Day proved deadly for 3 OHP troopers | Only in Oklahoma (2024)

Day proved deadly for 3 OHP troopers | Only in Oklahoma (1)

Archivist's note:

This Only in Oklahoma column reported the troopers in the wrong vehicles and in the wrong confrontations.

Highway Patrol Troopers Billy Young, 50, and Houston F. (Pappy) Summers, 62, were killed in a gun battle with two prison escapees near Kenefic on May 26, 1978. Lt. Pat Grimes, 36, was killed and Trooper Hoyt Hughes, 46, was wounded in a gun battle later that day with the same prison escapees in Caddo rather than near Kenefic.

The two prison escapees also were killed.

May 26, 1978, is known as the Oklahoma Highway Patrol's darkest day.

Two troopers were killed near Kenefic, in southern Oklahoma, and one was killed in nearby Caddo in shootouts with two Oklahoma State Penitentiary escapees who became known as "thrill killers" and who also were killed in the Caddo shootout.

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Gov. David Boren called the troopers' deaths "the worst single tragedy in the 40-year history of this outstanding law enforcement agency" and directed a weeklong period of mourning.

Lt. Pat Grimes, 36, of Moore and Trooper Houston F. Summers, 62, of Enid were killed about 10:30 a.m. as they drove toward Kenefic on a country road and met a car occupied by the fugitives, who opened fire.

As he was dying, one trooper transmitted a brief radio message -- "V-54 . . . we're hit" -- but was unable to give a location.

Troopers in an OHP helicopter saw the fugitives' speeding pickup a few minutes later and kept it in sight to direct officers on the ground to its location in Caddo.

Trooper Billy G. Young, 50, of Woodward was killed and Trooper Hoyt Hughes, 46, was wounded as they drove up to a house in Caddo and met a fusillade of gunfire from the fugitives, who had arrived moments earlier. The escapees tried to run away and OHP and other law enforcement officers opened fire, killing Claude Eugene Dennis as he crouched in front of the stolen pickup and killing Michael Lancaster as he tried to run behind a house.

Bystanders said the convicts were "shot all over." A woman who lived near the scene of the shoot- out said "everybody in town has really been scared for about a month" because of the convicts' actions.

She said Dennis and Lancaster had family members in the area. The shootouts ended a month-long, three-state wave of terror in which five other people, four in Texas and one in Alabama, were killed and a Texas woman was kidnapped and raped by Dennis and Lancaster, who had escaped April 23 from the prison at McAlester.

Lancaster, 25, of Manhattan, Kan., was serving 25 years for armed robbery. Dennis, 35, who was reared in Bristow and had lived in Bryan County, was serving 50 years for killing a Stephens County couple and 20 years to life for killing a Bryan County bulldozer operator. Both had escaped from county jails, and Lancaster had exchanged gunfire with a trooper after a liquor store robbery following one of his escapes.

Authorities called Dennis "cold blooded; he just shoots people." The convicts escaped through a partially flooded abandoned utility tunnel that passed under a wall at OSP into the basem*nt of an old power plant outside the wall. They used a sledgeham mer, crowbar and shovel to break through a 30-inch concrete plug inside the tunnel.

Once outside the prison's walls, the two burst into the home of Lt. Sam Key, a corrections officer at the prison, threatened his wife with a knife and fled in the family car, taking a 12-gauge shotgun, a .357-caliber Magnum revolver and a .30-30 rifle.

They headed to Texas, where they killed two men in Garland, a man in Hemphill and a man in Denison, taking vehicles from some of their victims to use in their foray.

The two forced the wife of the Denison victim to accompany them, but she managed to escape when both fugitives went to sleep after one had raped her twice. The fugitives headed to Alabama, where an officer in Butler was shot seven times as he walked up to their car to question them.

Although seriously wounded, the officer recovered. Dennis and Lancaster were tagged as "thrill killers" after they killed a 68-year-old retired teacher in Cuba, Ala., as she returned home from a church social.

She had been hit in the head and shot behind an ear, the same method used in the Texas killings. More than 200 Alabama law enforcement officers searched for the pair. Roadblocks were set up in Mississippi, but the two slipped through, returning to the Lake Texoma area.

After the escapees were killed, an Alabama trooper who had tried to stop the two and was met with gunfire said they got what they deserved, adding, "I just wish I could have been there to do it."

Like this column? Read all the columns in the Only in Oklahoma series from the Tulsa World Archive.

Only in Oklahoma is a series from the Tulsa World Archive that was written by former Tulsa World Managing Editor Gene Curtis during the Oklahoma Centennial in 2007. The columns told interesting stories from the history of the country’s 46th state. The Tulsa World Archive is home to more than 2.3 million stories, 1.5 million photographs and 55,000 videos. Tulsa World subscribers have full access to all the content in the archive. Not a subscriber? We have a digital subscription special offer of $1 for three months for a limited time at

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