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 »
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 »
On Sunday 20 January 1907, Ed Baker, a “one leg Italian” with “a bad face”, escaped from the State Convict Road Force camp near Williamsburg. Baker, one of the camp cooks, made his break at 6:07 a.m. when a guard sent him to get some wood. The alarm was sounded at 6:15 and a manhunt begun. Baker, who had a wooden leg and only an eight-minute head start, was not easy to recapture. The Virginia Gazette reported that Baker was pursued by several guards as well as local citizens and students for nearly nine hours. Baker was finally caught at 3 pm by guard R.F. Morris – 20 miles from the camp! The guard in charge of Baker when he escaped was fired. That evening camp Sgt. W.B. Pattie wrote Penitentiary Superintendent E.F. Morgan that ”a man who can’t hold 4 men with a shot gun & pistol is no good to me.” Baker was also punished. Even though Baker only had one leg, Pattie “put a ball and chain on that and will give him 39 [lashes] in the morning.”
Letter from W.B. Pattie, dated 20 January 1907 to Capt E.F. Morgan
The State Convict Road Force was created by the General Assembly in 1906 as part of the Withers-Lassiter “good roads” law that created the State Highway Commission. The Penitentiary was responsible for creating, … read more »