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State's oldest inmate dies at age 90

Posted July 23, 2012

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— The state's oldest inmate is dead.

Authorities said Frank Wetzel died over the weekend at Raleigh's Central Prison. He was 90.

Wetzel was convicted in 1958 of killing two State Highway Patrol troopers – W.L. Reece and James Brown – a year earlier.

Reece stopped Wetzel in Richmond County for driving a stolen car and was shot before he drew his gun. Brown stopped Wetzel in Lee County a short time later.

A manhunt that may have been the largest in North Carolina history involved 500 officers. The state's borders were sealed, but still Wetzel made it to California before being arrested by the FBI.

Wetzel, who was serving two life sentences, had been denied parole several times since becoming eligible for release in 1977. He maintained he was innocent, pointing to the timing of the murders as proof.

Reece was fatally shot at 8 p.m. Brown was shot 47 miles away between 15 and 20 minutes later.


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  • donnawakeforest Jul 24, 2012

    The truly sad thing is that one year after his brother was executed in Mississippi, Frank's brother was exonerated. So their Mother lost two sons to an erroneous conviction by the state of Mississippi. Poor woman. They were theives, but I am sure she still loved them.

  • Skywatch_NC Jul 24, 2012

    RIP Mr. Wetzel

    When my folks, sister and I lived in Roanoke Rapids ...my sister and I got to know Frank's stepdaughter Karen and this was back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Karen then was trying fervently to get her stepfather released. Is sad that he never got his parole.

  • maybelle Jul 24, 2012

    Well Livesay knows what he is talking about my hubby worked there also. Frank married a realestate lady while in prision who was a millionaire. Sad she passed away before he did. He also had jet black hair and was handsome Women sent him money all the time. Wonder who gets that money now.

  • thepeopleschamp Jul 23, 2012

    @jjsmith1973, I bet if Frank Wetzel were a Trooper convicted of murdering people 47 miles apart you'd be singing a different tune wouldn't you? Your problem, other than believing what you think, is that you are under the misguided perception that only the evil police from Planet X are the only bad guys on the friendly slice of heaven. If you are so secure in your safety from everyone who isn't a cop why don't you go ahead and post your real name, address, and a sign in your front yard that reads "gun free home and new tv inside". Let's see how nice humanity is then and who you call crying for help.

  • jjsmith1973 Jul 23, 2012

    @ ed livesay, One how do you know how old I am. I can assure you that my screen name doesn't reflect my name or my year of birth. Two you just had someone totally contradict what you said. So sir, I know more about what evil exist then you might think. Also, sir I know there are just as many crooked cops which there are innocent people in jail. Which is one too many. You sir, get a clue. You are using a common prison trick that almost every prisoner did as a reson he was evil? Really? I bet at one time before they couldn't he smoked too. Did that also make him evil?? Give me a break.

  • Ed Livesay Jul 23, 2012

    Wetzel worked for me in the inmate work program at Central Prison (back in the seventies). The untold truth of it was that Wetzel ran the prison. For those too young to know what you're talking about, let me assure you that Wetzel was not innocent. Although the rules prohibited having over $20, he could get all the money you wanted (having other inmates "hold" it for him). Ask any former con. jjsmith1973.... You weren't even a twinkle in your father's eye when all of this happened. Get a clue, son... evil does exist.

  • superman Jul 23, 2012

    I worked for many years at Central Prison and knew him. I never really thought about whether he was innoncent or guilty. Frank was always respectful toward the staff as well as the inmates. He was always a "cut" above the rest of the inmates. I am sorry they never released him and that he couldnt spend a few years of freedom before he died.

  • jjsmith1973 Jul 23, 2012

    Yeah and we don't have people in jail that didn't commit the crime either. He may have commited a lot of crimes but given the time and the real math, physics you can't deny. Oh and it was beyond someone to look at an easy mark to set someone up back then. Right. Forensics on the gun? hmmmm. I bet that wouldn't match up today. Of course he didn't get a new trail.

  • thepeopleschamp Jul 23, 2012

    Let's do the math; escapee, stolen car, Troopers were both shot on the path he was on, he was planning on helping his death row brother escape, afterwards he was in hiding in California, he was in possession of the murder weapon, he broke into houses along the way to Cali to support himself. It all adds up to me, not very difficult to see either. The times are approximatelty when the Troopers were found to have been shot, not exact times of the shootings. People could do math in 1958 also, but they didn't buy his excuse then either.

  • jjsmith1973 Jul 23, 2012

    @jmlewis When arrested in CA he was found in possesion of the murder weapon?????? He was smart enough to do everything but get rid of the murder weapon? Really?