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Murderer's arrest ends fugitive life as Chicago poet

Convict escaped from Mass. in '85

In Chicago, he is one of the city's most beloved antiwar poets, an author of two books and a congregation leader at a West Side church. But in Massachusetts, he is notorious for executing a clerk at a Saugus clothing store in 1960, aiding in the murder of a Middlesex County jailer in 1961, and then escaping from a Norfolk County correction center in 1985.

Yesterday, his past and Massachusetts authorities caught up with Norman A. Porter Jr.

Now 65, the man on the ''Most Wanted" list has been living in Chicago for at least a decade as Jacob Jameson. As J.J. Jameson, he has been a frequent performer at Chicago lounges and was named Chicagopoetry.com's poet of the month in March 2004.

Illinois State Police arrested Porter about 11:30 a.m. in a Chicago church after a monthlong investigation, triggered by an FBI fingerprint search that matched Porter with the poet. Investigators from the Massachusetts State Police aided in the apprehension and said Porter did not put up a fight.

''He told us the same thing he told the Illinois State Police, that 'I had a good 20 years,' " said Detective Lieutenant Kevin Horton, one of the Massachusetts investigators. Horton said Porter acknowledged who he is and ''said he was expecting this day to come."

After an extradition hearing today in Chicago, Porter is expected to be returned to Massachusetts, where he has been indicted on a felony charge of prison escape and faces additional penalties for parole violations. Prison escape carries a 10-year maximum penalty, in addition to whatever remains on a convict's sentence. For Porter, that sentence is life.

His life in Chicago held few clues of his criminal past, save perhaps a verse or two from a poem. One, listed on e-poets.net, is called ''Thoreau's Grave."

''His grave is outside a walled prison. His grave, his grave, wrapped around a prison. A quiet desperation he would not have understood," Porter reads on an audio file on the website.

One neighbor in Chicago said she nearly fell off her couch when news reports identified Porter as a fugitive.

''He was a beautiful person," said 48-year-old Debra Selby, who lives across the street from the apartment where Porter was living. ''He helped a lot of people. Whatever you needed, he did. You went to him, you talked to him, and he made it happen."

Porter's criminal history in Massachusetts began with a string of robberies. On Sept. 29, 1960, he robbed a Robert Hall Clothing Store in Saugus, brandishing a sawed-off shotgun. Porter herded customers and employees into a back room and ordered them to give up their valuables, according to the state Department of Correction.

''As a part-time clerk was reaching into his pocket for his cash, Porter, with no known provocation, placed his shotgun's muzzle against the back of the clerk's head and pulled the trigger, killing him 'execution style,' " the department's website states.

Porter was caught in New York, and while awaiting trial in a Middlesex County jail the following year, Porter assaulted the chief jailer, while an accomplice, Edgar Cook, shot and killed the jailer. Both escaped. Cook committed suicide, and Porter was caught a week later in Keene, N.H., while he was robbing a grocery store, the Correction Department's website says.

Porter pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in both slayings and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.

During his time in prison, Porter earned a degree from Boston University, published poetry, and started a prison newspaper and radio station.

In 1975, Governor Michael S. Dukakis commuted Porter's first life sentence, and he began serving his second sentence. Dukakis tried twice in 1978 to commute that sentence, as well, but was unsuccessful.

On Dec. 21, 1985, Porter walked out of a minimum-security facility, the Norfolk Prerelease Center, and didn't come back. He has been one of the 12 most wanted fugitives in Massachusetts ever since.

Records show he has been living in the Chicago area for at least the past decade. Friends said he has been in the Chicago area since his escape.

In 1999, a Chicago press published his "Lady Rutherfurd's Cauliflower," a well-received book of poetry that has gone into multiple printings, according to e-poets.net. He later published a second book, ''Lord Rutherfurd's Rutabaga."

A biography on the website says Porter is ''a New Englander by birth, a progressive by politics, labor activist by ethical necessity, and a working man by trade." He is a labor-rights activist who has appeared on local radio and television programs, as well as on stages around the city, according to the biography.

During his time as a fugitive, Porter had run-ins with the law at least five times, including once in Washington state and three times in the Chicago area, according to a Massachusetts law enforcement official involved in the investigation.

In 1989 -- as Jacob A. Jameson of LaGrange, Ill. -- he was arrested and charged with drunken driving and driving without a license. In 1990 or 1991, he was arrested and charged with shoplifting in Olympia, Wash., said the law enforcement official.

In 1993, he was arrested, fingerprinted, and charged with theft after he allegedly wrote a check to a handyman that bounced, a case that was later dismissed, according to Chicago's Cook County Circuit Court Clerk's office. That same year, he was arrested on a warrant on a fleeing offense, though the law enforcement official could not provide details.

Within the next year, Porter was pulled over by police and cited for driving without a license again. This time, he gave a Maywood, Ill., address, and because authorities did not have a Jacob Jameson at that address in their records, they created a file for him, according to the Illinois Secretary of State's office.

At some point last month, FBI investigators running Porter's fingerprints through a database came up with a match to the 1993 theft arrest, according to the law enforcement official. FBI investigators notified the Massachusetts Department of Correction, which notified State Police, and the hunt for Porter began anew.

After running Porter's alias, Jameson, through Internet searches, investigators discovered their fugitive was an established poet who also had ties to a progressive Unitarian church on Chicago's West Side.

Horton, the State Police Investigator, was at a loss yesterday to explain why, after trying to run Porter's prints for all these years, authorities finally got a match.

''We don't know," he said. Illinois officials could not immediately say yesterday when the state began putting fingerprints of all known criminals into a nationwide database.

Three Massachusetts State Police investigators and three Department of Correction officials arrived in Chicago Sunday and turned up nothing. Yesterday, they decided to go to the Third Unitarian Church.

''Honest to God, he just walked in," Horton said.

Horton said Porter is not married and ''looks like a sick old man who hasn't eaten a good meal in about 10 years."

Horton described Porter's home, a tiny second-floor apartment across the street from the church, as a wreck.

''He was living like a pig," Horton said, adding there was dog feces on the floor and clothes strewn about. ''It was a mess."

Selby, Porter's neighbor, said Porter helped run a food pantry and helped out with the homeless at the church. He was also the church historian and helped arrange a memorial for Selby's 15-year-old son, who died in 2002 of a seizure disorder.

''It's unbelievable," she said about his criminal past. ''He appeared on the news, and I thought, 'Ah, no, this can't be this man.' "

Gordon T. Walker of Boston, Porter's longtime attorney, said Porter has called three or four times over the past two decades just to say hello.

Yesterday, Porter tracked down Walker's cellphone number and called to say that he had been caught and that he will waive extradition and be back in Massachusetts by tonight.

''He sounded a little relieved, actually," Walker said, ''and resigned."

Material from the Associated Press and Suzanne Smalley of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Ferkenhoff reported from Chicago. Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.


Norman A. Porter Jr. wrote poetry as J.J. Jameson
Norman A. Porter Jr. wrote poetry as J.J. Jameson (C.J. Laity/ ChicagoPoetry.com)
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