. Dennis and I separated a few feet so as not to be caught side by side, like had happened a few days earlier with Ben.

We cautiously approached the campsite. Dennis pointed in the direction just as one of the men peeked out from behind the trees and looked our way. The escapee started reaching toward the ground, for what I assumed to be a firearm. Dennis and I rushed at them with our weapons drawn, screaming at the top of our lungs for them to place their hands high in the air where we could see them.

We were a few feet away from the makeshift campsite. Dennis had his service weapon firmly secured in his hand, while I aimed my loaded shotgun at Mr. Wallace’s head.

The man on the lam continued moving toward the ground, obviously reaching for something.

I screamed, “If you don’t stand to hell up right now and raise your hands toward the heavens, you’re going to find your *$**% #brains scattered all over the bushes behind you!”

It was perfectly clear we meant business. This time we felt as though we had the upper hand. I could hear Dennis making similar demands, as he rapidly approached from the opposite side.

Skipper was ready to attack as we rushed in to subdue the escapees. The adrenaline was pumping in our veins like a broken fire hose spewing water everywhere.

We ordered the men on their stomachs and placed their arms in front of them. We secured their weapons and placed handcuffs around their wrists. There were a few tense moments before we were sure things were totally under our control.

Dennis shouted, “You shot this dog’s buddy. I ought to give him a piece of your hide for doing that,” he screamed as he held an agitated Skipper a short distance from the terrified prisoner’s head.

Skipper obviously wanted a piece of them both as he lunged at them with his teeth gnashing.

After a few highly excited conversations between us — certainly not worthy of printing here — it was perfectly clear to these men that, if there was any resistance from either of them, the K9, who had so successfully accomplished his mission, would turn them in to bloodied slabs of hamburg in a matter of seconds.

I radioed back to the command post of our success. “We’ve got them! We’ve got them,” I shouted.

“Where are you? Where are you,” a highly excited and relieved Capt. Lamontagne responded.

As best I could, I explained the shortest route to our location.

We were told to keep the men secured. Capt. Lamontagne and Warden Lt. John Crabtree were headed our way to help transport the escapees back to the command post in the Butlers’ driveway.

Several items at the campsite needed to be inventoried, documented and collected as evidence. Many of these items eventually were returned to their rightful owners, including some very personal items that belonged to the homeowners who had just been burglarized.

Within what seemed like record time, a highly excited Maine State Police captain and a proud warden lieutenant bounded across the open meadow racing our way.

It appeared as though these two commanders were competing to see who could get to the scene first. Not being prejudiced by any means, but the warden lieutenant was the first to arrive.

I vividly recall my buddy Dennis proudly shouting to his boss, “What do you think of your damn old bloodhounds now, captain?”

He had every right to make such a statement. Skipper had superbly performed his duties. Without him, these men might still be on the run.

Finally, the stressful situation of the previous few days had peacefully concluded.

Milton Wallace and Arnold Nash were whisked back to the Maine State Prison where they belonged. In their own words: “We were glad the ordeal was finally over.”

I accompanied Trooper Reitchel with transporting Wallace to the facility. We were greeted by an obviously happy Prison Warden Paul Vestal. “Welcome home, gentlemen,” he deviously smirked as we led the prisoners behind the prison walls.

They’d obviously blown any chance of getting an early release as far as Warden Vestal was concerned.

Wallace had been convicted of sexually molesting and brutally murdering a 5-year-old Freeport boy in 1972. He was sentenced to life in prison but, strangely, he was eligible for release in 1983. Nash, his companion, was serving a two-year sentence for burglary and was eligible for early release in June 1982. Both men had simply walked away from the minimum security unit in Warren at approximately 2:45 p.m. July 15, 1981, while on a work detail.

Soaked to the skin from running through the rain, I seemed to be operating on sheer adrenaline. The safe conclusion was a blessing for all involved, especially community members who had been living in fear.

The next morning, I received a congratulatory call from Trooper McLellan. He was relieved to know Ben would survive his ordeal, although his chances of ever performing law enforcement tasks were remote, at best.

Ben and Skipper had done their jobs well. Without them, it’s hard to say how and when this incident might have ended. The K9 program had recently been implemented by the Maine State Police and other state law enforcement agencies and these dogs had proven their value.

The five-day Moody Mountain Manhunt, the largest of its kind in our state, provided yet another exciting memory to be recorded in my diaries.

As I finally pulled in to my driveway later that night, I recalled the article involving the two Idaho Game Wardens, Conley Elms and Bill Pogue, who, unfortunately, hadn’t been so lucky.

A person never knows what the future has in store – and that’s a good thing, I reckon.

While some folks may regard these memories as my own personal tribute, I assure you it was a joint effort of law enforcement’s finest.

Without a doubt, all officers involved in this massive undertaking had their own memories, and they probably could write far more interesting happenings. Each of them played a vital role in keeping the public safe. I was proud to have been part of such a great team.

John Ford Sr. is a retired game warden, Waldo County Sheriff and Chief Deputy. The wildlife artist and award-winning columnist lives in Brooks with his wife, Judy. He may be reached at jonnylaw@fairpoint.net.