Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Benjamin Liverman, the “Boy Bandit,” the subject of this week’s post, was first arrested at the age of ten. By the age of 17, he had a lengthy criminal record. His life of crime and the beginning of his reformation began in Norfolk in 1923 when he was convicted of robbery and sentenced to 53 years in the penitentiary.
Benjamin Liverman was born Donatto Siravo on 28 February 1905 in Fall River, Massachusetts. The son of Italian immigrants, Siravo did not have a good home life. According to the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, Alfred Siravo, Donatto’s father, worked as a weaver in Fall River. He was “quick tempered and very emotional and is blamed for much of the [couple's] marital troubles.” In September 1915, Siravo, only ten years old, began his life of crime when he was arrested in Fall River for trespassing. Over the next six years, Siravo, still a minor, was arrested nine times and served time in the Lyman School for Boys and the Shirley Industrial School. He escaped the Shirley Industrial School on 9 January 1922 and made his way to Norfolk, Virginia, by November 1922. Over the next two months, Siravo, using the alias … 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. John Henry Ellis, the subject of this week’s post, was convicted three times for housebreaking and grand larceny. His temper got him in trouble several times while incarcerated.
John Henry Ellis was convicted in March 1932 in Richmond Hustings Court for housebreaking and sentenced to three years in the Penitentiary. Ellis was sent to work on State Convict Road Force Camp 19 in Wythe County where he immediately clashed with the guards. “Ellis has been saucy and impudent with the guard and foreman here,” reported Camp Sgt. M.C. Russell to Penitentiary Superintendent Rice M. Youell on 19 October 1932. His work was unsatisfactory as well. “The [State Highway Department] foreman called him out without any results,” Russell wrote. “Finally he threatened to stand him on the bank and Ellis told him he didn’t give a damn what he did with him.” Russell punished him on 5 October 1932 by making him “stand in cuffs from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. taking him down only for meals and to use the bucket.”
Ellis turned violent on 17 October 1932. While a group of prisoners worked in a quarry, one of them broke wind. Another prisoner, Robert Coleman, said to … 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. Ted Calvert, the subject of this week’s post, escaped the State Lime Grinding Plant after a gun battle, only to be recaptured in California.
In May 1929, 24-year-old Ted K. Calvert was sentenced by the Stafford County Circuit Court to five years in the Virginia Penitentiary for forgery. Calvert was assigned to work at State Lime Grinding Plant No. 1 in Augusta County. On 6 October 1931, six prisoners, including Calvert, attempted to escape during a daytime shootout between the convicts and guards. Plant officials believed that the prisoners’ friends planted several guns in the limestone quarry where they were working. Two prisoners were shot by the guards and seriously wounded. Four others, including Calvert, escaped.
Calvert, using the alias James Livingston, was recaptured two months later in Bakersfield, California. He waived extradition and returned to the Virginia Penitentiary on 23 December 1931. On 29 February 1932, the Augusta County Circuit Court sentenced Calvert to an additional five years in the Penitentiary for conspiracy and attempted escape.
Upon his return to Virginia, Calvert was assigned to State Convict Road Force Camp 29. In a letter to Penitentiary Superintendent Rice M. Youell, dated 3 September 1932, Calvert promised “to make … 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. Clifton Roberts and Sam Washington, the subjects of this week’s post, are linked by the stabbing death of Roberts by Washington in front of 800 prisoners in the Penitentiary in 1929.
According to Penitentiary Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Clifton Roberts was “the most dangerous Negro criminal serving time there.” The 27-year-old West Indies native was convicted of robbery in the Henrico County Circuit Court in January 1923 and sentenced to 10 years in the Penitentiary. Within four months of his arrival, Roberts lost 20% of his good time for falsifying his work ticket. In 1924 Roberts, now at the State Farm in Goochland County, threatened to kill two prisoners. Roberts attempted to kill a prisoner with a hammer but was stopped when another prisoner, John Byrd, broke a stool over Roberts’ head. Roberts later attempted to stab Byrd. In November 1924, Roberts twice escaped from State Convict Road Force Camp No. 5. He was recaptured and two additional years were added to his sentence for attempted escape.
Sam Washington, a 26-year-old from Greensboro, North Carolina, was convicted in Richmond City in 1926 on one count of store breaking and two counts of housebreaking and sentenced to 23 years … read more »
On the afternoon of 18 April 1924, an Imperial Ice Cream Company truck got stuck in the mud on the road between Winchester and Front Royal. The driver left the truck to telephone the company’s Winchester plant for help to get the truck out of the mud. When the driver returned ten minutes later, he saw that a “gang of convicts, in charge of a guard, had climbed on the truck and stolen from it five quarts of brick ice cream and ten dozen Chocolate Coated Ice Cream bars” worth $6.50. The guard told the driver that “he couldn’t do anything with the convicts, as they were in for stealing at the time.” Or so A.W. Warne, Manager of the Virginia Division, claimed in two letters to Major R.M. Youell, Virginia Penitentiary Superintendent. Outraged, Warne demanded an investigation and financial restitution. He added that “it seems to me a deplorable state of affairs when a guard in charge of a gang of convicts does not have enough control over the convicts, or himself, to prevent the stealing” of ice cream. A subsequent investigation by Penitentiary officials tells a completely different story.
A week after the alleged incident, Superintendent Youell ordered J.W. Johnson, the officer in charge of State Convict Road Force Camp 29, to investigate. Johnson’s reply on 29 April 1924 reported that the driver … read more »