SAN DIEGO — James Douglas Pou, the Air Force deserter who led a secret life here for five years after faking his death, has befuddled the military again by escaping from the brig, officials at March Air Force Base discovered Tuesday.
"We're still trying to figure it out. He was in confinement," said Master Sgt. Lionel Harvey, spokesman for the base in Riverside where Pou was serving an 18-month sentence and awaiting a court-martial on new charges.
Pou, 33, a former member of an elite search and rescue unit and an expert in escape and evasion, had repeatedly warned Air Force authorities that he could escape from the base brig, two sources said Tuesday.
According to the sources, who requested anonymity, Pou told his jailers that the cell he occupied could not hold him, saying, "When I want to leave I'll just walk out."
Apparently, that is what he did some time between Monday night and early Tuesday morning.
"The only information I got is that he escaped some time between 11 p.m. (Monday) and 4:30 a.m. (Tuesday)," said Paul Nester, Pou's civilian attorney in Orange County. "As far as I know, there was no evidence of a forceful escape. He just disappeared."
Nester declined further comment except to say that he had not heard from his client.
In May, 1987, Pou staged his own death so elaborately--making it appear he vanished in the Rio Grande near Albuquerque, N.M.--that the Air Force declared him dead after searching 10 days for a body. He left behind a wife and two sons.
Pou arrived in San Diego three days later and made his way to the Chula Vista home of Monica Marie Joyce, where he announced his presence by throwing pebbles at her upstairs window. Pou and Joyce had met the previous October, when he was training with an elite Navy unit in nearby Coronado.
The couple married in a church wedding that September and had two sons. Friends said the couple had a rocky marriage that was strained by Pou's infidelities and financial problems. Air Force officials said that Pou fathered a baby girl with his next-door neighbor while still married to Joyce.
Last year Joyce turned him in to Air Force authorities. At Pou's court-martial last November, when he was convicted of bigamy and desertion, Joyce testified that she knew Pou had left a family in New Mexico.
Although Joyce knew him as Doug Pou when they met, the couple's marriage license identified him as Christopher Keith Riggs. Joyce said she was called Tuesday morning by Air Force officials and alerted that Pou was on the loose.
When he escaped Tuesday, Pou was awaiting court-martial on charges of robbing a bank in tiny Calallen, Tex. in 1988. Pou also was accused of using his escape and evasion training in pulling off the robbery.
Witnesses said the bank robber was dressed in military fatigues and a camouflaged poncho liner, his face and arms covered with camouflage paint, and displayed what is believed to have been a smoke grenade.
Texas authorities said Pou escaped toward the nearby Neuces River and disappeared in the surrounding brush country despite a 2 1/2-hour search by law enforcement officials, who were assisted by a Coast Guard helicopter.
On Tuesday, March spokesman Harvey said investigators had no clues as to how Pou managed his latest escape. He said Pou, formerly a staff sergeant, is not considered dangerous.
In addition to the bank robbery charge, Pou was awaiting court-martial on charges of fraudulently obtaining a passport in 1987, when he was supposedly dead, and wearing an unauthorized military proficiency badge.
Several former military colleagues testified at last year's court-martial that Pou was considered a living legend in the Air Force. The trial testimony included accounts of bravery by Pou, spiced with stories of intrigue, deception and romance.
Pou and other members of his old Air Force unit talked about his daring rescues in Iceland, the North Sea and other parts of the world. Master Sgt. William Burton described him as a hard-working overachiever and said that Pou's exploits are still the standard by which Air Force pararescuers are judged.