On Feb. 12, 2006, Toby Young drove her white cargo van through Lansing prison’s final gate and then asked out loud: “Are you in here?”
In the back of the van were stray dogs ready for adoption. They had been trained by inmates as part of the Safe Harbor Prison Dogs program Young founded. But Young wasn’t talking to the dogs.
Silence followed her question, and Young felt relieved.
But when she drove the van off the gravel road and onto flat pavement outside the prison grounds, a lanky arm popped out of a box inside a dog crate, and John Manard, convicted murderer, started laughing.
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Young never thought the escape she had planned with Manard would work. She had fallen in love with the tall, red-headed 27-year-old who escorted her around the prison on her regular visits. But now the 48-year-old wife and mother of two was terrified: terrified of getting caught, terrified of the consequences.
“Drive! Drive! Drive!” Manard told her. And Young drove.
Toby Young had always been perfect. (Now remarried, she goes by the last name Dorr.)
In high school, she didn’t have a curfew and would still come home earlier than her siblings, who did have curfews. She married her high school sweetheart and worked 50-60 hours a week at Sprint while getting a degree and raising children.
But by 2004, her happy visage masked a crumbling marriage and an empty-nester’s depression, she said. After surviving thyroid cancer, she decided she’d throw herself into something new: a prison dog program at Lansing Correctional Facility.
The program was a huge success. In just 18 months, 1,000 dogs had been through the program, and Dorr had found a new purpose, one that she poured all her time and energy into.
But it was exhausting. Every morning she’d wake up at 5 and every night she’d return at 10. The strain it was putting on her, paired with the pressure of always acting the happy mother, was crushing, she said.
“You know, when John Manard suggested that maybe we should escape, I mean the first thing I thought of was ‘I can be relieved of all this duty.’ And so to me that was a breath of fresh air,” said Dorr, who is writing a memoir and shared her story with The Star.
“At the time, I was so overwhelmed, so full of pressure that it sounded like a great idea, which was indicative of how broken I really was at that moment.”
Manard, 6-foot-2 with a deep voice and swaggering walk, had caught Dorr’s attention from the beginning of his involvement in the program.
In October 2005, he began accompanying Dorr around the prison after another inmate threatened her physically. Dorr said Manard was assigned as her unofficial escort by an employee in the warden’s office. David McKune, who was warden at Lansing at the time, disputed that account, saying she had no assigned escort, “let alone an inmate.” However, McKune said allowing Dorr to roam the facility alone was one of their mistakes.
“She’d been there for quite a while and she had a terrific background, great reputation. Her ethics seemed above reproach,” he said. “She’d been around so long and done so much, we just said, ‘When you get here, you’ve got your ID, you can go do what you need to do.’”
This became a problem in October. Every time Dorr was in the prison, Manard was with her, and they spent a lot of time together talking. In Manard, Dorr found a man who saw the world as she did.
“Sometimes I’d say to somebody, ‘What does red taste like?’” Dorr said. “They’d look at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But I said to John Manard once, ‘What does red taste like?’ and he said, ‘It tastes like cinnamon and it’s spicy and it smells. It fills your whole head with the smell.’”
Her marriage, she said, was broken. Her ex-husband could not be reached for this article, and her son declined to comment.
“I think at that point in my life, I was just desperate to be loved, to feel like somebody loved me,” Dorr said. “Maybe John was wearing his inmate hat and he was perceptive enough to notice a need in me and capitalized on it. But I do think that he cared for me.
“I do think that John Manard loved me to the best of his ability to love anybody at that time. Because he was pretty broken, too.”
Manard was serving a life sentence for first-degree murder for his role in a fatal 1996 Overland Park carjacking. In a letter to The Star for this article, he called himself a “17-year-old child” and said he made a huge mistake. It was never officially determined at trial who pulled the trigger that killed the passenger in the car, but Manard’s accomplice, Michael Yardley, said he was the one holding the handgun and claimed it went off accidentally.
“I loved Toby and was 100 percent committed to her,” Manard wrote. “I’ve always been given the role of the ‘master manipulating, scumbag criminal with no morals’ and Toby the, ‘poor manipulated, naive, gullible, depressed, desperate, good girl,’ that I took advantage of.
“Why did I stay with her once I was out if I was just manipulating? I NEVER manipulated her in the least!” he wrote. “I loved Toby with all that I was.”
One day Manard asked if Dorr would be with him if he weren’t in prison, and she said she might.
“To him that meant, yes, let’s escape, and to me it just meant yes, I might be with you if you were out of prison,” Dorr said. “So he started thinking of things and planning in his head and then by the time he shared with me what he already had planned, I was kind of desperate to do something different myself.”
Feb. 12 was the one day it would work.
It had to be a Sunday; weekends at Lansing were quieter. Sunday dog adoptions were less of a production, and there were only two prisoner counts on Sundays. On that day, Dorr’s regular contact from the warden’s office was out of town.
That particular Sunday was also bitter cold, Dorr said. “Everybody was inside as much as they could be. That meant there were less people watching us.”
The dog handlers were so impatient to get back inside that neither they nor the officers noticed the nearly flat wheels on the farm wagon carrying the dog crate toward the van, Dorr said. They simply loaded the dogs into the back of the van and then slid the heavy crate into the side door.
McKune believed the prison’s security measures were good at the time of the escape but said that the officer assigned to the post that day didn’t follow procedures. Dorr contends differently.
“People like to say that the guard that day didn’t do his job,” Dorr said. “But honestly, nobody did their job when we did dog adoptions. Nobody ever checked my van. Nobody ever really watched me load dogs. They were all petting the dogs just like everybody else.”
The escape was easy, she said. And then she and Manard were off.
Manard untangled himself from the crate for which he had lost 25 pounds to fit in. The two switched out the van for a truck at a storage facility in Bonner Springs and then drove south to Tennessee, where they spent 12 days in a cabin and occasionally ventured out.
Later found inside the cabin: novels, sex toys, a blue parakeet, a guitar, materials to forge identification papers and sheet music to the jailbreak film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
There were good days and not-so-good days, Dorr said, the happiest she’d ever been and also the most anxious.
“I was happy to be with him — until I got scared to be with him,” Dorr said. “I just didn’t know if this moment he was going to be happy and giddy or this moment he was going to be tense and angry. It was a roller coaster.”
Manard said in his letter that they fought only once, at the beginning of the trip.
“Everything from 2 hours after that until capture was anything but fighting I promise,” he wrote.
Dorr said although Manard would get angry if she did something careless, he was the one who wanted to get out of the cabin, see the world that he’d missed since his late teens. On the day of their arrest, the two had seen an IMAX movie in Chattanooga and had gone to a Sears. They were spotted by U.S. marshals walking out of a bookstore where Manard had just bought Dorr the classic boy and dog novel “Where the Red Fern Grows.”
The two were driving on Interstate 75 in Tennessee when the authorities descended on them. Manard and Dorr agreed to pull over, but when a police car swerved in front of them and slammed on its brakes in an attempt to stop them, Manard got angry, Dorr said. He thought the police were trying to kill them.
So Manard turned the car around and passed through the wooded median onto the other side of the interstate.
“We came out on the southbound lanes and I looked behind us and you could see all these police lights bouncing through the median, too, because it was really hilly,” Dorr said. “They pulled out onto the highway behind us.”
And beside them, semitrailer trucks attempted to squeeze them. Manard pulled off onto the shoulder, going 100 mph, but when he tried to pull back onto the highway, he lost control of the steering wheel and their car headed straight for a tree in the median, Dorr said.
“I remember knowing that we were going to hit the tree. And I was praying, ‘Please, God, just let me die when we hit that tree. Just let me die. I don’t want to have to deal with this,’” she said. “And we hit the tree, and I wasn’t dead.”
Dorr blacked out. When she came to, sound came as well. Sirens and shouting and Manard’s voice saying, “I’m unarmed. Don’t shoot.” She couldn’t move, couldn’t get out of the car, so an officer threw her to the ground. She heard Manard calling to her.
Lying on the ground, Dorr looked up as Manard approached, handcuffed and dragging a string of police officers behind him. A light from a helicopter shined behind his tall figure.
“It looked like he had this halo of light around him,” Dorr said. “And then he was gone. And that was the last time I saw him.”
Hope behind bars
For 27 months, Dorr moved among prisons, serving her state and federal time.
“Looking back, I was in jail for the exact right time I should have been,” Dorr said, “because I spent all that time in prison reflecting on myself and the things I needed to change. I knew when I left prison that everything that I’d had before was gone. And I was going to have to start a new life and build it from scratch.”
She kept diaries in which she wrote poems, drew pictures and reflected on life. In a diary entry from Nov. 10, 2006, Dorr wrote about her struggle with shame.
“There is no need for further punishments — that was from my Project Rachel class and I really like it. My attorney too, told me to quit beating myself up over this. I’m being punished enough just being here. That makes me feel a lot better. I’m going to cling to that.”
She was on suicide watch seven times, she said. During the last one, the only one Dorr believes was warranted, she found hope.
“God came into my cell in that suicide room and told me that there was a purpose to this ... and that I needed to use my story to help other women get through something that they were going through.”
Ten years ago, Dorr was released from federal prison in Houston. She stepped out into the Texas heat, bus ticket in hand, but had no idea where to go. So she walked right back in.
“You can’t come back in here!” she remembers hearing. “You can’t come through the door, you’ve got to get out.”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” Dorr said. “I don’t know how to get to the bus station.”
So Dorr just stood outside the prison, paper sack full of belongings in hand, and waited until a taxi pulled up to her.
Return to KC
After her release, Dorr lived with her mom for three months, readjusting to life outside prison.
She found it difficult to fit in with her family and find a place for herself in Kansas City, where the media hounded her and restaurant-goers would point during meals.
“It was just all too fresh,” Dorr said. She went to Boston to escape.
“I think that people wanted to believe that there was something so broken, so wrong, so unusual about me that I could do something like this, because I think that deep down they sensed that it wasn’t that far of a line to cross over, and they never want to consider that maybe they could do something like that. So, they had to kind of sensationalize all the gory parts of the story to try to make it more distant from their own story.”
Dorr came back to Kansas City in December 2008. Now, she says, the city is good to her. She runs an internet marketing business in Liberty.
“I think I’ve lived past some of the notoriety,” she said. “Sometimes when I tell someone my story, they just think it’s amusing, like, ‘I can’t believe that was you! I read that in the paper.’ So it’s not such a heavy weight as it was when I first got out of prison.”
A big part of Dorr’s healing process was meeting her new husband, Chris, in Boston in 2008. He, too, had undergone difficult stages in life.
“It’s not today that matters. It’s the potential that matters. And Toby had potential,” he said. “She had what it took to impress me and make me realize that all human beings are capable of more profound love than everybody else as a human being would give them credit for.”
In her home, Dorr keeps a letter she received from McKune, the former Lansing warden, who responded to a letter she wrote to him in her last few months of prison.
“While I will always feel responsible in my role two years ago, you made me feel like a normal person and not some ogre,” Dorr wrote on Feb. 12, 2008, after seeing him in a television interview.
She didn’t expect a reply. But McKune wrote back on Feb. 28.
“I felt a lot of different emotions, but anger and resentment were not among them,” he wrote. “Initially it was fear for your safety — then more a sense of frustration and, to be completely honest, some feelings of betrayal. I do, however, still believe you to be a decent, kind, and caring person who made some bad decisions for reasons that are beyond my knowledge. ... I wish you well and every success and happiness as you move forward.”
McKune, who served as warden until 2012, said he is happy to hear Dorr is doing well.
“If you don’t believe in the inherent good in people, then you really don’t belong in corrections,” he said. “Corrections to me should be all about second, third, fourth, fifth, tenth chances, if you will. That’s why we’re supposed to be there. To help people who have made bad choices. Some of them really, really bad choices.”
In 2016, Toby and Chris Dorr visited John Manard in a New Hampshire prison, where they caught up and Chris was able to meet the man who had such an effect on Toby’s life.
“She has a good and loving man for a husband whom I like a lot, Chris is a good man,” Manard wrote. “Toby couldn’t be in a better situation, and I hope the best for them.”
Dorr believes Manard’s “not a terrible guy.”
“He’s a very likable guy,” she said. “He’s really smart. He really has a lot to offer if people would listen to him. Of course, don’t listen to him as much as I did.”
Manard never apologized to Dorr, but she said she didn’t expect him to.
Manard wrote: “We made well thought out, mulled over, analyzed from every angle, STUPID decisions. I owe her no apologies for any choices.”
It’s important to Dorr to own her responsibility and decision.
“I think if I tried to push that off on John, then I would be a lesser person,” she said. She has sent him Christmas baskets for the past few years.
Dogs are still an important part of Dorr’s life. She and Chris have two, and she is happy that Safe Harbor Prison Dogs is still in operation at Lansing.
For the past 10 years, Dorr has been combing through her story, working on writing a memoir. But it wasn’t until this summer that she finally found her voice, she said, and now it’s really coming along.
Her working title? “Unleashed.”