Forty-year-old Joyce Bailey Mattox was so crazy in love with Jesse Glen Smith, 36, that she decided to risk it all to break him out of the Perry Correctional Institute in South Carolina. Smith was doing a 40-year sentence for armed robbery, receiving stolen property, and assault and battery with intent to kill.
Joyce told reporters she met her sweetheart through a friend who was talking to another prisoner. Other reports say the two met through Smith’s brother. However they met, she began writing to him and talking on the phone with him every day. Next came contact visits at the prison. “We would kiss and hold hands,” the busty blond said.
The visitations went on for eight months in 1985. Joyce knew Smith was married, but the three-time divorcee swept aside any guilt she may have had by saying his wife had not visited him since he was locked up. And anyhow, he had told his wife he was in love with Joyce.
The lovebirds continued with their relationship at the prison until one day one of Smith’s fellow inmates, William Douglas Ballew, came up with an escape plan. Ballew, 42, was serving 23-years for armed robbery. His plan included a helicopter, and although it sounded spectacular, it was not particularly original. It had been tried before. One of those escapes wound up as the movie “Breakout.” But another helicopter-planned prison escape went awry when the woman who hijacked the bird was shot dead by the pilot.
But Joyce, a high-school dropout, was willing to do anything to be with her “Glen,” so she followed the plan to a T. She started by emptying her bank account of $780. The next move was to get a gun. She tried to get her neighbors to buy one for her. She told them she wanted it for protection against one of her three ex-husbands. The neighbors declined to help her, so she went to a pawn shop and bought a .32 caliber handgun. Because she had no knowledge of guns, the salesperson had to load it for her.
Next, Joyce bought Smith some clothing and packed it, along with some of her own, in her blue Chevy Nova. She was able to talk her unsuspecting neighbors into following her out to a field where she left her car five miles from the prison. Then they left a second car at a convenience store 20 miles away. She told her neighbors she was leaving the cars for a friend to pick up later. The last thing, Joyce had the neighbors drop her at Palmetto Helicopter on December 19. When they asked her what she was doing, she was vague about her plans and “talked in circles.”
At Palmetto, she told the pilot, Larry Green, that she wanted a large helicopter to go sightseeing. Green, who had flown during the Viet Nam war, talked her into a smaller, two-seater aircraft for $165.
Once they were in the air, Joyce shoved $165 into Green’s shirt pocket, then pulled the .32 from her cowboy boot and ordered him to fly to the prison. Smith had instructed her to make the pilot remove his headset, so he would have no communication with the ground.
When the prison came within eyesight, its fence loomed twelve-foot high and was topped with razor wire. Only one-armed guard stood watch in the tower, and a second patrolled the perimeter in a car. There were approximately 200 men in the recreation yard.
Joyce directed Green to set the chopper down in the recreation yard. Smith, Ballew and a third inmate, James Rodney Leonard, 20, were ready. Just as the aircraft touched the ground, the three came running. A guard grappled with the men, trying to yank them out of the aircraft, but a bullet from inside the copter hit him in the mouth, breaking his jaw and knocking out some teeth. Joyce would later deny firing her gun. Ballew would take responsibility for it.
They were on the ground for all of two minutes, but to Joyce it seemed like an eternity. Green, relying on his military training, safely lifted the overloaded helicopter off the ground and flew them to the field where Joyce had left her Chevy Nova. The escapees let Green go unharmed and piled into the car with Smith at the wheel, Joyce riding shotgun and the other two crouched down in the back seat. They headed to the convenience store to drop her car and hop into the Dodge Aspen that had been left there.
As they started to drive, it dawned on them that they had no plan for what came next. They just kept heading south, listening to country music and stopping for beer and fast food along the way. Finally, they rented a single motel room for the four of them, but Ballew and Leonard stepped out for a while to give Joyce some privacy with her lover.
The next morning, the four hit the road again, this time headed for Georgia. By that night, the authorities had found Joyce’s car, and the FBI disclosed her name to the media. Her picture was in the newspapers. Somewhere on the road, they stole a 1979 Pontiac with Alabama plates.
In the early morning hours of December 23—four days after the prison break—they pulled into the Welcome Center on I-95 at the Georgia-Florida line to catch some sleep. A state trooper spotted the car at 3:30 a.m. He ran the plates and they came back to a stolen car. The trooper called for backup, and three cruisers showed up and surrounded the suspect car. The troopers turned their spotlights on the car and used their public address system to wake up the inhabitants.
Joyce, Smith, Ballew and Leonard stumbled out of the vehicle, sleepy, barefoot, hands up and squinting their eyes against the blinding spotlights. They were faced with heavily armed police officers.
The four fugitives were transported back to South Carolina to face the judge. The three men were sentenced to life in prison. Joyce was charged with aiding and abetting escape and assault and battery with intent to kill. In addition, she faced a federal charge of air piracy. She was sentenced to 40 years with the hope of parole after ten.
As Joyce was led away, reporters following the case asked her why she did it. “Because I loved Glen Smith,” she said.
The two never saw each other again.