The stone walls, as gray as a winter's sky, are surrounded by a
parallel set of chain-link fences, each topped by coils of razor
wire. Missouri's maximum security prison at Potosi sends a clear
message: Once inside, forget about ever getting out.
The $56 million state-of-the-art facility opened six years ago
with the promise that Missouri's most dangerous criminals would
The experts were wrong.
On a foggy morning in November, Percy Cooksey, a rapist with a
history of mental illness, wrapped his body with magazines and duct
tape. He challenged the razor wire and became the first person to
State Sen. William "Lacy" Clay, D-St. Louis, said poor security
had contributed to Cooksey's escape. Clay is a member of the joint
committee on correctional institutions.
Cooksey "virtually walked out," Clay said. "He had to be let
out a door. Somebody had to open a door for him. There was lax
security. How did a stack of magazines go undetected?"
Prison officials have offered few details about Cooksey's
According to state legislators and police officers, Cooksey:
- Left his sleeping quarters and went out into the prison yard,
- Scaled the inner chain-link fence, passed through two
sophisticated motion detectors, undetected, and eluded the gaze of
a prison guard in a tower.
- Found a loose, ground-level section of the outer fence and
crawled under it, undetected.
Once outside, Cooksey found in the prison parking lot a pickup
with the key in the ignition. He drove to St. Louis. His
disappearance wasn't discovered for hours.
Captured In Memphis
There's disagreement on the number of hours that elapsed.
Prison officials say Cooksey was accounted for in a breakfast
head count at 6:30 a.m. and was discovered missing at a 10:45 a.m.
St. Louis police who tracked Cooksey down believe he arrived in
St. Louis about 5 a.m., meaning he would have escaped about 3:30
One police investigator said prison personnel last saw Cooksey
at 7 p.m. the night before his escape, when Cooksey went to the
infirmary for medication.
Cooksey, 42, was captured 10 days later at a bus station in
Cooksey, of St. Louis, was serving a sentence of life plus 65
years for rape and other charges. In February 1987 he invaded a
service at the Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church, 4114
Natural Bridge Avenue. Cooksey pulled out a small sword and claimed
he was Shaka Zulu, a legendary African warrior. He forced the
minister to disrobe and abducted a woman and raped her in a nearby