Mentally Ill Killer on the Loose, Could Be Headed to Tri-Cities

Mentally Ill Killer on the Loose, Could Be Headed to Tri-Cities
WEST RICHLAND -- Phillip Paul is missing after taking off during a "field trip" to the Spokane County fair Thursday. He slashed a woman's throat back in the 80s and has been ruled criminally insane. His disappearance has launched a region-wide search and prompted a public outcry how something like this could happen.

West Richland police are on high alert for the criminally insane killer who might be heading to the region, after he managed to sneak away from Eastern State Hospital staff during a field trip to the Spokane County fair.

Officials said Paul, 57, may be headed to West Richland, where he has family, or Sunnyside where his parents and brother live. It was Sunnyside, in 1987, where he killed an elderly woman, soaking her body in gasoline to throw off search dogs and buried the remains in her flower garden. West Richland Police Chief Layne Erdman said he now has several officers patrolling the area and checking in frequently with Paul's relatives.

"He's got a very significant criminal history in his past," Erdman said. "He's been known to harm police officers when encountering them, he's obviously escaped from mental hospital so we do have concerns about what he's capable of."
YAKIMA VALLEY -- Paul was committed after he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the 1987 slaying.

Now, officials at Eastern State are trying to figure out what went wrong, prompting an immediate halt of criminal field trips across the state, and launching an investigation in mental health policies.

But how could something like this happen in the first place? A criminally insane man on a field trip?

"When you say field trip, that means patients literally get to go out on the rides and have elephant ears?" Action News asked Robert Kellogg, a state health official.

"I don't know about the rides and the elephant ears but they do get to be escorted and in this case they went to the fair," Kellogg said, Director of Mental Health Services for the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Apparently, neither crowds nor cops were aware a killer was in their midst.

"It is frustrating and surprising that we weren't put on notice immediately," Ozzie Knezovich said, Spokane County Sheriff.

Even Paul's brother, Thomas Paul, couldn't believe it.

"I think if he was properly medicated he would be fine but right now I think the hospital was incompetent to let him go," Thomas said in a phone interview.

"The obvious question then is, how are the criminally insane allowed to go to fairs?" Action News asked.
"That's one of the root cause issues that we're looking at," Kellogg said.

State health officials said non-criminal patients generally do go on trips, often as they're close to re-entering society. But Phillip Paul isn't one of those patients. He killed a woman in the late 80s and was ruled insane. He's been at Eastern State ever since, that is, until he got away on that trip to the fair.

"It's concerning to me that I could be in the french fry line and the guy in front of me is dangerous and criminally insane," Action News questioned, "Does this happen a lot?

"No, it doesn't happen a lot," Kellogg responded. "It happens under supervision as I understand it."

But Kellogg couldn't tell me how many times patients have gone out, where they've gone, or or why Paul was allowed out. They are adamant, the investigation will be thorough.

State reps said Paul represents a small portion of people with mental illness but they are making this escape their top priority.

If you have any information on where Phillip Paul could be, call 911.