Prison Dog Trainer Fell in Love With Convicted Murderer, Broke Him Out
- Toby Dorr was running a prison dog-training program when she met convicted murderer John Manard.
- Dorr said Manard’s listened to her when no one else would, so she fell in love with him.
- Dorr served 27 months in prison for helping Manard escape. Now she says she’s a different person.
When Toby Dorr was 47, she fell in love with a convicted murderer and broke him out of the federal prison where she worked.
Her story was made into the Lifetime movie “Jailbreak Lovers,” which debuted July 2.
Before Dorr became entangled with a criminal and eventually became one herself, she said she was never one to break rules, let alone the law. She married the first man she dated and centered her life around work at a corporate job, raising her children, and going to church. That all changed when Dorr met convicted felon John Manard.
Dorr’s mounting feelings of unimportance, loneliness, and confusion were at an all-time high when she met Manard, she told Insider. He became one of the inmates who trained dogs through her program at Lansing Correctional Facility, a state prison in Kansas. A year into the job, Manard approached Dorr about non-work matters.
“He said to me, ‘What’s going on in your life? Because you seem so upset.’ No one else had even asked me, including my husband, you know, how I was doing? I was really struggling with a lot of things,” Dorr told Insider.
She said he listened to her talk about her empty marriage, miscarriage, thyroid cancer diagnosis, and dying father. Dorr says the 25-year-old’s confidence made her gravitate towards him. In February 2006, two years after their initial meeting, Dorr helped Manard escape from prison. The two were on the run for 12 days before they were stopped by police and arrested.
Once in custody, Dorr spent 27 months in federal prison for helping John escape in a dog crate. She pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting a prisoner’s escape and a federal charge of knowingly providing a firearm to a felon.
Dorr told Insider her ill-fated love story with Manard, and her subsequent time in prison, spurred her healing journey.
When Manard brought up Dorr’s husband, she finally came to terms with her unhappy marriage
Dorr says she formed an emotional connection to Manard when he asked about her marriage, and later said he loved her.
One day, Dorr said she came to work straight from the hospital where she was visiting her father, who had stage 4 bladder cancer. At that point, Manard was a regular dog trainer in her program so they saw each other daily.
Dorr said she must’ve looked distressed because Manard asked what was wrong. By the end of their conversation, Dorr began to have serious doubts about her marriage that she couldn’t shake, she said.
The two spent multiple hours together every day for months, and Manard eventually told Dorr he loved her and wanted to run away with her. Together they hatched a plan, which included Dorr taking $40,000 from her retirement savings, buying a used truck for $5,000, and driving a van with the dog crate Manard was hiding inside.
Dorr said she didn’t question Manard or their plan because she could only focus on how much she wanted to be with him.
Once on the run, Dorr realized sex was the ‘strongest’ part of their relationship
Until that point, Dorr and Manard only had an emotional, not a sexual, connection, Dorr told Insider. But the sexual tension was there, and they acted on it once they arrived at the Tennessee cabin where they planned to hide. Manard was the first man Dorr kissed, and slept with, since her husband.
Manard ran bubble baths for Dorr and sang songs to her in front of the fire at night, she said. They went on day trips together too, wearing wigs to hide their identities. But their short-lived time together, 12 days before police caught them, also highlighted how their connection was never built to last.
“The sexual part was probably the strongest part of our relationship,” Dorr told Insider.
Dorr says being alone in prison forced her to grieve and move on
Aware of her crimes, Dorr said her husband filed for divorce and her sisters and sons cut off contact, leaving her alone in every sense.
Dorr ended up in an all-women prison where inmates were given few ways to occupy their time, she said. So she took to writing, and says she filled a journal for every month she was there, 27 notebooks total.
The writing process allowed her to revisit the pain of her miscarriage and grieve the daughter she never had, she told Insider. Befriending fellow inmates also taught her the power of friendship and helped her figure out who she was.
In 2009, Dorr remarried her now-husband Chris and is proud to be a grandmother. She’s also proud of the workbooks she’s designed to help other women in prison who feel lost like she did.
Mainly, Dorr is proud of letting go and moving on, despite still grappling with feelings of shame.
“Even though I feel like I’m perfectly emotionally healed and I can move through anything, there will be those moments when I have to dig deep, pull that courage back up, keep moving forward,” she said.