Eizember found plenty of places to hide

Friday, November 28th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

They had used bloodhounds and helicopters, bright lights and bulldozers. Yet, the scrubby northeastern Oklahoma woods gave them only rabbits -- not the suspected murderer they sought.

They looked under rocks, into holes, up in trees. They made a perimeter and armed it.

But in five weeks of searching, Scott James Eizember left law officers only a shadow of himself, an imprint of his body on a creek bank to tell them how close they'd come before he'd given them the slip.

"We know without a doubt he saw us," said Creek County Chief Deputy Michael O'Keefe. "He was taking evasive moves at every turn."

The frustration of failing to catch Eizember in one of the Oklahoma's largest manhunts is tempered with relief.

Law officers had feared another killing. Instead, the 42-year-old is recovering from his own gunshot wounds. He was moved from a hospital to a jail cell Thursday in Lufkin, Texas, after being shot Nov. 23 by an Arkansas doctor he allegedly abducted.

"I am just ecstatic that he's in custody and we didn't have another homicide," said Tulsa County Sheriff's Capt. Tim Albin, who led a team in the manhunt outside of Bristow. "That was my big fear all along in leaving that area, that he was going to commit another homicide."

Still, law officers are anxious to learn how Eizember eluded their trap, which at one time included 300 people combing the woods almost shoulder-to-shoulder.

The search began Oct. 18, the day 16-year-old Tyler Montgomery crashed his pickup truck near a Depew football field.

The teen had been shot at his grandmother's home and fled for help -- with the gunman riding in the pickup bed firing more shots through the back window.

Investigators found his grandmother, Carla Wright, beaten. Her elderly neighbors, A.J. and Patsy Cantrell had been killed in their home.

Authorities believed Eizember killed the Cantrells and then used their home to wait for the return of Wright's daughter, Eizember's former girlfriend, to her parent's home.

It's unclear exactly how long Eizember was within the law's perimeter. Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers are convinced they spotted him with night imaging devices, said Lt. Brandon Kopepasah.

"We felt he was in the perimeter most of the time," he said. "We just don't know when he got out or how he got out."

O'Keefe said searchers found holes where Eizember, a practiced survivalist, had built campfires. The imprint on the creek bank apparently was left when the suspect threw himself against it to hide.

"There's just a thousand places to hide," O'Keefe said.

Texas authorities say Eizember told them he watched the manhunt at one point from a field of straw. He later returned to Depew and hid in a building that houses a church food bank.

On Nov. 19, 74-year-old food bank volunteer Doyce Pitre noticed some cans of orange juice had been emptied and then put back on the shelf. She thought some kids had been up to no good.

Last Sunday, she returned, stepped inside and saw a man standing by a closet with a gun.

"He looked," she said, "and I booked."

Pitre broke a bone in her ankle as she fled, screaming "Help! Help! Help!" She left her keys in the door. Authorities found the man gone, along with Pitre's car.

Later in the day in Arkansas, Dr. Samuel Peebles and his wife, Suzanne, thought they were helping a stranded motorist when they picked up Eizember. He pulled a gun and ordered them to drive.

When Eizember allowed them to stop along a rural East Texas road for a restroom break, Peebles reached under the car seat for his wife's handgun.

At least three of the nine shots he fired hit Eizember.

"We're thankful the doctor had a firearm in the vehicle and was able to defend himself," O'Keefe said.

Oklahoma law officers would have liked to have captured Eizember after so many days spent searching for him, Kopepasah said. But they believe the search alone and the attention it received may have held him in place, preventing more tragedy.

For the people in Depew and the law officers long haunted by Eizember's shadows, his capture has restored shattered nerves.

"I think everybody had been living in fear," Pitre said. "I know I was. Nobody had felt peace."