September 2, 1999
The Philadelphia Enquirer
By Patricia M. La Hay
Mysteries about Norman Johnston abound, but this much we know: He will never again underestimate a bloodhound.
When the escaped prisoner was finally captured after 18 days on the lam, police surprised him by dishing up information about the exact paths of his flight - details that Johnston thought he alone knew.
"He looked at me like, 'How did you know that?' " Pennsylvania State Trooper Jon Nelson said. "Then he said, 'Damn, those dogs are good.' "
Those good dogs are Hannah and Claudette, a pair of jowly, purebred, tan-and-black bloodhounds with droopy eyes and super noses that sniffed Johnston out not once but twice before police grabbed him on Aug. 20.
For their efforts, Hannah and Claudette and their volunteer handlers, Allen and Patti Means, have received $500 and a commendation from the state - as well as nearly $3,000 of the $12,500 in reward money already handed out. If the remaining $28,000 in reward money is similarly shared, the Meanses could get thousands more.
In their first Johnston search, the hounds nosed along a day-old scent trail in Newark, Del., tracking the convict's path for 6 miles to a parking lot where he had caught a ride. Three days later, they came within 150 yards of the most-wanted murderer before police, alerted by frightened homeowners who had called 911, arrested him in a Chester County yard.
Johnston told officers that the baying dogs had kept him on the move that night.
"They kept him moving, and that might have caused the noise that caused the 911 call that brought police," said State Police Capt. Henry Oleyniczak, who headed the massive search.
Hannah and Claudette, Oleyniczak said, "were key players in the search. In the future, if I am in a similar situation, we'll definitely call bloodhounds in."
Nelson said that he was skeptical at first of using the dogs but that he knows now that they sniffed out most of Johnston's moves. "The way Norman described his route to me, it was almost exactly how the dogs went," said Nelson, who followed the canine unit on Johnston's trail in Newark on Aug. 17.
The specially trained hounds and the staff of the Red Rose K-9 Search and Rescue Team of Strasburg, Pa., volunteer in 25 to 30 search-and-rescue operations each year.
The Meanses began the nonprofit agency in 1989 with their first bloodhounds, Beauregard and Darling Clementine, after learning of a nearby search that ended tragically: A girl with Down syndrome wandered away from her Narvon home on Thanksgiving and, despite police search efforts, died of exposure. Her body was found the next day less than a mile from her house.
"It was a shame that it happened, that there weren't any dogs in the area capable of tracking somebody down," Allen Means said last week.
So the Meanses, married since 1988, researched dog breeds and settled on bloodhounds, which have been used to track people since the 16th century. And they became fans of the solemn-looking, affectionate breed with the soft, shoulder-skimming ears and large, expressively wrinkled faces.
Soon, they were on their way to Bowling Green, Ky., to adopt Beauregard. Not long afterward, Beau and Patti Means helped find an Alzheimer's patient who had wandered away from a convalescent home.
A year later, newcomer Clementine pulled Allen Means behind her as she searched for evidence in the 1991 slaying of Laurie Show, 16, in Lancaster County. Allen Means testified in federal court about the dog's "findings" in the case against Lisa Michelle Lambert, who was convicted of killing Laurie.
In some states, bloodhounds are considered expert witnesses, according to Walt Sikorski, Montgomery County deputy sheriff and bloodhound handler with the Specialty Dog Unit, another volunteer search-and-rescue team.
Sikorski, who was a marshal and bloodhound handler in Aurora, Colo., before moving here about a year ago, said that official bloodhound units were more common in the West and the South but that several eastern states - including New Jersey, New York and Maryland - had them.
Since police dogs, usually German shepherds, can be trained for patrol, search, attack and drug or bomb sniffing, Sikorski said, they are known in law enforcement as jacks-of-all-trades. Bloodhounds, on the other hand, are masters of one - tracking a single human being to the exclusion of all others.
Once a bloodhound gets a whiff of somebody - from a T-shirt, eyeglasses or car seat, for example - and hears his handler say, "Find," he is a dog possessed.
When Johnston ran from police in Newark, he dropped a backpack containing a towel and a toothbrush. Allen Means swabbed the backpack interior with a gauze pad, slipped the Johnston-scented gauze into a plastic bag, and pulled the bag right up over Hannah's muzzle.
"After she smells that, she doesn't think of anything else," Means said. "She don't hear traffic or horns or anything. There were deer that crossed in front of me, but Hannah was still on the trail."
No one really knows how bloodhounds do it, but there is a theory about man-trailing, Means said. Humans constantly shed microscopic skin cells, leaving a scent trail behind.
The bloodhound - its ultrasensitive nose to the ground, its head sweeping briskly from side to side - can track someone as long as three days later. Even its floppy ears help, Means said, by brushing over the ground, sweeping fresh scent noseward.
But an attack dog the bloodhound is not, he said, adding that the search of a building for an armed criminal, for example, would be much better handled by a German shepherd.
"A bloodhound would find the guy," Means said of the lovable but slobbery breed. "But he'd probably just jump up and lick him."
©1999 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.