Escape Chronicles, Chapter Three

               THE HELL’S ANGEL ESCAPE
              There are hundreds of ways to escape from a jail 
   and some of them include the active participation of staff.

           Heavenly Chariot

It was in a jail laundry cart like this that Hell’s Angel leader, Sergey Walton, was pushed to freedom.

        During “The Great X-Cape” of 1980, the members of the Hells Angels passed up the opportunity

to escape, believing that they would

beat their federal charges. Some of them did, but a dozen or so others got a hung jury in their trial and the U.S. Attorney decided to prosecute

them a second time.

       One of the leaders of the group, Sergey Walton, beat the organized crime (RICO) charges, but was convicted of possession an appeal of his conviction.

        By 1981 the remaining Angels had been in the San Francisco jail for over two years and may have been getting a little antsy. On March 27, the leader of the group, Sergey Walton “turned up missing.” Federal Marshals had come to the jail to pick him up for transport to another facility. He wasn’t there in the cell and there were no clues about how he could have gotten out of the cell, let alone the jail.

        After a few days of fruitless searching and interviewing both prisoners and staff, suspicion fell on two deputy sheriffs: a 15 year veteran deputy sheriff, Lou Ivankovich and Sgt. Joan Nimau, the first woman supervisor to work in this maximum security men’s facility.

        Joan brought the suspicion upon herself. On one occasion, after the

criminal charges were dismissed for many of the Angels, she brought them

a cake adorned with the saying, “Goodbye RICO.” And to make things

worse, she had written Walton a letter of recommendation for bail, saying,

“I will always consider my association with Sergey Walton and the other

Hells Angels as one of the most positive experiences I have had in my career.

. . . I find it difficult to try to write all the respect and admiration that I feel for Sergey. In short, I consider him a friend.” The letter was written on Department letterhead, under my name. This caused my salty Undersheriff,

Bill Davis, to remind me, “Mike, how many times do I have to tell you? Never let an ugly broad work in a men’s jail.”

        It seemed unlikely that Joan had

been involved in the actual escape, but

coincidences always lead to inquiries.

Joan had resigned from the Department

prior to the escape and her last day of

work was three days before Walton disappeared.  Her husband, a San Francisco police officer, resigned a week

later. They immediately moved out of

state. Ultimately, no charges were ever

brought against Joan.

        Focus then turned to Lou Ivankovich. Other deputies had noticed him spending more time that usual talking with guys in the Angels’ cells.

Another deputy who staffed the gate between the cell blocks of the jail and

the kitchen/laundry side thought it somewhat odd that Lou had personally

pushed a loaded laundry cart through the gate on the night of the escape,

but he had done so on other nights, so it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary.

        A couple of nights after the escape, Lou “slipped on some water on the locker room floor” and went off work, claiming a job related disability. He became unavailable for interview; he engaged the services of a lawyer.  But, in truth, we had very little on him other than opportunity and an elimination of other possibilities.

Over the course of the next several months we monitored phone activity at the Ivankovich house and other places where we thought we could glean information either about the escape or the whereabouts of Sergey Walton.

        There were numerous phone calls between Lou’s house and Sergey Walton’s wife. Undercover officers followed Lou as he drove around in his newly acquired Pontiac Firebird.

        Eventually I felt we had enough to terminate Lou, even if the U.S. Attorney wasn’t prepared to prosecute. Unfortunately, under the Civil Service rules at the time, you could not terminate or suspend an employee while they were out on a disability leave.

        We worked with Lou’s doctor to convince him that we had a “light duty” job filing papers that Lou could perform without exacerbating his injury from the fall in the locker room. The doctor cleared Lou for

light duty work and during his first hour back at work we served him with termination papers.

        Not long after Lou was served with papers, the phones started chattering again and, along with some promising tips, a task force of law enforcement agencies surrounded a small house hidden away in the Santa

Cruz mountain area. On May 28th, more than a month after the escape, a task force approached the house. Walton ran out the back door and had one leg over the backyard fence when he was confronted with officers with drawn weapons. He dropped to the ground and gave up without a struggle.

        It took over a year, but eventually the U.S. Attorney brought criminal

charges against Lou. On February 18, 1983, Lou’s attorney unexpectedly

stood up in court and told the judge that his client wanted to change his plea to “guilty.” In open court, Lou admitted that he pushed the laundry cart to the elevator with Walton in it. His attorney later told me that he was taken totally by surprise by Lou’s admission. Lou was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

        So, why did he do it? Lou never spoke about it that I know of, but Walton did.

        After Walton was ultimately convicted in his organized crime case and was given a federal prison sentence, I sought him out in the jail. I asked him if he would tell me what really happened. His response was pretty surprising.

“Well, it wasn’t the first time Lou got me out, you know,” is how he started the story. Off duty, Lou was a biker – and even on duty he looked the part: a big husky guy with a gut

and a beard. So the seduction started with stories about bikes, beer parties and tales of legendary “runs.”

        After establishing a many months long camaraderie over bikes, Walton told me, 

he joked around with Lou and said, “I’ll bet you could get me out of here for a beer and get me back in without anyone even knowing about it.” According to Walton, Lou agreed that he probably could since he was the senior guy on the shift and other deputies left him pretty much alone.

        Then, much to Walton’s surprise, one night, Lou unlocked the cell

door and said, “Come one. Get in the cart.” A laundry cart almost full of

sheets and blankets was standing in front of the cell. Walton said that he

got in, was covered with laundry and the next thing he knew he was in an

elevator going down. He and Lou went out to a loading dock together, had a beer which had been stashed, and reversed the process.

        Walton said he could have escaped then, but he was not only surprised, but he didn’t have anything set up. A week later, Walton

again challenged Lou to a beer run. This time he had a car waiting.

        At Walton’s sentencing in federal court in February 1983, his attorney made this startling statement: “It was Mr. Walton’s intent to return to custody. He would have returned to the jail as he had a week before after a 24 hour absence if U.S. Marshals hadn’t come to pick him up to transfer him to another prison and found him missing.”