At 56, Vicky White was on the brink of retiring from an illustrious career as a corrections officer.
“She was a model employee,” said Rick Singleton, the sheriff in Lauderdale County, Alabama, where Vicky White worked for nearly two decades.
“All of her co-workers, all the employees in the sheriff’s office, the judges, all (had) the … utmost respect for her,” he said.
White, who was the county’s assistant director of corrections, was so well respected that “some of the older guys looked up to her as a mother figure,” Singleton added.
But despite Vicky White’s stellar reputation, the jail boss apparently helped “mastermind” a plan to flee with inmate Casey White, the sheriff told CNN on Tuesday.
After 11 days on the run, authorities found the pair Monday in Evansville, Indiana. Casey White was arrested. Authorities say they believe that Vicky White fatally shot herself. “We believe that she may have taken her own life,” said Dave Wedding, the sheriff in Vanderburgh County, Indiana.
Here’s what we know about what led up to Vicky White’s apparent transformation and death:
Officials believe the pair had a ‘special’ relationship
Vicky White, a widow with no children, and Casey White, a 38-year-old convicted felon and murder suspect, had a “special relationship,” Singleton said last week.
“We have confirmed through independent sources and other means that there was in fact a relationship between Casey White and Vicky White outside of her normal work hours – not physical contact – but a relationship of a different nature,” the sheriff said.
He said interviews with other inmates helped confirm a personal relationship between Casey White and Vicky White, who were not related. “We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.
Inmates said Casey White “was getting extra food on his trays” and “was getting privileges no one else got. And this was all coming from her,” Singleton said.
Confirmation of the relationship came from “other sources outside the detention center,” according to Singleton.
Investigators have traced the relationship back to early 2020. Casey White, who had been serving a 75-year sentence in a state prison for a series of crimes in 2015, was brought to the Lauderdale County jail in 2020 for his arraignment on murder charges in the death of Connie Ridgeway.
“As far as we know, that was the earliest physical contact they had,” the Lauderdale County sheriff said.
After the arraignment, Casey White returned to state prison. But Singleton said the officer and inmate kept communicating by phone.
Casey White was brought back to the Lauderdale County jail in February to attend court hearings related to his murder charges.
Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly said he was stunned that Vicky White may have been romantically involved with an inmate. “I never would have thought that in a million years,” said Connolly, who spoke with Vicky White almost every day for 17 years.
He said Vicky White was “the most solid person at the jail.”
“I would have trusted her with my life,” he said.
Vicky White funded the escape after selling her house
Shortly before her disappearance, Vicky White sold her home for $95,550 – less than half the current market value. County records list the total parcel value of the property at $235,600.
She also purchased a 2007 Ford Edge, one of several vehicles the pair used to flee. The Ford was found abandoned in Williamson County, Tennessee, hours after the prison escape.
“Clearly lots of planning went into this,” Connolly said.
During her time on the run, Vicky White became a fugitive with an arrest warrant in her name. She was accused of permitting or facilitating escape in the first degree, identity theft and forgery.
Singleton said he believes Vicky White “was basically the mastermind behind the whole plan.”
“He (Casey White) was behind bars. He really couldn’t plan too much behind bars. Personally, I think she was the one to put the plan together,” the sheriff said.
But former FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker said he believes Casey White may have manipulated Vicky White. “This is not terribly unusual, that you have this guard falling in love with a prisoner who’s probably groomed her over a period of time,” Swecker said.
“So he obviously needed her. You would think someone with law enforcement experience – an assistant director of corrections in that county – would have thought a little bit farther down the line,” he said.
“She obviously lost all judgment over the last few months or so.”
She talked about retiring and going to the beach
The day Vicky White disappeared was supposed to be her last day at work, Singleton said.
She had worked at the department for almost two decades and submitted her retirement paperwork at the end of April, though the retirement papers had not yet been finalized.
Singleton said Vicky White had talked about retiring for three or four months prior to her disappearance. He said she talked about moving to the beach.
But Vicky White didn’t mention her retirement to her mother, Pat Davis, the mother told CNN affiliate WAAY.
Vicky White used her position as a boss to violate jail policy, sheriff says
As the second in command at the detention center, Vicky White used her position to execute the escape plan on April 29, Singleton said.
Vicky White said she was taking Casey White to a courthouse for a mental health evaluation and would then go get medical care because she wasn’t feeling well.
Authorities later discovered no hearing or evaluation was scheduled for Casey White that day. And Vicky White never arrived at the medical facility.
Vicky White violated jail protocol when she removed Casey White from the detention center by herself, Singleton said. The policy required Casey White to be escorted by two sworn deputies.
Her patrol car was later found abandoned in a shopping center parking lot, less than a mile from the detention center.
Officials obtained video showing the patrol car the pair left in. The video shows the car stopped at an intersection eight minutes after it left the jail. The intersection is about two blocks from the shopping center parking lot where the car was later found abandoned, Singleton said.
“It’s obvious from the evidence we have gathered that this was not – that he didn’t kidnap her or force her or anything as far as in the car once they left the facility,” Singleton said.
“She scheduled the van transport that morning, made sure all the other armed deputies were out of the building and tied up in court. Knew the booking officer wouldn’t question her, the assistant director when she told her she was going to take him to court and drop him off with other employees,” the sheriff said.
“She arranged – purchased the getaway car, she sold her house, got her hands on cash, she went shopping, bought clothes for him,” Singleton said Tuesday.
Not ‘the Vicky White we know’
Loved ones and former colleagues have been grappling with a barrage of emotions since Vicky White’s unexpected disappearance.
Davis, Vicky White’s mother, told CNN last week that they last spoke on April 29 – the day Vicky White disappeared.
“The whole thing has been a nightmare. I just want my daughter to come home. And to come home alive,” Davis said.
Davis said she had no idea about her daughter’s plans to flee with an inmate.
“She would come home after work, eat supper at my house, and pick up her dog. She’d walk her dog and that was her routine every day,” Davis said.
Singleton said the Vicky White who fled with an inmate is not “the Vicky White we know.”
“Vicky White was a member of our family. That’s why it was so hard in the first few days to grasp that she could actually do something like this because it was so out of character for her,” the sheriff said.
“In spite of what she’s done, Vicky was a friend to every one of us,” he said. “It has been an emotional roller coaster for our employees.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an outdated value for Vicky White's home; the most recent value was $235,600. It also included the wrong age for Connie Ridgeway; she was 59 when she died.
CNN’s Jenn Selva, Paradise Afshar, Jamiel Lynch, Michelle Watson, Amara Walker, Jade Gordon, Ryan Young and Jaide Timm-Garcia contributed to this report.