By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
The police asked if he used any aliases and read off a list of names. "I hadn't heard of any of them," Pichon says, "until they came to the name William Winfrey--and that's when it all clicked. `William Winfrey?' I yelled. `I know that lowlife scumbag from Colorado Springs!'"
In 1985, in Sedgwick County, Kansas, Douglas Pichon was convicted on one count of aggravated robbery. "He was sentenced to ten years to life," says Bill Miskell, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections. "He was then convicted in 1989 for one count of aggravated escape from custody from Leavenworth County, for an escape which occurred from the Lansing Correctional Facility on December 6, 1988."
He was eventually caught and returned to prison. He was paroled in 1991 but incarcerated again in January 1993 for violating that parole. Paroled again in January 1994, he still wasn't very good at it, and a warrant for his arrest was issued on January 31, 1994.
But the Douglas Pichon wanted by Kansas was not the Douglas Pichon arrested in Denver. In fact, he was not Douglas Pichon at all.
He was, Douglas Pichon says, really William Winfrey--who stole Pichon's wallet at the Lair Lounge in 1985, robbed a bank soon after, was arrested, and identified himself to police as Douglas Pichon using the goods in the stolen wallet.
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Miskell says, sighing. "It sounds to me like we're looking for a guy named Douglas Pichon. And there's a guy in the Denver area who's named Douglas Pichon, and he keeps getting arrested. But the real kicker in all this is William Winfrey. Is that right?"
When the Denver police learned Douglas Pichon was a Kansas fugitive, they took him downtown and put him in a holding cell. "Ten to fifteen minutes later," Pichon says, "this guy comes up and starts asking questions. First he says, `What color are your eyes?' I said, `Green.' Then he goes, `Do you have any scars on your stomach?'
"And I said, `Thank God.'"
In retrospect, Pichon agrees that lymphosarcoma of the intestines is an out-of-the-ordinary thing to be thankful for. The disease had hit him as an infant. "The doctors started to suspect something was wrong when I began projectile vomiting," he says. One year and several surgeries later, Pichon had seven scars on his belly.
"`Good,' Pichon remembers thinking. "`This'll clear things up.'"
But he hadn't seen the description on the Kansas warrant. It read:
Name: Pichon, Douglas Karl
Hgt: 6 Wgt: 193 Eye: Green
It also read:
Armed & Dangerous, offenses are aggravated robbery and aggravated escape from custody.
"I have seven scars, not one," Pichon points out. "But apparently it was more than close enough." Pichon's measurements weren't too far off, either: He is 5'11", 170 pounds. And he, like the Kansas fugitive, has green eyes.
"On paper," Pichon concedes, "Winfrey sure looks like me."
His mind turned over. "For a moment," he says, "I thought it was me they were after. I was not rational. I mean, people were telling me, `Don't worry--they'll get it all straightened out when they extradite you to Kansas.' And I was saying, `Kansas! I've got a wife and kids here!'"
In fact, back at Pichon's northwest Denver home, his wife, Beth, was becoming fairly frantic herself. "At first it was, like, `Well, jeez, honey, we know you didn't do this,'" she recalls. "But when they didn't release him, I just couldn't imagine what had happened. I tried to call some lawyers. But you know how difficult it is to raise anybody on the weekend."
Pichon spent the weekend in jail. At 8:40 a.m. Monday, in preparation for shipping Pichon back to Kansas, Gene Gugli, a detective in Denver's division of fugitives and warrants, sent a telex to the Kansas Department of Corrections. He requested that the department fax a photograph and copy of Pichon's fingerprints--"to make sure it wasn't some Joe Schmoe who didn't belong here," Gugli explains.
At 9:16 a.m., Gugli dashed off another telex to Kansas. It read, "Subject jailed by our department, Douglas Pichon, is not your wanted party. Fingerprint comparison is not the same. Our subject knows your wanted party as `Butch' Winfrey. Our subject claims Winfrey stole his ID and went to your prison as Douglas Pichon. We are releasing our subject."
"I took a taxicab home," Pichon says. "It cost $30, but I didn't care. I just wanted to get home. I hadn't slept or eaten for 48 hours."
The next day he telephoned the DPD's fugitives division. "I just wanted to make sure this wouldn't happen again," Pichon says. The secretary there recognized his name and said she'd run a background check to see if the outstanding warrant in his name reappeared. A moment later she said the computer scan had come up empty; he was safe.
"And that," Pichon says, "was that. I forgot about it. It was just a horrible nightmare, and it was over with."