Nashville's most infamous escape artist shares tales from past - WSMV Channel 4

Nashville's most infamous escape artist shares tales from past

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Clayton "Rabbit" Veach was as close as they come to a Nashville folk legend. With a tainted history, the now-72-year-old who loved stealing cars and escaping police is ready to spill the true story of a career criminal.

Veach has been living quietly on Nolensville Road for the past 13 years, and the man who spawned 100 newspaper articles after more than 75 arrests says it's time to come clean.

Veach was born into poverty in the Little Texas area of Williamson County. By the time he was a teenager, he had launched a life of crime.

"Never did hurt anybody. I don't know, just one thing led to another, and I just couldn't stay out of trouble. I never really could get a good start," Veach said.

The "Rabbit" was front-page news in Nashville for a quarter of a century. He even once put a sign on a car that read, "This car is completely made from stolen parts."

"He had a good nature about him. Back then, which was different than today, the public was more open about accepting someone like that, even though he was involved in crimes. He had the personality and the charm. He wasn't violent, and he became, in my opinion, in Nashville at least a cultural icon," said attorney Bob Lynch. "He was like Jimmy Dean, and, of course, the Jimmy Dean of the '50s."

Veach would see a car broken down on the interstate, steal the motor and transmission, then go to the scrap auction where he would buy the shell of the car and then put it all back together.

"Could take a four-speed out in two minutes," Veach said.

But it wasn't just fast cars that made Veach notorious. It was his many escapes.

Veach escaped from police six times, including some escapes seemingly right out of a movie.

He once jumped from a moving car at 40 mph, skipped across two streets and stole another car before jumping out again so he could hide in the neighborhood.

Then there was the time he hid in a maple tree or the time he got stuck escaping and police actually had to grease his ears to get him out.

But why the escapes? Veach says it was just too tempting.

"They can't run. I could run good. They just can't run. They probably can now. They got a bunch of young ones now. They just couldn't run like I could," Veach said.

Veach had the strangest code of honor. He never fought with police and he actually paid every court cost and attorney fee. But, if he owed money, he would steal a car to pay it off.

By 1978, the law was tired of the "Rabbit." He was tried as a career criminal and sentenced to life imprisonment even though he had never committed a violent crime.

And that was it. Veach decided after the sentence, even though he had little to hope for, that he would never escape or steal a car again.

Veach was later paroled when his life sentence was overturned, and he says he lived up to his promise and never committed a crime again.

There hasn't been a police officer to visit his tiny apartment in south Nashville in 14 years. In fact, the only thing that draws one's attention is the man who lives there owns 11 cars.

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