Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Charles Beckner, the subject of this week’s post, began his life of crime at the age of 14. By the time Beckner died in 1943, he had escaped three times from Virginia correctional facilities.
Charles Edwin Beckner, the ninth child of Winfield and Augusta Beckner, was born on 26 July 1898 in Tennessee. After Winfield’s death in 1902, the family moved to Richmond, Virginia. Charles probably was exposed to crime through his older brother Chester. Chester, alias The Tennessee Kid, was arrested numerous times between 1906 and 1916 for highway robbery, stealing, and fighting. He served several short sentences in jail but was never sentenced to the Penitentiary. Charles wouldn’t be so lucky.
Beckner’s first brush with the law came in March 1913 when he was arrested for theft. Beckner and three other boys were part of a gang of thieves who fenced their ill-gotten loot through Richmond fortune teller “Professor” Wilbur R. Lonzo. The Richmond City Juvenile Court sentenced the boys to the Laurel Reformatory in Henrico County for an unspecified amount of time. In September 1918 Beckner completed his World War I draft card in the Portsmouth City jail. He was arrested on 9 May 1920 for committing … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Frank Perry, the subject of this week’s post, was a twice convicted felon who killed himself in front of a courtyard filled with guards.
In December 1899 Frank Perry, a North Carolina native using the name Frank Swann, was sentenced to three years in the Penitentiary for stealing and housebreaking. He was discharged on 15 July 1902. Perry didn’t stay out of trouble for long. The Newport News Corporation Court in September 1904 sentenced Perry to two years in the Penitentiary for felonious cutting. An additional five years were added to Perry’s sentence since this was his second conviction.
Monday, 6 July 1908, began as any other day at the Penitentiary. At 6 a.m. the guards issued the call for the prisoners to form the breakfast line. As the cell doors opened, Frank Perry began to fight with this cellmate, Upshur Lewis. One of the guards separated the men and ordered Perry to the courtyard. According to the Richmond Time-Dispatch, Perry appeared to comply with the guard’s order when he suddenly “placed his hand on the railing and dived over twenty-five feet to the stone floor.” His head hit the floor violently, knocking Perry unconscious; he also … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Walter E. Stiars, the subject of this week’s post, is in essence the father of Mug Shot Monday. His daring 1906 escape from the Virginia Penitentiary, eerily similar to Andy Dufresne’s in the film The Shawshank Redemption, was the catalyst for requiring that prisoners be photographed.
On 28 February 1905, the Manchester Corporation Court sentenced Walter E. Stiars, age 30, to eight years in the Virginia Penitentiary on two counts of breaking and entering. Penitentiary officials considered Stiars dangerous. They assigned him to work in the office of the Davis Boot and Shoe Company in order to keep him under constant surveillance and away from any tools. The noon dinner bell rang as usual on Saturday, 16 June 1906. During roll call, Stiars did not answer “adsum” when his name was called. A search of the prison revealed he was not on the premises and Penitentiary officials presumed he escaped sometime on the evening of 15 June. Or had he? As a precaution, extra guards were posted along the outer walls. Penitentiary Superintendent Captain Evan F. Morgan was confident Stiars would be captured. “We expect to land him,” Morgan told the Richmond Times-Dispatch on 17 June, “and … read more »
Cornbread and cabbage turned lethal for one Petersburg woman, but it was another woman’s need for some chicken feed that exposed the death as something more nefarious than a simple case of food poisoning. Parmelia Williamson became “deathly sick” after consuming what proved to be her last meal on 9 June 1909. Junius Williamson, Parmelia’s husband, first used the word “poison” to describe his wife’s condition because he did “not think she washed the ham as it oughter [sic] have been.” Even Parmelia said “her stomach felt like it did when she was poisoned in the country.”
Attended by her husband and neighbor Delia Brooks, Parmelia was examined by a Dr. W. C. Powell who pronounced it a case of “Cholera Morbus,” but Parmelia insisted, “I have no Cholera Morbus, I am poisoned.” He gave her a hypodermic injection, put hot water bottles to her feet, and left. As she continued vomiting, her condition worsened, and she threw her arms up and said, “Delia, save me, do not let me die…save me for the sake of my poor little infant baby.” Another doctor, James E. Smith, was called and pronounced that Mrs. Williamson would not live two hours and that she had been poisoned by arsenic or “Paris Green,” a compound used as an insecticide for produce in the 1900s. After she gasped … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday–Archives Month Edition. This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting early parole information in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Elmer Raines, the subject of this week’s post, was paroled in July 1911. His freedom was shortlived. Raines was back in the Penitentiary by November 1911 under a new name, Charles H. Kimball, one of many aliases “Raines” used.
Thirty-five-year-old Pennsylvania native Elmer Raines arrived at the Virginia Penitentiary on 14 July 1909. Raines was convicted of forgery in the Roanoke Corporation Court and sentenced to four years in prison. At the time of his incarceration, Raines had two known aliases: Henry Fairfax and Frank Fairfax. Penitentiary officials also learned of a new one: William H. Reynolds. On 2 February 1911, Penitentiary Superintendent J.B. Wood received a letter from a Mrs. William H. Reynolds of Macon, Georgia, inquiring if her husband, Elmer Raines, would be paroled in July. “I have tried to be patient,” Mrs. Reynolds wrote, “and sometimes think I can not get along alone and make a living[,] however I have been very successful so far.” By June 1911, Mrs. Reynolds’ fortunes had changed. “[K]indly do all you can to get [Raines] pardoned in July,” she wrote Wood, “for I need his protection more than I can tell you.” The Virginia Penitentiary … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday–Archives Month Edition. This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting early parole records in the Virginia Penitentiary. Joe Perry, the subject of this week’s post, was paroled in December 1910. After his release, he exchanged several warm letters with Superintendent J.B. Wood.
Forty-two-year-old Joe Perry of Buchanan County arrived at the Virginia Penitentiary on 30 August 1906 to begin serving a ten-year sentence for second degree murder. He was a model prisoner and did not violate any rules during his incarceration. In May 1909, Perry found a repeating shotgun which one of the guards had left in a common area of the penitentiary and returned it to prison officials. On 14 December 1910, this incident, along with Perry’s good conduct and clemency petitions submitted by Buchanan County citizens, led Governor William Hodges Mann to commute his sentence to eight years. This made Perry parole eligible. Five days later the Virginia Penitentiary Board of Directors granted it without requiring Perry to secure employment.
Upon his return home to Council, Virginia, Perry wrote Superintendent J.B. Wood on 14 January 1911 to thank him. “I feel that I owe you so many thanks for the kind treatment I received from you and your officials during my time there,” wrote Perry. “I can’t find words … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday–Archives Month Edition! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting early parole records in the Virginia Penitentiary. Edmonia M. Peebles, the subject of this week’s post, brutally killed her husband. Her subsequent manslaughter conviction as well as the decision to grant her parole was controversial.
On the afternoon of 31 August 1907, David C. Peebles and his 11-year-old daughter Mary Sue arrived at their home in Bedford County, having spent several days in Lynchburg. His wife, Edmonia, was working in their detached kitchen. David was drunk and argumentative. David cursed her and accused her of neglecting her responsibilities. Edmonia responded that “if I were a man I’d give you a good thrashing, but I can’t beat you.” Enraged, David attempted to choke her; Edmonia grabbed a stove-lifter and stuck him several times on the head. Peebles grabbed an axe handle and beat her with it. Edmonia got away from him, ran into the house, grabbed a shotgun and returned to the kitchen. Peebles was washing the blood off his face. “You see that don’t you?” he shouted. “You made me do it,” Edmonia replied, “but I want to know if you are going to beat me anymore.” Peebles grabbed the axe and started towards her. “I am not going to let you beat me … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday–Archives Month Edition! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. This month’s entries will spotlight early parole records. An 1898 Act of the Virginia General Assembly (amended several times) granted the Virginia Penitentiary Board of Directors power to parole prisoners if they met certain conditions. To be eligible the inmate must have served half his term, have not broken any prison rules for the two years preceding the date of one-half his term and the prisoner must have assurance of employment upon his discharge. In 1915, the Virginia Attorney General issued an opinion stating that any legislation limiting the power of the governor to grant clemency was unconstitutional.
On 30 January 1909, Ben F. Parker, a 30-year-old African American from Nansemond County, arrived at the Virginia Penitentiary to begin serving a three-year sentence for forgery. Parker was sent to work on the Bedford County road force operated by W.H. McMillan. He was a model prisoner. After serving half his sentence, Parker applied for a conditional pardon (parole) in August 1910. C.T. Allen, a farmer in Good View, Virginia, agreed to employ Parker on his farm for $6 a month for seventeen months. Allen also promised to “take a friendly interest” in Parker, “to counsel and advise him in which … read more »
In March 1913, Floyd Allen and his son Claude were executed for the 14 March 1912 murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney William Foster. The Allens’ case had gone through many twists and turns since the shootout in the Carroll County courthouse the previous March. The trials of Floyd Allen, Claude Allen, Friel Allen, Sidna Allen, Wesley Edwards, and Sidna Edwards took place in Wytheville from April to December 1912. The prosecution’s strategy was to prove the courthouse shooting was a premeditated conspiracy in order to make each defendant equally liable for the murders. On 18 May 1912, Floyd Allen was found guilty of the first degree murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney Foster. The prosecution’s strategy failed in the trial of Claude Allen. He was convicted of the second degree murder of Judge Thornton Massie because the prosecution failed to prove a conspiracy. Claude Allen then was tried twice for the murder of Foster. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. In the second trial, Allen was convicted of first degree murder. Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 22 November 1912.
The execution did not happen in November. In order to … read more »
In December 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Wesley Edwards, nephew of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 27 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for two counts of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder for his involvement in the Carroll County shootout. Edwards was admitted to the penitentiary on 14 December 1912. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Wesley Edwards:
“The first day I was in prison I ran into Wesley Edwards on the steps of the Industrial Department and started a conversation with him. As soon as I told him where I was from, he at once extended his hand, with a smile, and said he was glad to see someone from near his old home, though he was sorry to see me in trouble. I in turn extended my sympathy to him. My thoughts of him were many, the chief one being how strange it seemed that this tall, blue-eyed, young fellow could be so jovial and so interested in his work. He was even then in a hurry, had saw-dust in his hair and on