When 14-year-old Mary Ellen Deener went searching for change for the laundromat one cold November evening it was the last time the young girl would be seen alive. Mary was an innocent child, barely into her teens and showed a passion for life that was unsurpassed.
When Lester Eubanks took Mary from the sidewalk behind a house near the laundromat, raping her and shooting her twice when he was done, he assumed she was dead. Eubanks was caught and sentenced to death for the crime, but his death sentence was commuted to a life sentence by the Supreme Court.
Having attacked Mary randomly as dusk fell, Eubanks showed the young girl no mercy when he raped her behind a house on the 300 block of North Mulberry Street. Not wanting to be caught for the rape, Eubanks then shot the girl twice and left her to die with his secret behind that house.
Eubanks knew he had wounded the girl fatally but could still hear her soft screams from the place where he shot her. To finish off the job properly, Eubanks returned to Mary, smashing her as hard as he could over the head with a brick so she would die. A more brutal crime could not be conceivable at the time.
Having been sentenced to death, the Supreme Court considered Eubanks sentence to be unconstitutional and it was commuted to a life sentence some years later. As part of that sentence, Eubanks was given honor assignments and was allowed out of prison under supervision for good behavior.
For one of his honor assignments, Eubanks was allowed to do some Christmas shopping in Colombus. He was able to escape from custody during this excursion and was never found by law enforcement. The cops had egg on their face in a big way and needed to deal with the fact that a brutal child murderer had escaped from prison.
Over the years, the police released age-progression photos of Eubanks, showing how he would look now at the age of 73. He was even placed on the US Marshals’ 15 most-wanted list in the hopes of finding him and putting back in jail where he belongs. As Deputy U.S. Marshal David Siler said according to a Manfield News Journal report, “I really believe we’re going to catch up to this guy.”
Myrtle Carter, Mary’s older sister who was 18 and married when Mary was killed, said “It was a happy time,” in Mansfield in those days. On that fateful day, Mary’s mother, Cassie Jones, sent Mary and her younger sister Brenda in a cab to the Half-Hour Laundromat on Springmill Street when the family’s dryer malfunctioned.
Carter explained to the press that, “The reason she was so comfortable (sending them out at night) is my grandmother (Love Williams) lived next door to the laundromat,” she said. Eubanks, who was out on bond at the time for the alleged rape of an 18-year-old waitress, was watching as Mary went to get change and grabbed her.
While Mary’s mother said she had wanted to be a nun when she got older, her sister spoke about the high hopes her sister had and what a sweet girl she was. “She was a quiet person but fun-loving,” Carter said. “She was a typical 14-year-old,” Carter added that when the cops told her Mary was dead, “We were shocked and traumatized and in total disbelief,” she said.
The family was left devastated but no one more than Mary’s mother. “That started my mom’s weakening health,” Carter explained. “Mary Ellen was a lot like my mother. I think she felt wronged.” And while Carter explained that Mary and her mom were close, her mother never really got over the murder and died young as a result, according to Carter.
For his part, Eubanks was the son of a pastor and was also a gifted artist. Having joined the air force years ago, Eubanks worked as a medic in the military and after he left he secured a job at a local waterbed store. He would paint houses to earn some extra cash in his spare time, but no one thought this man was a brutal killer.
To make matters even stranger, Eubanks was reportedly an avid churchgoer and a faithful Baptist. He held a black belt in karate and was strong with a tough build. Mary stood zero chance against this monster. But times have changed since then, and the honor assignment program is more or less a thing of the past.
Siler explained that it was a different era when convicted criminals in America were given trust and allowed out on shopping trips or to visit family. “In the early 1970s, they allowed this to happen,” the deputy U.S. marshal said. “It’s quite repulsive; it’s unfathomable. In today’s era, it would just never happen,” he added.
Authorities tried to track Eubanks down but were unsuccessful. From Colombus, cops believe, Eubanks made his way to Michigan and also seemingly spent some time in LA, but he was never arrested again. “There’s been periodic leads and tips that have put him in different places,” Siler said. But the killer has never been found to date.
Despite admitting his guilt in the brutal rape and murder of Mary Deener, Eubanks has been lucky over the years and caught some breaks according to Siler. “We’ve gone back through every single piece of the puzzle,” Siler said. “The sad thing is he confessed to the crime,” he added.
The marshals are so desperate to catch Eubanks that he recently featured on America’s Most Wanted and a reward of $25,000 has been put in place for information leading to his arrest. “There is someone who knows,” Siler said. For that matter, Siler is convinced that Eubanks is alive and living his life somewhere.
For Mary’s sister Carter, bringing Eubanks to justice is a must, and she is holding out that he will be caught. While hesitant to speak to reporters, Carter said, “I’m doing it because I don’t want him to feel comfortable. I want him to know that somebody is always looking for him. We have not forgotten our sister.” She said.
The Eubanks family were well-known back in the day, and that makes the murder even worse for Carter. “No one in the (Eubanks) family ever apologized to my mother,” she said. “I would have said something if my child had done something like that. I thought that was strange.” She added.
At the age of 70, Carter says she has forgiven Eubanks as she is a Christian but that others have not. “It (finding Eubanks) would mean that my sister didn’t die in vain,” Carter said. “My mother’s and my sister’s souls could rest in peace, and I could be happy. It’s been long enough.” She said.
According to Siler, Eubanks likely changed his name and his appearance as much as possible over the years to avoid law enforcement from catching up with him. “Lester Eubanks has had a lot of time on the lam,” Siler said. He also spoke to reporters about Eubanks’ possible modus operandi.
On the Run
As Siler concluded: “Fugitives on the run as long as Eubanks tend to use that time to change their appearance, use aliases, and even start new lives. He literally could be hiding in plain sight. This is why we are asking citizens to be vigilant and contact us with any information they believe will help us apprehend him.”