Hunt for missing Ala. inmate, officer stirs memories of cop-killer's 1998 escape

Sheriff Rick Singleton said he is exploring the possibility of a romantic relationship between the inmate-officer pair that went missing last week


By Carol Robinson
al.com

LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Ala. — A north Alabama sheriff said there’s “no question” an assistant director of corrections at the Lauderdale County Jail assisted in the escape of capital murder suspect Casey Cole White and said a warrant has now been issued for her arrest.

Jail supervisor Vicky White is charged with permitting/aiding in escape. That is a felony a charge.

Mario Centobie escaped jail in 1998 where he was being held on suspicion of killing a police officer. Corrections officer Donna Marie Hawkins pleaded guilty to aiding his escape, and love letters between the two were later discovered.
Mario Centobie escaped jail in 1998 where he was being held on suspicion of killing a police officer. Corrections officer Donna Marie Hawkins pleaded guilty to aiding his escape, and love letters between the two were later discovered. (Carol Robinson)

Vicky White and Casey White, no relation, have been missing since Friday.

Vicky White, who had been in corrections for 17 years and had turned in her retirement papers the day before the pair disappeared, told jail employees to prepare Casey White for transport to the county courthouse for a mental health evaluation. Sheriff Rick Singleton said no such court appearance was scheduled.

The two never arrived at the courthouse, which is located in downtown Florence, about a half mile from the county jail. Vicky White’s abandoned patrol car was found two hours later.

Friday was to be Vicky White’s last day at the jail. The sheriff said she had sold her house one month ago.

He said he is exploring the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two. “Absolutely,’’ he said, adding that no relationship has been confirmed.

If it is proven that Vicky White willingly helped Casey White escape – and was not coerced to do so – it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened in Alabama.

In 2000, Etowah County jail corrections officer Donna Marie Hawkins pleaded guilty to permitting/aiding in the escape of Mario Centobie, who was later executed in the slaying of Moody police Officer Keith Turner.

Centobie was a Mississippi firefighter and rescue diver hailed as a hero after Mobile’s 1993 Amtrak derailment that killed 47 people.

In 1995, Centobie was convicted in Mississippi of kidnapping his ex-wife and child and sentenced to 40 years in prison. On June 25, 1998, he and Jeremy Granberry, 19, overpowered guards and stole a marked police car and a handgun.

The two fled and were stopped by Tuscaloosa Police Capt. Cecil Lancaster. Lancaster was shot twice but returned fire as they tried to run him down. Lancaster survived.

The fugitives stole another car and about 40 hours after nearly murdering Lancaster the two were pulled over by Moody Police Officer Keith Turner. Centobie shot Turner three times — once in the back of his head.

Three months after Centobie and Granberry were captured, Centobie escaped from the Etowah County Jail after enlisting the help of a Hawkins.

He was recaptured in Atlanta nearly two weeks later.

Hawkins, then 44, and Centobie apparently formed a jailhouse relationship, according to letters written to her while he was on the run for nearly two weeks. The letters, which police said led them to Centobie’s recapture in Atlanta, expressed love and concern for her after he slipped out of town.

Calling her “sweetheart,” one letter said he “desperately” missed her and vowed love. The letters were signed, “Love, Jack.” One letter says it was written from a library after that first sleepless night.

“I imagine you haven’t been to sleep yet either and worse I figure you are being grilled. God knows I miss you. I’m worried about you. I’m so worried I am aching inside. I need you, my Darling. I love you very much. I’m staying outside with a few new friends, but I’m miserable.”

Police say Hawkins opened doors and let him walk out through the visitation area after dark Oct. 8, 1998. He was discovered missing early the next morning, after jailers found a dummy in his bunk decked out with Centobie’s own clipped hair.

Hawkins was questioned and arrested that night. In 2000, she pleaded guilty to the felony charge. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison with 18 months to serve.

Centobie, then 39, was executed by lethal injection in April 2005. He had been on Alabama’s Death Row for almost six years and rejected all appeals.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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