The Eureka August 12, 1886


Bloody Escapade at the Penitentiary Tuesday Afternoon

Four Prisoners Take Their Lives in Their Hands in an Attempt to Get Beyond the Walls, and Two are Hurried There by Bullets.

A restless feeling that has been evident among a large portion of the convicts in the Anamosa Penitentiary, developed into a break Tuesday afternoon. Four men actively participated in the emeute, but the low hum of derisive groans that followed the report of the rifles as they were discharged from the walls by the guards, showed there was a general sympathy with the plot.

The men who thus made a defiant effort to obtain their freedom, were Albert Mitchel, a Linn county man sentenced for life for the murder of the ex-convict Thumm by cutting his throat on a railroad bridge near Cedar Rapids. He was 27 years old when he was placed here in 1885. His parents reside at Center Point, Linn county. In religious education he was a Methodist, in habit intemperate. Was unmarried and followed the occupation of a laborer. He served five terms in various penitentiaries for the crimes of burglary and larceny. The murder of Thumm was the climax of the career of as tough a character as ever trod Iowa soil. During his incarceration in the Linn county jail before he was sent here, he succeeded in getting out by knocking down the jailer's son. The boy's sister happened to be near, and after giving the alarm, followed him. A crowd of men were soon at his heels and he was chased into a cornfield, where he turned on his pursuers with a club, striking a number of them and keeping them all at bay until Sheriff Seaton arrived on the ground and shot him down. The second man was William Larkins, a one-armed man who was sentenced from Jackson county district court to serve ten years for burglary, larceny and attempt to kill. He was sent here July 5, 1885. Although sentenced from Maquoketa he was really a tramp from New Orleans. He was a peddler by trade, a Catholic in religion, a drunkard in habit, and a bad egg generally. He joined the convict Phillips in an attempt to escape a few years ago. By the help of a heap of stone piled against it, and some boards with cleats nailed on them, they managed to scale the wall, but in their effort to slide down a guy line to the ground, Tom Buckner struck the line with a big bullet and knocked Larkins off, causing him to fall a distance of eighteen feet or twenty feet. They were recaptured on Main street. Paddy Ryan, the third man, was from Chickasaw county, serving a term of six years on two indictments for larceny. His occupation was that of a day laborer, in religious education he was a Methodist, but was a drunkard and had no mental culture. The fourth man was Harry Blunt, serving fifteen years for the crime of assault with intent to commit rape upon a little daughter of Nicholas Lienen, near this city. He was sentenced in May, 1885. This man had better mental culture than any of the others. He is temperate, a stone cutter by trade and was educated in the religious belief of the United Brethren. His home is at Charles City.

About 4:30 o'clock Mitchell was working at the derrick near the stone shed, when he suddenly left his work and passed through the shed with an axe in his hand. This was a preconcerted signal to Blunt and Ryan, who were working there. As soon as Mitchell got out of the shed he broke into a run toward the unfinished gate in the southwestern part of the yard, which is walled up with heavy pine planks. Blunt and Ryan and Larken, who was working at the derrick, following Mitchell closely.

The guards instantly discovered the break, and the fire of the rifles covered them from all parts of the wall. The guard house occupied by Tom Buckner stands on the wall just over the barricaded gateway. The old man was there to receive them, but they pelted him with stones to prevent him from shooting while they knocked off a board. Ryan kept up this fusillade for a few seconds after they reached the gate, but presently he was shot dead in his tracks, and Mitchell was disabled. The work of forcing a passage through the gate then devolved on Blunt, and he continued it with supreme courage, and stood there axe in hand for fully five minutes, the bullets whizzing and striking on all sides of him. Twelve bullets struck around him. Finally Blunt effected his purpose, and he and Larkin got outside of he wall, but did not go far. Blunt was overtaken and captured in Fisehl's cornfield a little northwest of the prison yard, by Henry Peck and Charley Scroggs. Larkin received a shot among the small ribs on the left side of his back. But he succeeded in secreting himself under the railroad bridge across the Buffalo, where he was taken by Frank Chapman and Carl Barr. He had a knife made of a razor blade, in his hand, which he flourished furiously as he ran. As we have written, Ryan paid for his temerity with his life. A bullet struck him on the right shoulder and passing down through his lungs came out under the left shoulder blade. Whether the bullet came from Buckner's gun or from a guard on the northern or eastern wall is not known. Tom Buckner is credited with every effective shot on account of his nearness to the escaping convicts. Mitchell was shot in the right leg just below the knee, and the bone in his leg was completely crushed.

It was a brief but bloody fiasco. Not more than half an hour was consumed in it. Ryan lay dead in his tracks, and Mitchell writhing in mortal agony until the fleeing convicts were recaptured. All energies were bent for the moment to the work of keeping the count of the prison roster full, with dead men or live. It is horrible work to be sure, but it is what the law expects of the men who are placed in the service of a penal institution, and there is no alternative but for them to obey with as little feeling as may be contained in a stone. Blunt, who escaped unhurt, was sent to the dark cell. Larkin is in the hospital and may die. Mitchell died at 1 o'clock Wednesday morning, and with his last breath declared he was innocent of the murder of Thumm.

Guilty or not guilty, he was a bad man, and has thus fittingly closed a brutal and desperate career. We would fain draw the curtain down upon all such events as these with their bloody and merciless faces, but they are a part of the strange inconsistencies of this life.

The prison management have sought to do their duty, and the convicts have exercised an impulse which lies deep in the human heart, in their attempt to obtain liberty. The most innocent man will give play to this impulse with the same terrible energy that the guiltiest may display.

The dead men were buried in the prison graveyard Wednesday evening about 7 o'clock. The services for the dead was read over them by Chaplin Gunn in the chapel in the presence of officers of the prison and a dozen or more of the convicts. The two new graves make fourteen that lie in the shadow of the elms on the sidehill by the river.