March 24, 2005

Caught! J. J. Jameson Leads a Double Life

Snapshots In My Time...
Of My Time.....Hauntings.

Chicago Sun Times

In Chicago, J.J. Jameson's voice resonated deeply on poetry stages. He marched for peace and even helped set up chairs at community policing meetings in his Far West Side neighborhood.

But in Massachusetts, Jameson's story is a much darker tale of murder and jail break and a 20-year run from the law.

On Tuesday morning, Massachusetts authorities finally caught up with Jameson -- whose real name is Norman A. Porter Jr. -- and arrested the twice-convicted murderer. Porter was picked up at the West Side church where he worshipped after simply walking into the church office.

Porter, 65, appears to have been in Chicago for at least the past decade and possibly the whole time he's been a fugitive. He made a name for himself as a poet, local handyman and quirky neighbor. He occasionally talked of family and growing up on the East Coast, but neighbors said the anecdotes were short on details.

"This is a huge one,'' said Marc Smith, a Chicago poet. "It will be shocking to everybody and a little disconcerting. That's pretty wild.''

Members of the Massachusetts State Police Fugitive Apprehension Unit arrived in Chicago Sunday to coordinate the arrest with their Illinois counterparts, said Illinois State Police Sgt. Lincoln Hampton. The Boston Herald reported that the Chicago connection was made after the FBI matched Porter's fingerprints to a 1993 arrest here. The paper also reported Porter had been arrested four times between 1989 and 1993 in Illinois and Washington state.

The Illinois and Massachusetts teams set out to visit several addresses Tuesday, Hampton said. While investigators were at Third Unitarian Church, 301 N. Mayfield, Porter just happened to walk in and surrendered, Hampton said.

During a search of his home -- which Porter consented to -- he first signed his name "Jameson'' and then scratched it out and wrote "Porter," sources told the Boston Herald.

"It's a sweet, sweet day,'' said Massachusetts state police Lt. Kevin Horton, whose fugitive unit has been hunting Porter since 1985.

Horton told the Boston Herald that after his arrest, Porter said, "I've had a good 20 years [of freedom].''

Porter was serving two life sentences for murder in 1985 when he escaped from the Norfolk Pre-Release Center, a minimum security and work-release facility 35 miles southwest of Boston, according to the Massachusetts Department of Correction.

Walked away from jail in 1985

He had served 26 years in prison for the 1960 execution-style shooting of a clothing store clerk in Saugus, Mass., and the 1961 shooting death of a jail master at the Middlesex County Jail, where Porter was housed while waiting for his trial on the murder of the store clerk.

Porter attacked the jail employee during the jailbreak while another inmate, who also was breaking out, shot him, according to Massachusetts State Police. Porter was arrested a week later trying to rob a store in New Hampshire.

Once back behind bars, Porter earned an undergraduate degree from Boston University. He published poetry, founded a prison newspaper and by 1975 had his first life sentence commuted and began serving his second life sentence, according to Massachusetts state police.

He was transferred to Norfolk in September 1985, where he did maintenance work on prison grounds. In December, Porter walked away from the facility.

In various alerts issued over the years by Massachusetts, Porter is described as a diversely talented activist and poet. That much seems to have carried over to his life in Chicago, where he sometimes turned up at the city's well-known poetry slam at the Green Mill in Uptown.

"He was a total character,'' said Smith, who runs the slam. "The old anarchist. .. . If you tried to pin him down and be serious, he was going to [mess] with your mind.''

Smith said he loved watching Porter engage with the audience, who often booed him off during the sometimes raucous, loose slam. He said he was also sometimes hard to control. "Underneath the madness, he was also intelligent."

Porter published two books and was named the Poet of the Month by in March 2004. He has been described as an anti-war writer, but others have said he also had a lighter touch, often mocking his love life.

He would turn up at small coffee houses around the city to read in a distinctive style -- slowly, enunciating every word and with impeccable timing.

But his verse betrayed nothing of his past. "You think of violent people, and you don't think of him,'' said friend Maggie Rubin. "He's happy-go-lucky, a pacifist.''

'Here's a guy, when he walked into a room, people cheered'


J.J. Jameson was a popular, contemplative, funny poet.

"Here's a guy, when he walked into a room, people cheered," said his friend C.J. Laity, publisher of "When he read, people just laughed. They loved him."

But Jameson was really Norman A. Porter Jr., a twice-convicted murderer who escaped from prison.

"I knew the man," said Laity. "I don't think I really knew him, come to think about it."

Porter lived on the Far West Side near the Oak Park border, renting a dirty apartment on the top floor of a four-unit building. He was active in the Third Unitarian Church across the street in the 300 block of North Mayfield.

"I can't believe this," said neighbor Jessie Selvy, 48. "I've seen him at CAPS [community policing] meetings. With the police. That's why I'm so shocked. He was just a regular guy."

Neighbors said Porter was a church volunteer, raking leaves, mowing the grass and bagging and delivering food for the needy.

Selvy, who has lived on Mayfield for 14 years, said Porter lived there at least a decade. Other neighbors say it was shorter, and some said he bounced around a lot, crashing on friends' couches or sleeping in apartments he was helping to renovate.

Porter would talk to Selvy's wife about poetry and other interests. He also chatted with Dale Bennett, a retired journalist, who lived across the hall. She trusted him with the key to her apartment so he could do odd jobs, including relighting her water heater.

Neighbors heard part of his life story, including growing up in Maine and having an ex-wife and children. But Bennett knew she wasn't getting the full story. "I knew there was some drifting and some suffering along the way."

And he was moody, Bennett said. He was a heavy drinker, and sometime mixed his Scotch and beer with painkillers such as Vicodin and codeine.

He had tumors on his face and mouth, including some that had to be removed, friends said. Sometimes he seemed to disappear. His friends would call Bennett looking for him and she couldn't find him.

And one time he borrowed her car and returned it with a caved-in side. When he told her, he was matter-of-fact, unapologetic.

"He wasn't thoughtless, but he just kind of lived in his own world," Bennett said. "I trusted him, but I couldn't rely on him."


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