Lip Balm, Air Vents & Mail Bags: Inside Richard Lee McNair’s Infamous Prison Breakouts

‘He is about the smartest person I’ve ever met,’ his brother once said.

October 06, 2021
Richard McNair

Richard McNair

Photo by: Discovery, Inc.

Discovery, Inc.

Richard McNair

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A creative and quick-thinking criminal, Richard Lee McNair, somehow managed to invent new ways to escape the confines of prison time after time. McNair was first arrested for a 1987 botched robbery and murder in North Dakota and sentenced to serve two terms of life — but prison bars seemed to be no match for him as his feats grew more and more daring each time.

February 1988

McNair’s first escape from a county jail in Minot, North Dakota, in the late-1980s was fleeting. While handcuffed to a chair, he managed to get ahold of a detective’s lip balm and use it as a lubricant so he could slip from his restraints. He then jumped from a third-floor window, but he was caught soon after. “He is about the smartest person I’ve ever met,” McNair’s brother, Phil, once said.

October 1992

The escape artist got his first long stretch of freedom on the lam after he broke out of the North Dakota State Penitentiary. According to reports, McNair and two other prisoners shimmied their way through ventilation ducts. He was recaptured in Nebraska nearly nine months later, in July 1993, and sent to a maximum-security prison in Louisiana.

April 2006

During his last and most daring escapade, McNair managed to elude authorities not once, but three times. During the early spring 2006 breakout, he hid among mailbags and got out of the federal prison in Pollock, Louisiana. When a police officer in Ball, Louisiana, spotted and stopped McNair, who was running on train tracks in shorts and a tank top, the convicted murderer claimed he was out for a jog. The policeman called dispatch for a description of the prisoner and even told McNair he was “matching up to him.” In a video of the incident, smooth-talking McNair is seen keeping his cool, and the officer lets him continue on his way with a warning: “Be careful buddy.” McNair was so careful he made it all the way into Canada. Weeks after he escaped, Canadian law enforcement stopped him in a stolen car, but he managed to flee and again elude capture. His luck ran out in October 2007 in New Brunswick when Royal Canadian Mounted Police stopped him in a stolen van. McNair tried to bolt, but an officer tackled him to the ground and took him into custody for what may or might not be the last time.

To hear the true story of Richard McNair's infamous escapes, in his own words, stream The Prison Breaker now on discovery+.

Next Up

5 Things To Know About Andrea Yates, The Mom Who Drowned Her 5 Kids In The Bathtub

On June 20, 2001, mother of five Andrea Yates drowned her children, who ranged in age from six months to seven years, in the bathtub at her home in Houston, Texas.

Mysterious Death Of 25-Year-Old Man Last Seen Leaving An NYC Bar May Be Tied To A Robbery Ring

Friends of Julio Ramirez suspect he may have been drugged before his death — and he may not be the only victim.

John Walsh’s '15 Seconds of Shame' Murder Suspect Coreyon Brown Captured

Coreyon Brown was on the run after an alleged murder in Detroit, Michigan in June 2022.

Fugitive Goes On The Run After New Year's Eve Murder In 2011

Louis Rojas stands 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds. According to the U.S. Marshals, Rojas has a strong interest and connection to boxing and could be working out in gyms that offer boxing. If you have any information on his whereabouts, please submit your tips to InPursuitTips.com or text 1-833-378-7783 (3-PURSUE).

Arrests Made In Robberies, Deaths Of Men At NYC Gay Clubs

On March 31, 2023, the New York Police Department identified three suspects in connection to the deaths of 25-year-old Julio Ramirez and 33-year-old John Umberger.

A Nebraska Man Arrested For Car Theft Makes Unprompted Murder Confession

Authorities in Omaha, Nebraska were preparing to question Jeremiah Connelly about a stolen vehicle when he made a stunning revelation.

A 1998 Gruesome Hate Crime Horrified A Small Texas Town

The 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr. appeared to be a hit-and-run at first glance, but it didn’t take investigators long to realize they were dealing with something far more sinister.

Rhonda Sue Coleman’s Small-Town Murder Is Still A Whodunit After 30 Years

Nobody was ever charged for the murder of a high school senior last seen leaving a house party just weeks before she was set to graduate.

Idaho Attorney Murdered By Mistress’ Husband In Walgreen’s Parking Lot

Ashlee Harmon’s fifth child was just six weeks old when her husband and college sweetheart was gunned down in the parking lot of a pharmacy in 2011.

How One ‘Boyz N The Hood’ Actor Went From Portraying A Killer To Being One In Real Life

Family of Lloyd Avery II said he was trying to prove something he didn’t have to.