Tag Archives: Virginia State Penitentiary

- Happy Holidays from the Out of the Box Editors


Cover of the December 1938 issue of the Beacon, a monthly newspaper published by the inmates of the Virginia Penitentiary, Film 2319, Virginia Newspaper Collection, Library of Virginia.

The editors of Out of the Box are taking some time off for the holidays.  We’ll see you next year! In the meantime, checkout our letter to Santa post and a holiday post from our friends at the Fit to Print newspaper blog.

-Bari, Jessica and Roger… read more »

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- Mug Shot Monday: Elmer Raines, No. 8824


Photograph of Elmer Raines, #8824, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 694, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot MondayArchives 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 »

- Mug Shot Monday: Joe Perry, No. 6733


Photograph of Joe Perry, #6733, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 21, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot MondayArchives 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 »

- Mug Shot Monday: Edmonia M. Peebles, No. 7803


Photograph of Edmonia M. Peebles, #7803, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 98, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot MondayArchives 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 »

- Mug Shot Monday: Ben Parker, No. 8432


Photograph of Ben Parker, #8432, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 110, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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 »

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- I Scream, You Scream, We All Steal Ice Cream!


Reid Ice Cream Co. truck, probably in Washington, D.C., ca. 1918.  The Imperial Ice Cream truck referenced in this post probably looked similar.   National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress (no known restrictions on publication)

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 »

- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Floyd and Claude Allen


Photograph of Floyd Allen, #47, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 184, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the final post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

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 »

- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Wesley Edwards, No. 11218


Photograph of Wesley Edwards, #11218, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 165, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the fifth post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

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

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- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Sidna Allen, No. 11217


Photograph of Sidna Allen, #11217, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 165, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the fourth post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

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

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- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Sidna Edwards, No. 10995


Photograph of Sidna Edwards, #10995, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 161, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the third post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

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

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