The Lowell Film Collaborative and Moses Greeley Parker Lectures present Killer Poet: The Double Life of Norman Porter on Tuesday, October 6 at 7PM at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center, 246 Market Street. Massachusetts film director Susan Gray brings the story of Norman Porter to life in her award-winning documentary that showcases Porter, aka JJ Jameson, two-time convicted murderer and acclaimed Chicago poet. Porter’s criminal background was reported in the following March 2005 news story in Woburn’s Daily Times Chronicle.
Up for parole in 2010, Porter lived two intense lives and left a trail of betrayal and devastation in his wake. Join us as we welcome director Susan Gray for the Lowell premiere of her film and her personal take on this dramatic, controversial court case.
From March 23, 2005:
||Killer/escapee Norman Porter Jr. found living as poet in Chicago
By AP and Staff Reports firstname.lastname@example.org
CHICAGO – Woburn native, two-time convicted murderer and three-time Mass. prison escapee Norman Porter is back in custody in Illinois today after being captured by Mass. State Police and Illinois authorities at a church yesterday.Porter, 65, who lived on Garden Street in West Woburn, has been in the news since 1960 when he killed a Robert Hall salesman on Route 1 and later a superintendent/security guard at the East Cambridge courthouse in a successful escape.
Woburn police have been well aware of his presence going on nearly a half-century, as his escapes and escapades always brought out surveillance of the Porter family home, friends and individuals in the city. He at times has vowed retribution on Woburn police for their role in incidents before and after his three-times being captured.
At various times, he has also threatened Woburn police who arrested him in prior incidents.
His last escape from a minimum-security situation at Norfolk MCI also put him 1-2 with the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger as Massachusetts “Most Wanted” criminal.
He is facing an extradition hearing on Wednesday but is expected back in the state shortly.
In Chicago, Porter is known as Jacob “J.J.” Jameson, a poet and anti-war protester devoted to his local Unitarian church.
Porter’s double life crumbled and his 20-year flight from justice ended in Chicago on Tuesday morning, when undercover police investigators arrested him in the offices of the Third Unitarian Church, police said.
His apprehension stunned friends, who said they had no inkling that the 65-year-old was running from a violent past.
“He had us all fooled,” said C.J. Laity, who knew Porter from poetry readings. “I’ve known him for many, many years. Obviously, I didn’t know him as well as I thought.”
Porter’s whereabouts have been a mystery to police since he walked away from a pre-release center in Norfolk in December 1985. Ever since his escape, he has been at the top of the Massachusetts State Police’s “Most Wanted” list, ahead of fugitive mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.
In 1960, at age 21, Porter shot and killed John Pigott, a 22-year-old store clerk, during a robbery of the former Robert Hall clothing store in Saugus.
While he was awaiting trial, Porter and another inmate escaped from the Middlesex County Jail in Cambridge. During the escape, they overpowered the jail master, David S. Robinson, then shot and killed him with a smuggled gun.
Porter, who wasn’t accused of pulling the trigger in Robinson’s killing, eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in both cases and was sentenced to consecutive life terms. However, in 1975, then-Gov. Michael Dukakis commuted one of those sentences.
During his 26 years behind bars, Porter earned his high school diploma and was working toward a college degree. He escaped after he was transferred to a minimum security facility.
Porter’s friends in Chicago said he has been living in the city for the past 20 years.
About a month ago, however, a tipster reportedly contacted the Massachusetts State Police and said Porter was living in the Chicago area.
Investigators checked a database and matched Porter’s fingerprints to his 1993 arrest on theft charges in Chicago. He used the Jameson alias when he was arrested 12 years ago. Police also ran an Internet search on Jameson and found references to his poetry.
Porter acknowledged his real identity when police arrested him, saying, “I had a good 20 years,” according to Detective Lt. Kevin Horton of the Massachusetts State Police Violent Fugitive Apprehension unit.
Porter was arrested without incident when police found him at the church late Tuesday morning, said Illinois State Police Lt. Lincoln Hampton.
“Our guys told me he was very cooperative,” Hampton said.
Porter is scheduled to appear in a Chicago courtroom Wednesday for an extradition hearing.
In the meantime, his Chicago friends are searching their memories for any missed clues that could have pointed to Porter’s past.
Charles Paidock said he met Porter more than a decade ago, at a forum on free speech and other social issues. He knew little about Porter’s past, other than he was from New England and said he had a grown daughter.
“I’ve always known him to be a perfect gentleman, quite active in the community,” Paidock said. ”
Earlier this year, Porter’s friends planned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his move to Chicago with a roast and poetry reading. But he was sick and had to be taken to a hospital, friends said.
Chicagopoetry.com, a web site run by Laity, recently named Jameson its Poet of the Month.
Marc Kelly Smith said he knew Porter from his poetry readings at the Green Mill, a well-known Chicago jazz club.
“He’s kind of an eccentric guy… a really out-there cat,” Smith said. “He always gave me the impression he was an old anarchist from the ’60s.”
Paidock, who was working on a play with Porter, said he never saw anything in his friend to suggest a violent past.
“This is absolutely a complete and total shock,” he said.
Massachusetts State Police said it was at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday when the Massachusetts State Police Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section and the Massachusetts Department of Correction, Office of Investigative Services Fugitive Apprehension Unit collaboratively arrested Porter in Chicago.
The Massachusetts State Police, the Massachusetts Department of Correction and the Illinois State Police working on several leads arrested Porter at the Third Unitarian Church in Chicago “without incident.”
In December 1985, the State Police noted, Porter escaped from a State Correctional Facility in Norfolk. At the time of his escape, he was serving two life sentences for murder.
“I applaud the mutual determination of the State Police and the Department of Correction in apprehending this violent offender and placing him back in our custody,” said State Police Commissioner Kathleen M. Dennehy. Department of Correction Captain Edward McGonagle, Lt. Joseph Pepe, Lt. Paul Devlin and Massachusetts State Police Detective Lt. Kevin Horton and Sgt. Timothy Luce all participated in the arrest of Porter. Porter is currently being held at the Cook County Jail pending arraignment at the Cook County Circuit Court on Wednesday morning.
“The State Police are committed to working in partnership with other public safety agencies to ensure the safety of all citizens”, said Colonel Thomas G. Robbins.
The Massachusetts State Police released the following rap sheet on Porter immediately after his arrest:
Norman Arthur Porter, Jr. is wanted by the Massachusetts Department of Correction Fugitive Section and the Massachusetts State Police, Fugitive Section for Escapee.
On 09-29-60, at approximately 8:40 PM, Norman A. Porter, Jr. and Theodore F. Mayor entered the Robert Hall Clothing Store in Saugus “masked,” with Porter brandishing a sawed-off shotgun and Mayor a revolver. They herded all of the customers and employees into the back room and while Mayor was trying to get the manager to open the safe after taking all of the cash from the registers, Porter was ordering all of the other victims to place their wallets and other valuables in a coat that was being circulated around.
As a part-time clerk was reaching into his pocket for his cash, Porter with no known provocation, placed his shotgun’s muzzle against the back of the clerk’s head and pulled the trigger killing him “execution style.” Porter subsequently absconded to New York and was apprehended there a short lime after the murder.
While awaiting trial for the murder and robbery at Middlesex County Jail, Cambridge, on May 14, 1961, Porter and Edgar Cook, who was also awaiting trial for murder, escaped from the jail and in the process Porter and Cook physically assaulted the Master and Keeper of the Middlesex Jail (who was a Sheriff) and shot him to death with a gun that was smuggled into the facility.
Two days after the escape, Cook was located by police in the Back Bay Section of Boston, where he chose suicide over recapture. Porter was apprehended a week after the escape in Keene, NH while he was in the process of robbing a grocery store. Porter “PLED GUILTY” to both the shotgun slaying of the Robert Hall Clothing clerk and the Sheriff’s murder, and was sentenced to two (2) consecutive life sentences (2nd degree). Porter received two concurrent life sentences (2nd degree) for armed robberies.
While in prison, Porter was awarded an undergraduate’s degree from Boston University, published poetry, founded a prison newspaper and radio station and became the “darling” and “poster child” of the progressive and reform-minded academic community. In 1975, Porter’s first life sentence was commuted by the then Governor and he began to serve his second sentence.
In September of 1985, Porter was transferred to Norfolk Pre-Release Center, a minimum security and work-release facility located 35 miles southwest of Boston. Porter worked as a maintenance cadre/trustee on the prison grounds, and on December 21, 1985 after serving 26 years in prison, Porter escaped.
Porter has been on the Massachusetts State Police “MOST WANTED” list since his escape. The Most Wanted poster considered Porter to be extremely dangerous and manipulative.