Tag Archives: Virginia State Penitentiary

- Mug Shot Monday: Ernest Harper, No. 18903


Photograph of Ernest Harper, #18903, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 43, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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.  Ernest Harper, the subject of this week’s post, brutally murdered an unrequited love interest and was sentenced to 20 years in the penitentiary.  Eighteen months into his sentence, Harper escaped in dramatic fashion and was never recaptured.


Photograph of Mrs. Alice Moore, Norfolk Journal and Guide, 22 November 1922, page one.

On Thursday morning, 2 November 1922, Ernest Harper, armed with a revolver, burst into the room of Mrs. Alice Moore in Norfolk.  He shot Moore seven times, emptying his weapon; she was able to run down the stairs but died in the doorway.  Harper was quickly captured.  His motive was jealousy.  Harper had fallen in love with Moore, who was estranged from her husband, Luther Moore.  Alice rejected Harper’s advances and the Moores had recently reconciled.  After learning the news, Harper shot Moore in a jealous rage.  In May 1923, Harper was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in the Virginia Penitentiary.


Photograph of Frank McGee, #16897, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 42, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Upon Harper’s arrival at the Penitentiary on 23 May 1923, he was placed in the cell of Frank McGee, who was serving a 15-year sentence for housebreaking.  The two cell mates planned one of the most sensational and well-planned escapes in penitentiary history.  “Eighteen inches of steel-re-enforced concrete, a three-quarters of an inch steel plate, … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Herbert Irving Roberts, No. 22087


Photograph of Herbert Irving Roberts, #22087, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B.  Photographs, Box 44, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Herbert Irving Roberts, the subject of this week’s post, was a career criminal, escaped from the Virginia Penitentiary in 1928, and was “taken for a ride” and killed in New York City in 1930.


Photograph of Mrs. Cook's Cafeteria, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 15 February 1927, page 3.

On the evening of 13 February 1927, Herbert Irving Roberts entered Mrs. Cook’s Cafeteria at 805 East Grace Street in Richmond.  His accomplice, John E. Morgan, waited outside as the lookout.  Roberts, armed with a gun, subdued and tied up a janitor and night watchman, cracked open the basement safe, and stole about $1,000.  Roberts went to the first floor to rob another safe when the door bell rang.  Frightened, Roberts left his tools and escaped through a rear window.  Roberts and Morgan hurried to the Broad Street railroad station and took the 11:50 p.m. train to Washington, D.C.  Richmond detectives contacted Washington police to be on the lookout for the two men.  They were arrested and transported back to Richmond.  Roberts, acting as his own lawyer, was tried and convicted on 14 April 1927 and sentenced to 18 years in the penitentiary.


Headline, Richmond News Leader, 4 July 1928, page one.

Roberts was not incarcerated very long.  On the night of 3 July 1928, Roberts made a dummy out of blankets, stuffing a … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: John Henry Ellis, No. 28276, 33714, and 43346


Photograph of John Henry Ellis, #43346, Prisoner Negative, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Negatives, Box 234, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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 »

- Mug Shot Monday: Clinton Kirby, No. 25830, 42236, and 49236


Photograph of Clinton Kirby, #42236, Inmate Photographs, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 38, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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.  Clinton Kirby, the subject of this week’s post, was convicted three times for housebreaking, shot while trying to escape from the Medical College of Virginia, and diagnosed as psychotic.


Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1932 August 20, page one.

On 19 August 1932, Clinton Kirby, a convicted felon serving a ten-year sentence for robbery, was brought from the State Farm in Goochland County to the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) in Richmond.  Kirby was at MCV to have his arm x-rayed.  He broke it in 1931 and it had caused him discomfort ever since.  Within minutes of arriving at the Dispensary Building, Kirby rushed out the front door and ran north on 11th Street trying to escape.  H.H. Bowles, the guard who accompanied Kirby to MCV, raced after him firing two warning shots in the air.  “But after wasting two good bullets that way,” reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bowles fired two shots directly at Kirby.  The first shot missed.  The second shot hit Kirby in his left arm just after he crossed Leigh Street in front of the city dump.  Bowles apprehended him within seconds.   Kirby returned to the hospital by ambulance and surgeons removed the slug from his arm.

Kirby was convicted in July 1930 … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Kenneth Frederick Thomas, No. 15150


Photograph of Kenneth F. Thomas, #15150, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 42, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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.  Kenneth Frederick Thomas, the subject of this week’s post, was either a bigamist or a decorated World War I hero.  Thomas’ version of his military service and his The Hangover-like courtship and wedding, stand in stark contrast to the evidence gathered by two Virginia governors.


Virginian-Pilot, 17 March 1918

Kenneth Thomas arrived in Norfolk in early March 1918.  On Saturday, 9 March, Thomas, dressed in the uniform of an aviator of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), attended a dance at the Fairfax Hotel where he met 20-year-old Rose Eugene Swindell.  Thomas wooed Swindell with tales of air battles with the Germans on the Western Front as a Canadian pilot.  Thomas’ stories, reported the Virginian-Pilot, “blinded the young girl and she married her romantic suitor” on 12 March.  The newlyweds lived at the Lorraine Hotel until the bridegroom was arrested 16 March by agents of the United States Department of Justice at the request of Canadian authorities.  Thomas was wanted for desertion and bigamy.


Virginian-Pilot, 25 March 1918.

Upon his arrest, Thomas told a very different story than the one he told his bride.  He claimed he was an American citizen, had never served in the Royal Flying Corps, and was a victim of mistaken … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Ed Carr, No. 11516


Photograph of Ed Carr, No. 11516, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 171, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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.  Ed Carr, the subject of this week’s post, escaped from a convict road camp in 1913.  Jealousy led to his recapture in 1932.

Ed Carr was arrested in April 1913 and charged with grand larceny of a diamond ring.  Hoping to get a shorter sentence, Carr lied about his age.  “At this time,” Carr wrote Governor John Pollard in 1932, “I was 15 years old.  When I was arrested on the charge the people who were in jail with me, told me that if I told my correct age they would send me to a reform school until I was 20 or 21 years old, but that if I ran my age up, and in case of conviction, I would get a year in the Penitentiary.  I listened to this, and gave my age as 25 when I came up for trial.”  It did not work.  Carr was convicted on 3 May 1913 in the Corporation Court of Norfolk City and sentenced to 10 years in the Virginia Penitentiary.  Carr was assigned to State Convict Road Force Camp No. 5 in Russell County.  He didn’t stay long.  Carr escaped on 7 August 1913 having served less than 90 … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Ted K. Calvert, No. 24376


Photograph of Ted K. Calvert, #24376,  Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Box 420, Folder 8, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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.

Photograph of Ted K. Calvert, alias James Livingston, #6127, Bakersfield Police Department, ,  Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Box 420, Folder 8, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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 »

- Mug Shot Monday: Clifton Roberts, No. 18699 and Sam Washington, No. 21202


Photograph of Clifton Roberts, No. 18699, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 43, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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 »

- Mug Shot Monday: Charles E. Beckner, No. 16663


Photograph of Charles E. Beckner, #16663, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Box 418, Folder 8, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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 »

- Mug Shot Monday: Frank Perry, No. 5610


Photograph of Frank Perry, No. 5610, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 20, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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 »