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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Rachel Sharp

From employee of the year to fugitive: Unanswered questions Vicky White takes to the grave

Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office/AP/Getty

This week, Vicky White should have been cheered on by her colleagues in a fun ceremony where she would have been awarded Lauderdale County’s Corrections Employee of the Year for the fifth time.

Instead, the 56-year-old will be laid to rest by her parents and other family members in a small service in a cemetery in Lexington, Alabama – her reputation now in tatters.

Her spectacular downfall and death marks the tragic end of a 10-day manhunt that both captured the attention of the nation and shocked those closest to her.

From the day that she vanished with a man accused of stabbing a mother-of-two to death for money and convicted of a terrifying rampage where he tried to murder his ex-girlfriend, her family, friends and coworkers have struggled to reconcile her actions with the woman they thought they knew.

The question on everyone’s minds: why would a model employee who was seen as a mother figure to her colleagues risk her life and career to break a suspected killer free from prison and go on the run with him armed with a stash of weapons?

“I guess the ‘why would she throw her life away?’ is the question we’ll never have answered,” Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly told The Independent on Thursday about the woman he had worked closely with for the last 17 years.

It’s one of many unanswered questions that Ms White has now taken to the grave as – in a tragic twist of fate – she died before she could tell her side of the story while her convict lover escaped unscathed.

After 10 days on the run, law enforcement officials had finally tracked down Ms White and her jailhouse lover Casey Cole White to a motel in Evansville, Indiana, on Monday.

The couple, who are believed to have been in a secret relationship for the last two years, jumped into what was their fourth getaway vehicle and led police on a brief chase before an officer rammed their car into a ditch.

As officers approached the vehicle, a single gunshot rang out from inside.

The coroner said Ms White died by suicide from a single self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

When asked if he was surprised that she chose to end her life, DA Connolly said “yes and no”.

He told The Independent that he thinks she perhaps couldn’t face the thought that she would be prosecuted by the very same people that just two weeks earlier were her close colleagues.

“She knew she was caught,” he said.

“I don’t know about her being able to stomach coming back and facing all of us.

“As even though I’d always respected her, I’d have done my job which would have been to send her to prison for what she did.”

Employee of the year

It was back in 2006 when Ms White first fell into a job in local law enforcement.

Having spent her whole life in the close-knit community of Lauderdale County, she had never planned to embark on such a career.

But when a job came up, her family said she went for it and began working at Lauderdale County Jail.

For the next 17 years, she rose up the ranks to become assistant director for the Lauderdale County Detention Center.

DA Connolly, who became the district attorney in 2005, said he started working with Ms White as soon as she started at the jail and would interact with her several times a week.

Vicky White’s Employee of the Year awards are proudly displayed at her mother’s home (WAAY31)

He painted a picture of a quiet but popular and committed employee.

“She was a solid employee,” he said.

“She wasn’t a big talker but she was professional in her job and did it well. That’s why she was so well respected and trusted.”

In the early days of the manhunt, Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton had also given a similar description of Ms White, calling her an “exemplary employee”.

He voiced disbelief that Ms White could have run off with the inmate of her own accord saying it would be “so out of character” for the person he knew.

Her popularity at work was evidenced in her taking home the “employee of the year” award five times over the last eight years, an annual award where colleagues nominate and vote for their peers.

The most recent win came not long before she went on the run, with the award ceremony supposed to take place this week.

The event has now been put on hold.

The last four awards were proudly on display inside the home of Ms White’s mother Pat Davis during an interview with local station WAAY31 in early May where she had begged her fugitive daughter to come home.

It was this stellar reputation and the trust she had gained from her colleagues that Ms White appears to have used to her advantage when she embarked on the shock prison break.

Surveillance footage of Vicky White helping Casey Cole White leave the jail on 29 April (Lauderdale County Sheriff's Depa)

As second-in-command at the jail, the sheriff said that she exploited her position to break policy which had required that White must be escorted by at least two guards at all times.

The requirement was a sign of the seriousness of the charges he was facing – capital murder – and was already convicted of, attempted murder, and the fact that he had attempted a prior prison escape back in 2020.

But, the sheriff said that her reputation and seniority meant that Ms White knew that no one would question her motives.

Detailed escape plan

Ms White made up a court appointment for her lover as a reason to whisk him off in her patrol car and told her coworkers that she would be late returning from the courthouse because she was going to seek medical care as she felt unwell.

In reality, there was no appointment. There was also no plan to get medical attention.

What there was, it seems, was a detailed, long thought-out escape plan that had been in the works for some time.

Just five weeks earlier, Ms White made a quick sale of her home, selling it for $95,550, less than half its market value of $235,600.

She withdrew $90,000 in cash from the sale and used some of it to buy a 2007 Ford Edge – the couple’s first getaway car.

She also stocked up on firearms, buying an AR-15 rifle and a shotgun to add to her 9mm service weapon and a .45-caliber pistol she already owned, according to US Marshals.

Preparations also included a visit to a local Kohl’s store to buy men’s clothing for White to change into from his prison garb and a visit to sex shop. At some point, it seems she got her hands on a selection of wigs to wear as disguises.

Ms White positioned the getaway car at a shopping centre parking lot close to the jail for the couple to change into after abandoning her patrol car, and she stayed at a hotel close by the night before.

Back at her place of work, she also appeared to be putting preparations in place for some time.

Two law enforcement sources told the Associated Press that she had staged a dry run of the prison break, taking White from the prison for 40 minutes sometime prior to the real deal.

Vicky White is seen on surveillance footage at a hotel on the morning of 29 April close to where her patrol car was abandoned (Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office)

Then, the day before the prison break, she submitted her retirement papers.

The sheriff said she had been talking about retiring for the last three or four months, claiming that she wanted to move to the beach.

Yet, her mother knew nothing about her daughter’s retirement plans.

Day and night

Ms White rarely spoke to her about work and she had never even heard her mention the man she would risk her life for, Ms Davis told WAAY31 near the start of the manhunt.

Her daughter had moved in with her after selling her home and they had enjoyed a routine where Ms White would go to work at the jail in the day and they would have dinner together in the evenings.

The day her daughter went on the run began just like any other normal day, she said.

The mother and daughter spoke on the phone that morning, when Ms White called her asking about her dog that had been sick.

Nothing at all seemed amiss.

When Ms Davis then texted her daughter that afternoon to say she would be cooking them supper, she said she never got a reply.

Ms Davis never spoke to her daughter again.

Like her coworkers, her mother said that it was out of character for her daughter to do something like this.

“This is just not her. This is like a total day and night,” she said.

The whole tightknit community was also in disbelief, she said.

“She’s been a part of this community her whole life. Everybody that knew Vicky has been coming by, and they’re worried about her,” she said.

“The people that know her all these years, they still can’t ... they think it’s something else.”

Images shared by officials during the search of how Vicky White would look with dark and shorter hair. The fugitive’s car was found with several wigs (US Marshals Service)

‘I can’t understand it’

Frances White told The Independent on Thursday that she had known Ms White almost all of her life, back when she went by the name of Vicky Sue Davis.

Ms White then went on to marry Frances’ son Tommy White and the two women grew very close.

“She was a really nice person. She didn’t talk about nobody,” Frances recalled.

“She was really helpful to everyone.”

The couple, who didn’t have any children, divorced after around five years in 2006 due to Tommy’s issues with alcohol and drug addiction.

Frances said she couldn’t fault Ms White for ending the relationship saying that she “had a hard time” with her son.

Even after the divorce, the 88-year-old said she stayed close to her former daughter-in-law.

Ms White and her ex-husband also remained friends right up until his death at the age of 62 after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

“They stayed friends after the divorce and would talk to each other on the telephone until he couldn’t talk anymore because of the Parkinson’s,” she said.

Tommy, Ms White’s only husband, died in January.

It was just three months after his death that she helped her jailhouse lover escape.

According to Sheriff Singleton, the corrections officer and the inmate had been in a romantic relationship for the last two years.

Frances said that, if her son was still alive, he would not have believed her capable of doing something like this.

“He wouldn’t have thought she would do anything like this,” she said.

Bodycam footage captures moment officers pull Vicky White from the wrecked car (Evansville Police Department )

The 88-year-old was also in disbelief that the “really nice” woman she had known for such a long time could do what she did.

“I can’t understand why she did this or why she killed herself,” she said.

“This just makes you sick. I can’t understand why she did this.”

DA Connolly said he is also “at a loss” as to explaining what could have led Ms White to make the choices that she did.

“I just don’t know. I’m at a loss to know why she did it,” he said.

“The whole thing is shocking from beginning to end.”

However, based on what he knew of her, he said he doesn’t believe she would have been easily manipulated by the inmate.

“I wouldn’t think she could be manipulated,” he said.

“But obviously I didn’t know her as well as I thought I did.”

No long-term plan?

Despite the extensive planning that went into the initial escape, Ms White’s close colleague said he was shocked to discover that there appears to have been little in the way of any long-term plan for the couple.

“It’s a little surprising to me that she didn’t have any long-term plan about what they were going to do after they got out,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem like there was any long-term plan.”

After 10 days on the run and a headstart on law enforcement, he said it was “shocking” to find them just four hours away from Florence, Alabama, in Evansville, Indiana.

The couple had spent most of their time on the run at a motel in the town where they had paid a homeless man to check them in for a 14-night stay back on 3 May.

Vanderburgh County Sheriff told reporters after their arrest that the Whites were “just trying to find a place to hide out and lay low”.

“They thought [they] had driven long enough that they wanted to stop for a while, get their bearings straight and then figure out their next place to travel,” he said.

Room 150 of the Motel 41 in Evansville where the fugitives where ‘laying low’ (AP)

The couple appeared to have already burned through most of their cash, with the remaining $29,000 of the $90,00 found inside the couple’s car.

After using some of the money to buy the Ford Edge before the prison escape, the couple abandoned the vehicle in rural Tennessee just hours later.

There, they used cash to buy a Ford F-150 pickup truck from a local man and drove to Evansville, where they switched cars for a third and final time into the Cadillac that was later involved in the police chase.

After his arrest, White told officers the couple planned to have a shootout with law enforcement.

Yet, Ms White’s final words appear to tell a different story.

A chilling 911 call was placed from inside the fugitives’ car to police in the midst of the chase.

In it, the 56-year-old expresses fears that the airbags will go off “and kill us” and suggests “let’s get out and run”.

Seconds later, she had suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head.

Facing years in prison

Had she survived, Ms White would have been arrested and sent back to the community she had grown up in to be prosecuted by the people she used to call her colleagues and friends.

While on the run, she had been charged with permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree, second-degree forgery and identity theft.

If convicted, she was facing years in prison.

Her jailhouse lover has been charged with escape in the first degree and was back behind bars at a maximum security prison in Alabama on Wednesday.

DA Connolly said White could face further charges over the prison break and did not rule out the possibility that he could be charged in connection to Ms White’s death.

The 38-year-old convict is already serving a 75-year sentence for a crime spree where he shot one woman, tried to murder his ex-girlfriend, killed a dog and held several victims at gunpoint.

He is also due to stand trial in June for the 2015 capital murder of 58-year-old Connie Ridgeway – a crime he has already confessed to.

While it seems White didn’t have much to loose by attempting his prison break, Ms White did.

Escaped inmate Casey White arriving at the Lauderdale County Courthouse in Florence, Alabama, on Tuesday night after the death of his lover (AP)

Stages of grief

Now, her colleagues, family and all who knew her have been left reeling by the revelations about her apparent double life.

DA Connolly said the community was going through “stages of grief” in response to the events of the last fortnight.

“I liken it to the stages of grief,” he said.

“Disbelief at what was happening, then on through anger and disappointment and all of those things.

“And now that she’s dead, we’re all mourning”.

Despite his shock over Ms White’s alleged crimes, the district attorney said that he plans to go to her funeral on Saturday to pay his respects to the woman he spoke to most days for the last 17 years.

He said he imagines that many of her former colleagues will want to do the same.

What could have led a “really nice” woman and model employee to give up her career, her freedom and – in the end – her life to help an alleged murderer escape has left many lost for words.

But DA Connolly said the community’s response to her tragic death can be summed up in two: “Profound sadness.”

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