bliss truck

The mangled remains of the truck of then-prosecutor Bill Bliss' pickup truck reflect the explosion that almost killed him. Bliss went on to become a popular district judge.

TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma – Unfortunately for the families of Rex Brinlee Jr.'s victims, newspaper reports would not be shed of his name for long after he was sent to prison for the murder of Dorotha Fern Day Bolding.

In July 1973, a riot occurred at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, where Brinlee was an inmate. Around 15 prisoners with knives attempted to start an uprising, and among the chaos, Brinlee was able to escape.

Angie Bliss Fanning, who was in the garage at the time her father was nearly killed by a bomb Brinlee planted on his car in 1969, remembers having ATF agents stay at her house when the convict escaped. One of them was watching her at church camp when she was around 14 or 15 years old.

“I didn’t even know he was there,” said Fanning. “I found out as an adult that they had people watching me at church camp, because [Bliss] was afraid [Brinlee] would come after us. He had a list in prison of the people on his kill list, and I think daddy was third.”

The situation was similar to the experience of Kimberly McCully, the daughter of Bolding. She said Darrell Scott, Norman Fisher, and Andy Sellers – all of whom eventually served as a Cherokee County sheriff – sat at her front door until Brinlee was captured.

“When I was little and he escaped, I pretty much had police protection, whether it was undercover or they were picking me up from school,” said McCully. “He made it known he was coming back after my dad, my uncle and some other people in this town. I wasn’t ever afraid, because I had a police officer pick me up from my elementary school and take me to the front door of my house every day.”

The bomber and would-be mafia man reportedly appeared in several areas while on the lam. After he and fellow inmate Patrick A. Fleming stole a car in Marshall, Texas, the duo was stopped by police in Shreveport, Louisiana, and they released Brinlee after he gave the officers a fake name. He would later evade arrest in Orange County, Texas, before traveling to Biloxi, Mississippi, where he would take up a job with a plumbing and heating company for a short period.

After telling the landlord with whom he was staying that he planned to go home, Brinlee was picked up by a man in Biloxi, but didn’t get far. Agents with the FBI, along with Biloxi police officers, surrounded the man’s truck, and Brinlee was taken into custody after 45 days of freedom.

A couple of years later, Brinlee was assigned to a plumbing crew in the OSP in 1976. The group included seven convicts, who escaped through a 170-yard underground tunnel to freedom. Then-Oklahoma Gov. David Boren ordered a statewide search for the escapees, who had used hacksaws and torches to cut through several steel tunnel doors and a wire fence.

It wouldn’t take along for Brinlee to return to prison. Fanning said that after he escaped, he spent a couple weeks in the woods, not far from the penitentiary, but he eventually gave himself up.

“He got eaten up by chiggers and ticks and ended up turning himself in because he was so ate up and couldn’t get any help,” she said, chuckling. “Nobody would help him, so he ended up going into a little store down there around McAlester.”

While it would be the last of his escapes, Brinlee reportedly made another attempt when prison officials found a knife, .25-caliber handgun, and 12 rounds of ammunition in his cell the day of a planned breakout in 1984. He was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa after his health began to fail him later in life. In December 2009, Brinlee died, at age 76, with two guards stationed in the hospital.

Those who felt the brunt of his crimes didn’t shed any tears after his death.

“I’m not the kind of girl who is grateful when people die, but when he finally died, I was relieved,” said Fanning.

Her father did develop a peculiar habit, which several in the Tahlequah Daily Press newsroom observed after he had dropped by for a chat. Long after the incident that nearly took his life, would leave the driver's side window open in his vehicle, and he would reach in, start the car, and back up quickly, waiting until he was sure there was no bomb before he got behind the wheel.

The late Ted Risenhoover, who was running the Daily Press when Brinlee tried to bomb the newspaper office, admitted to later employees that he would tentatively check all the nooks and crannies outside the building before entering.

As for McCully and her family, she said she’ll be happy when Brinlee’s name disappears from the spotlight.

“I have accepted that I’m probably always going to run in to someone who has a story to tell or an opinion on him and the connection to my family,” she said. “That being said, it is still painful to relive that day and the days that followed. I will be relieved when the media stop brings his name up and wanting stories about a vile person who took my mother away from me.”

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