Day 49/ Apr 16th – Lexington, KY to Versailles, KY: The fugitive

We saw the police car from half a mile away, sitting on the central island between streams of race-going traffic on the highway outside Lexington.  We’d been warned by other transcontinental walkers that American police were very fond of pulling walkers over (to the extent that someone on foot can actually be pulled over) and, on slow days, taking them in for a spot of light questioning.  But thus far we’ve found them to be uniformly agreeable, and always to be relied upon for a beep, a smile and a cheery wave when they drive by us or, more often, when we walk past them dozing in a concealed roadside speed-trap.

This policeman did none of those things.  When we drew level with him, he leaned out of his window and shouted across to us, but the wind and the traffic drowned out his words.  He tried shouting a few more times and then gave up, gestured for us to wait where we were, and drove onto the highway to turn around and pull alongside us.  We rooted out our passports and prepared our meekest what-seems-to-be-the-problem-officer smiles.

“How’re y’all doing today?” he began.

“Very well, thanks.”  We explained what we were doing hiking along Route 60.

“Well, that sounds great.  I just wanted to tell y’all to be careful.  We got a escaped fugitive at large in this area.  Got loose yesterday during a prison transfer.”

“Really?  What does he look like?”

The officer paused to tap on the laptop mounted above his gearstick.

“He’s abaht five foot seven,” he said.  We waited for more, but evidently this was deemed sufficient description for our purposes.  “He dismembered a guhl,” he added nonchalantly.  “Anyway.  I jus’ wanted to tell y’all.  Y’all be careful, now,” he said, and pulled away into the traffic.

We heard about little except Derek Capozzi, the fugitive, from every shopkeeper, motel owner, waitress and local TV anchor for the next two days.  He had been a small-time Boston mafia henchman and member of a drug-dealing gang, and had graduated to the big-time when he cut up the body of Aislin Silva, a 19-year-old girl who had been murdered for agreeing to testify against the gang.  He was convicted in 2005, and given the kind of sentence that the British right can only fantasise about – not even being eligible for parole until 2046.  Despite being shackled and handcuffed, he managed to kick open the door of a van transporting him between prisons.  Everyone had a theory about how he had escaped – was it an inside job? – and where he was now – surely back in Boston being hidden by his gang?

Derek Capozzi mugshot

Derek Capozzi: Probably not someone to bring home to mother

We walked on in a rather more alert mood, looking anxiously out into the fields and woods by the side of the highway lest they should contain a small, highly dangerous man attempting to conceal himself.  The highway was thick with traffic headed for Keeneland for today’s racing,  and with Capozzi getting wall-to-wall coverage on local radio, we got even more scrutiny than usual from passing drivers.  Police cars screamed up and down the highway – as they went by, I tried in vain to look taller than five foot seven – and helicopters buzzed overhead.  At our motel, the young Indian proprietor was in a state of high excitement about the escape.

“It happened directly here!  Just down this road!  By my motel!” he exclaimed.  “I have had police here today, asking me questions.  It is possible federal officers will come to investigate,” he continued.  “They might stay here.”

Courthouse and church in Versailles, Kentucky

The courthouse and church in downtown Versailles

Versailles, as its name suggests, was founded by a Frenchman, Major Marquis de la Calmes, a hero of the Revolutionary War to whom a small statue stands at the edge of town.  Almost as an embodiment of the steady fading of the entente between France and the United States, the town is now known to its inhabitants as ‘Ver-sayles’.  William Shatner owns a horse farm nearby, and his photograph had pride of place on the wall in Debbie’s Diner, just off Versailles’s handsome Main Street.  On the fridge in the diner’s kitchen was a small magnet of the actual Versailles, which made us both feel unaccountably melancholy.

Back in the office of our motel was a curious fat plastic cylinder, about eight inches long, with a handle in its side.  You turned the handle and the name of an American city appeared in a thin rectangular window on the cylinder, with its distance in miles from Versailles in a second window alongside it.  Unable to resist, I rolled the wheel to ‘San Francisco’ and checked the mileage box.  It read ‘2438’.  I felt suddenly very, very tired.

Interstate mileage counter

2,438 miles to go: We probably didn't need to see this

The following evening, the local news announced that Capozzi had been recaptured.  Far from being spirited away to Boston by accomplices, he had spent three days and two cold nights skulking in the woods in Versailles before being recaptured by two local men hunting for him with a baseball bat.  According to police reports, he was cold, hungry, “spent”, and “wanted to take a nap”.  We considered the prospect of two-and-a-half thousand more miles to walk, and knew just how he felt.

Derek Capozzi arrested in Kentucky

Capozzi: After three days of fun, thirty-six more years in prison


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