The Eureka December 17, 1891


The Fall of a Platform at the Penitentiary Sends Three Men to their Death

About 9 o'clock Saturday morning an accident occurred at the Anamosa penitentiary which sent three men to sudden death.

The roofing of the new building for the female convicts is nearly done. Saturday morning a force of men were doing work on the inside of the building for the support of the roof. A temporary platform had been erected in the northwest corner, near the roof, about fifty feet from the ground, to enable the men to put in a strut or brace. There was some masonry work connected with it and a boatload of stone had been hoisted to the platform by the use of a derrick. The platform was rather a frail structure: the cross pieces, or joists, were 4x8-inch staff, the floor was of two layers of the same, or 2x12.

Five convicts were on the platform at the time of the accident:

R Curren of Boone, Iowa, serving a sentence of 25 years for murder in the second degree, an unmarried man of 36 years, sent here Oct. 3, 1883, was a coal-miner near the town of Boone, learned the trades of stonecutter and mason here - his parents live at _______ton, Ohio.

W. E. Graves, a young man of 26 years, serving a six months sentence for larceny. Was a clerk in a railroad office in Chicago, receiving $125 per month. Went to Conrad Grove, Grundy county, this state, to visit a young lady he was engaged to marry. While he was in Conrad he loitered about the railroad depot a good deal. The express office was in the depot. One day the express agent left a money package containing $108 on the counter, while he was absent from the office a moment. Graves was in the office at the time and in response to an inexplicable impulse took the package and walked off with it. His mother lives on Ogden Avenue, Chicago. He was received at the prison in October last.

John Gilboy, 19 years of age, serving a three year sentence for highway robbery in the city of Clinton. Sheriff Desmond brought him here Monday night, Dec. 7.

F. M. Hull, a relative of the republican politician of that name, it is said. A young man who was sentenced to a three years term for the crime of arson, having burned his store to get the insurance money. He arrived here in June, 1891.

Dan. Tomlin, a young man serving a four year sentence for "holding a man up" in Iowa City. The sheriff landed him here Oct. 10, 1891.

The accident was in a large part due to carelessness. R. E. Sergent, the guard at the new building told the men on the platform as he was leaving that part of the building that they must not pile any more stone on it. Curren, who was at the head of the gang, always noted for his obstinacy, manifested it on this occasion, and as soon as the guard was out of the way swung another boatload of stone on the platform, making a ton and a half weight, which proved to be too much for its floor, and it went down with a crash amid the terrified cries of the men. The platform broke in the middle. Whether the men or the stones fell first cannot be known. The iron girders for the four floors beneath the platform were in place, and in their descent, the men were either crushed by the stone falling upon them, or they struck the girders in their headlong passage to the basement. It was a terrible fall.

Curren had the back of his head crushed and his spine broken. Graves' right leg was broken in two pieces, and his right shoulder was broken. His skull was crushed on the right side of the forehead. Gilboy had the back of his head crushed. Hull's jaw was broken on the left side and a number of teeth knocked out; the ligaments under the left arm were broken and the arm itself nearly torn out of its socket - this arm was also broken just above the elbow, and the left leg was broken at the ankle. Tomlin escaped with a few bruises. As he fell he caught on one of the iron beams for the fourth floor and saved himself by slowly working over to a window opening - his right ankle was sprained and his back wrenched.

The injured men were carried to the hospital and there received prompt surgical treatment.

Graves only lived an hour from the time he was hurt. A pardon for him to take effect Dec. 20, was received from Gov. Boles that morning. Had the train been on time the pardon would have been here before the fatal accident. That same day a letter was received from his mother, in which she expressed her happiness at the prospect of his early release from prison and his coming home for Christmas. Curren, who was a man of massive build, lingered until 4:30 in the afternoon. Gilboy lived but two hours. Hull is getting well. All day Sunday he begged to be allowed to smoke, but this luxury was denied him until Monday. Of the three who died Graves was the most conscious and was full of fortitude. He had every reason to want to live. The railroad officials in Chicago had overlooked his offense, and he was to return to his old position as soon as his pardon took effect.

The ashes of Graves and Gilboy were taken by their friends. Curren's body was granted interment in St. Patrick's Catholic cemetery through the kind offices of Rev. Father Power, by whom the obsequies were solemnized on that occasion.

(In March 1894 the Iowa House appropriated $240 per year for Fred Hull, who was crippled for life in the above incident)