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.”
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 … 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. Mary L. Morst, the subject of this week’s post, was pregnant when she arrived at the Penitentiary.
In October 1912, Mary Morst was sentenced by the Pittsylvania County Circuit Court to 18 years in the Penitentiary for murdering her husband. Morst’s mug shot, taken upon her arrival at the Penitentiary on 14 October 1912, clearly shows she is pregnant. On 13 January 1913, Morst gave birth to twins: Joseph and Martha. What would happen to her children?
The Code of Virginia provided the answer. Section 4124 of the Code stated that “an infant accompanying a convict mother to the penitentiary, or born after her imprisonment therein, shall be returned, on attaining the age of four years, to the county or city from which the mother came, to be disposed of as the County Court of said county…may order.” The Penitentiary’s annual reports from 1875 to 1918 include a list of children in the Penitentiary. The list includes the name of the child, date and place of birth, race, sex and name of mother. An additional list of children in the Penitentiary from 1926 to 1932 can be found in the back of a Death Register (volume 124). It is … 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. Will Liddle, the subject of this week’s post, served two nearly back-to-back terms, escaped for 20 minutes and was paroled in 1913.
On 4 April 1906, 24-year-old Will Liddle entered the Virginia Penitentiary to serve his one-year sentence for writing a bad check in Tazewell County. He was discharged on 15 February 1907. His freedom was short lived. Liddle returned to the Penitentiary on 21 September 1907 to begin serving a three-year term for stealing a mule. He also was given an extra five years for his second conviction. Liddle’s good behavior quickly earned him “trusty” status which provided him with extra privileges. In the spring of 1908, Liddle’s trusted status allowed him to assist some carpenters working on the outside of the Penitentiary and the opportunity to escape. On 12 June 1908, Liddle, under the guise of going to the tool box, used a crowbar to break into the carpenter’s storage room. He put on a carpenter’s suit over his prison clothes and walked away from the prison. The guards quickly noticed his absence and sounded the alarm. After a 20 minute search Liddle was recaptured four blocks away. Those 20 minutes of “freedom” added an extra year … 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. Walter Turpin, the subject of this week’s post, had a long criminal history of housebreaking and counterfeiting. His prison record was spotty at best. He escaped once and masterminded a daring escape plan with two other prisoners that failed, yet, he was pardoned – twice.
Walter Turpin had a difficult childhood. He was born in December 1877 in Bedford County. Orphaned at a young age, Turpin made a living as a newsboy on the streets of Lynchburg. In 1890 he was arrested for stealing cigarettes and sent to a reformatory for seven years. Turpin quickly graduated from the reformatory to the penitentiary when he was sentenced in January 1900 by the Richmond City Hustings Court to two years in the Virginia Penitentiary for breaking into the storehouse of the Southern Railway. Turpin was discharged on 21 October 1901; however, his freedom was short-lived. Turpin was sent back to the Penitentiary in June 1902 for five years for breaking into a hardware store in Lynchburg. Since this was Turpin’s second conviction, five additional years were added to his sentence.
On 25 October 1902, Turpin escaped from the Penitentiary in broad daylight. He exchanged his prison stripes for … 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. This week’s entry will spotlight the photographs of escaped inmates. When an inmate escaped from the Penitentiary, State Farm, or a convict road camp, the superintendent issued to law enforcement 3″x5″ index cards. The front side contained the prisoner mug shot, while the back of the card provided basic information (name, inmate number, date and location of escape, crime, sentence), physical description, and the name and address of immediate family.
On 26 April 1925, Preston Waters, No. 18879, and Alfred Williams, No. 19912, two convicts at the Virginia Penitentiary in Richmond, sawed their way out of their cell with a hacksaw. Avoiding the guards, the prisoners made their way to the ground floor, climbed on top of a row of new cells, and cut their way through the metal ceiling in order to gain access to the roof at the southwest corner of the building. They lowered themselves down by rope to a window and then dropped the fifteen feet to the ground and escaped into the night.
In April 1923, 21-year-old Preston Waters of Culpeper County was sentenced to 15 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for attempted rape. Alfred Williams had a lengthy criminal record. In December 1920, … read more »
[Editors Note: Yes, we know it is not Monday. The Out of the Box staff had a technical glitch this afternoon and accidentally published Monday's post today. We will have a new, non-mug shot post on Monday.] Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate mug shots in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Theodore Gibson’s mug shots caught my attention because they showed how much he aged in prison. When I researched his case, I was shocked by what I found.
In the early morning of Thursday, 18 October 1934, William H. Woodfield, a 71-year-old night watchman for the coal yard of W.A. Smoot and Company in Alexandria, was murdered. Woodfield’s skull was crushed with a hammer. No money was stolen but Woodfield’s watch was missing. On Tuesday, October 23, acting on an anonymous tip, the Alexandria police arrested 25-year-old Theodore Gibson. He confessed to the killing two days later. Gibson stated that he was walking through the coal yard when he was accosted by Woodfield who ordered him to leave the yard. Woodfield struck him, Gibson claimed, so he grabbed a small sledge hammer and hit Woodfield in the head twice. Gibson dragged the body 50 feet and fled.
The speed of Gibson’s legal proceedings, according to the Washington Post, was “believed … read more »
At 7:15 A.M. on 19 March 1909 , Benjamin Gilbert, age 19, was electrocuted for the 23 July 1908 murder of Amanda Morse in Norfolk. Gilbert and Morse dated briefly. After Morse ended the relationship in the spring of 1908, Gilbert made frequent threats of bodily harm to her. On the evening of 23 July 1908, Gilbert approached Morse and several of her male companions on the Campostella Bridge. When Morse refused to speak with him, Gilbert pulled a revolver and fired three shots, hitting Morse twice in the back. She died the next day. Gilbert was convicted of first degree murder in October 1908 and sentenced to death. Virginia Governor Claude Swanson granted Gilbert two respites to allow his attorney to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Court refused to grant a writ of error and the death sentence was carried out at the Virginia Penitentiary.
After Gilbert’s execution, the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch reported on an effort to revive him. Dr. J.P. Jackson of South Norfolk wanted to revive Gilbert with a respirator, an invention that he claimed could restore life if used immediately after death in cases of electrocution and asphyxiation. The 19 March 1909 … read more »
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 Almond, … 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 »