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 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
In December 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Sidna Allen, brother of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 35 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for the crimes of first, second and third degree murder. Allen 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 Sidna Allen:
“I at last had an opportunity to go through the carpenter shop where I saw Sidna Allen…I stopped and watched him for a while at his work, before I went over and talked with him. He was working with as much zeal as any man who owned and operated a manufacturing plant. His hair was a silvery gray, though tinted with the yellow saw-dust, and his face pale, though it had the illuminated appearance of a pure Christian man….After talking with him a little while I found that the expression on his face was only revealing the man as he was; a true Christian man. Sunday morning and any time he had a spare, you could see him sitting around reading the Bible and enjoying the words he was daily
In August 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Sidna Edwards, nephew of Floyd Allen, plead guilty to second-degree murder for his involvement in the Carroll County shootout. He was sentenced to 15 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and admitted on 18 September 1912. By all accounts Edwards was a model prisoner. The 27 April 1922 issue of The Beacon, the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, contained this observation of Sidna Edwards by a fellow prisoner:
“[I] noticed a stalwart looking man standing on the prison hospital steps. He had a young, though sad looking face, his hair was beginning to silver and his general expression showed much pain and worry for a young man of his seeming age. I remarked to another prisoner that the big, young fellow seemed rather under the weather. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that is Sidna Edwards. He has rheumatism and has been in the hospital a long time, although not confined to bed. He has the duty of nursing the other patients.’ To describe him takes only a few words, he has one of the most gentle, accommodating, kind and truthful dispositions that I have ever met in any man. He is generally liked and
In August 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Friel Allen, son of Jasper “Jack” Allen and nephew of Floyd Allen, was convicted of second degree murder in the death of William McDonald Foster, Carroll County Commonwealth’s Attorney. Allen was sentenced to 18 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and admitted to the penitentiary on 18 September 1912. By all accounts Allen was a model prisoner. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Friel Allen:
“I had noticed a well-dressed young man passing through the yard of the prison, and on asking who he was I got this reply: ‘that is the Superintendent’s Chauffeur, Friel Allen.’ I immediately remarked that he was only a boy, that if he had been here ten years and looked that now, he must have been only a kid when he was sent here. I ventured up for a talk with him, expecting a sad answer, but not so, he sprang a friendly joke on me right away and began to kid me, showing his youth and good spirits. Our association from then on became more intimate, especially evenings.
On 16 May 1936 at 8:15 PM, Bob Addison, #35074, a prisoner assigned to Camp 16 of the State Convict Road Force located in Fauquier County, escaped. Addison used a fake shackle to fasten himself to the chain that bound all the inmates together at night. He quickly used an iron bar to open the back cell door, fled into the night and disappeared without a trace. Addison remained a fugitive for the next 30 years until his past finally caught up with him.
Bob Addison was born in Tazewell County in July 1913. In May 1932, at the age of 19, Addison was convicted in Tazewell County of assault with a knife and sentenced to four years in the Virginia Penitentiary. He served 2 1/2 years and was released. Addison got in trouble again in 1935 in Russell County. He was arrested for cutting another man with a knife but escaped prior to his trial and fled to West Virginia. He met a girl, Edna Sanders, whom he married in October 1935. Addison used his real name during the ceremony and was captured five days later. He was tried in December 1935 in Russell County and received … read more »
In June 1936 in the Augusta County Circuit Court, Sylvia Elwood Huffman was convicted of first degree murder in the death of W.H. Riddle, an Annex merchant. Huffman shot and killed Riddle in a botched robbery attempt that netted him less than $5. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 7 August 1936. Governor George C. Peery granted Huffman four respites during his two appeals to the Virginia Supreme Court. On 27 December 1937 Governor Peery commuted Huffman’s death sentence to life in prison after receiving a report from the Board of Mental Hygiene that stated Huffman was not sane. Huffman had been a patient at Western State Hospital on two separate occasions (January-June 1924 and December 1931-June 1935) and Huffman’s defense attorneys unsuccessfully presented an insanity defense.
Huffman’s mug shots caught my attention because they showed how much he had aged in prison. I was curious why there were two negatives, one from 1937 and a second one dated 3 March 1959. Huffman’s entry in Prison Book No. 2 noted that he had been returned to the Penitentiary in 1959 for violating his 1957 conditional pardon. Governor J. Lindsay … read more »
In April 1935 James “Jimmie” Strother, a blind musician, was convicted of second degree murder in Culpeper County in the death of Blanche Green, his wife. Strother received a twenty-year prison sentence. He was received at the Virginia Penitentiary on 21 May 1935 and transferred to the State Farm in Goochland County six days later. He was pardoned by Governor James Price in 1939.
According to a Virginia Department of Historic Resources Historical Highway Marker, famed folklorist John A. Lomax visited the Virginia State Prison Farm and the Virginia Penitentiary in Richmond in 1936. The marker states that “working for the Library of Congress’s Archive of Folk Song, Lomax canvassed southern prisons in search of traditional African American music. On 13 and 14 June 1936, Lomax, assisted by Harold Spivacke, recorded quartets, banjo tunes, work songs, spirituals, and blues at the State Farm. Among the notable performers were inmates Jimmie Strother and Joe Lee. The Library of Congress first released songs from the sessions in the 1940s and they have appeared on many recordings since. These sessions are among the earliest aural records of Virginia’s black folk-song tradition.”
In 2002-2003, the Library of Virginia … read more »