Larry Porter Chism (1948–)
Larry Chism is an Arkansas criminal, convicted felon, and longtime fugitive. In 1978, he escaped from a Lonoke County jail and has never been apprehended. He was placed on the U.S. Marshals’ and FBI’s Wanted List, and in 1990, he was featured on the television show Unsolved Mysteries, generating national exposure that led him to flee again. He is considered armed and dangerous, but his whereabouts have remained unknown since 1990.
Larry Porter Chism was born in Forrest City (St. Francis County) on December 19, 1948, to Millard Harry Chism Jr. and Frances Louise Porter Chism. Both were from Arkansas. Chism’s maternal grandfather was John Rosamond “Jack” Porter, the mayor of Forrest City for a decade.
Chism graduated from Forrest City High School. His yearbook lists him as a member of the glee club, choir, Latin club, and motorcycle club, and notes that he ran track. Wearing thick glasses, Chism was reportedly a bookish-looking and intelligent student.
After high school, Chism enrolled in Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) and eventually had plans to be a lawyer. In August 1968, he married Elizabeth Wertz, a native of Forrest City. At the time, they were living in West Memphis (Crittenden County) while Chism was attending school.
In 1970, Chism was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam in a combat role. He was awarded two medals for his service. In 1972, he returned to the United States and resumed his studies at Memphis State.
Chism apparently began to commit serious crimes after he returned from Vietnam. His criminal record would eventually include drug trafficking, armed robbery, and kidnapping. Ironically, he was weeks away from finishing his law degree when he was first arrested in 1974 for operating a drug smuggling business. Authorities discovered that Chism was employing other students to transport drugs into Mexico. He ultimately was arrested for armed robbery and distributing heroin. In July 1974, he was convicted and sentenced to forty years in prison in Tennessee.
For a time, Chism was a model prisoner. He had a rapport with inmates and guards and was often a mediator between the two. He even wrote for the prison newspaper. But in the late summer of 1978, Chism made his first successful escape from prison. On September 13, he and other inmates were allowed supervised time out of prison at a bowling alley in Dickson, Tennessee, roughly forty miles west of Nashville. At one point, Chism and other inmates went to the bathroom. A friend on the outside had left a package containing weapons for Chism in the bowling alley. When a suspecting prison guard followed the inmates into the lavatory to check on them, Chism leveled a shotgun at him.
A shootout ensued. Chism wounded a guard—though he did not kill him—and Chism himself was shot in the hand. To facilitate their escape, Chism and three other inmates held a bowling alley employee hostage until they were outside, then stole a car and drove with the hostage to a nearby municipal airport. Their hostage was released, but Chism and his gang hijacked a plane and its pilot and ordered the man to fly them to Arkansas.
Because it was not prepared for the flight, the plane encountered problems in the air. As a result, the pilot had to make an emergency landing in Marianna (Lee County) on a dirt road. A local man drove to the plane to assist the passengers, but he had his truck stolen by Chism.
Chism’s gang soon broke up, with Chism and another inmate traveling to Kentucky. The other two were captured by authorities not long after the plane landed in Arkansas. Apparently on the way to Texas, Chism was apprehended near Calico Rock (Izard County), just a few days after escaping from the bowling alley. Once again, Chism had stolen a truck and held the owner hostage. Police pursued Chism, who crashed the truck after a shootout that wounded him.
Chism was booked and jailed in Lonoke County. In September 1978, he was indicted on additional charges stemming from his escape and pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced in November, and the judge added thirty more years to the twenty-nine-year-old’s already long sentence.
The Lonoke County jail where he was held was poorly secured. With the help of three inmates—two of whom had assisted him during his first escape from the bowling alley—he used a wrench to break through an air conditioning vent, making his way into a room for holding weapons. Now armed, Chism stole a guard’s vehicle and made his escape. The three men who helped Chism break out of jail were apprehended, but Chism was never recaptured.
Chism’s trail went cold after a few months. He was reported to have robbed a bank in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he made off with $250,000 in cash without using a weapon or harming anyone. He ended up in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he lived with various women and worked manual labor jobs. In late 1979, he had a bad fall at a construction site and was in the hospital for weeks.
After his stay in the hospital, Chism moved to Mobile, Alabama. There, he was involved with a woman named Linda Hicks. Hicks fled with Chism out of state, but, missing her children, she soon returned home. Eventually, she talked to authorities, but her information did not help them catch Chism. The last time she saw him was in Mississippi. On the lam, Chism donated blood to earn extra money, and he reportedly gathered information to make fake identifications by calling the parents of deceased children.
It took ten years for authorities to find Chism again. This time, he was in Charlotte, North Carolina. By then, he was living under the name of Kenneth Lamar Brookins. He had married a woman named Deborah, who had also taken the last name Brookins. Chism and his wife were living a modest life in Charlotte. They were active campers and were involved in their church. They were well known to their pastor, though details of their home life were sketchy and they did not let people know exactly where they lived. The family may have included children at the time.
On January 3, 1990, Chism was featured on an episode of the popular TV series Unsolved Mysteries. Chism himself saw the broadcast live. Fearing recapture, he left town with his family in a van, leaving a last paycheck unclaimed at his job. In December of that year, Chism was spotted in Atlanta, Georgia, where he had sold his van to a coworker. The man, however, did not register the vehicle for a year. By then, Chism had disappeared. The last confirmed sighting of him was on December 4, 1990.
Television programs continue to cover the Chism story. In March 2021, Chism was portrayed by Pittsburgh actor Nick Pasqual on an episode of the reboot of America’s Most Wanted. Given how long Chism has been missing, though, it is possible he has died. It is also possible he is still living the life of a fugitive under an assumed name, perhaps in another country and with his family.
For additional information:
“Authorities Doubt Couple’s Phone Call.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, September 15, 1978, p. 48.
“‘Dangerous Prisoners Who Fled Jail in Fall Escape a Second Time.” New York Times, December 23, 1978. Online at https://www.nytimes.com/1978/12/23/archives/dangerous-prisoners-who-fled-jail-in-fall-escape-a-second-time.html (accessed January 26, 2023).
“Fox 53 Insider: Pittsburgh Actor Portraying Fugitive in ‘America’s Most Wanted’ Episode.” Fox53, March 18, 2021. https://wpgh53.com/news/fox-53-insider/fox-53-insider-pittsburgh-actor-featured-in-americas-most-wanted-episode (accessed January 26, 2023).
“Larry Chism.” Unresolved, August 18, 2019. https://unresolved.me/larry-chism (accessed January 26, 2023).
Lerner, Jamie. “Larry Chism Is the Longest-Lasting Fugitive Ever, and We Still Don’t Know Where He Is.” Distractify, March 22, 2021. https://www.distractify.com/p/what-happened-to-larry-chism (accessed January 26, 2023).
Colin Edward Woodward
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