From October 1963 Monticello Express



A riot, estimated at involving around 500 prisoners, broke out into the open at 12:35 PM Thursday at the Iowa State Men's Reformatory at Anamosa. Prisoners were brought under control by 3 PM, but fire still smoldered in several prison buildings as late as 4 PM.

Signs of unrest were apparent at breakfast time Thursday, when only 100 prisoners appeared. None showed up for lunch at noon.

When the work bell was rung at 12:35 it triggered the men into boos, yelling, and acts of destruction involving vehicles and buildings.

Hardest hit of the prison buildings was the print shop, where rioters smashed and overturned equipment and started the most serious fire. Fire and rioters damaged the tailor shop, cutting room, sewing room, motor school, cannery, auto license plate and sign plants.

At least one gunshot was fired by a guard over the heads of four prisoners who were using a jeep as a battering ram, trying to smash down the main gates. This was the only reported escape attempt.

No official estimate of the damage could be obtained late Thursday. Warden Ray Purcell was on his way back from Des Moines, where he was attending a meeting of the State Board of Control.

All available guards were speedily assembled, and were assisted by both Anamosa and Monticello city police. Prison employees were armed and volunteers manned the outer walls.

Every highway patrolman in district 12 responded to the call for help, and all daytime duty patrolmen from districts 10 and 11 came as well. Jones county Sheriff Ralph Albaugh and deputy Larry Himes were aided by officers from Linn, Cedar and Jackson counties.

The Monticello fire department arrived to aid the Anamosa and prison departments in halting the blaze. Many prisoners helped in battling the fire.

No injuries were reported by either prisoners or law enforcement personnel, although several prisoners were overcome by smoke.


In an exclusive Express interview the unidentified guard who fired the lone shot said, "I only shot to scare them".

"I saw this jeep load of prisoners as they left the motor school, and headed toward the main gate. I shot in front of the jeep, and they stopped immediately.

"They got out and ran to the other huddle of prisoners. I thought they were trying to get to the gate, and shot to scare them."


In an exclusive interview, prison business manager Lloyd Hoyle, who was in charge during warden Purcell's absence, told the Express he had no idea what triggered the riot and said that the real reason might never be known.

"I believe," he said, "that it was a combination and accumulation of grievances, many of which we can't control. There has been no change in working hours, and no significant changes in work rules."

Hoyle added that only a few inmates reported for breakfast, and that "every effort was made to provide a real good dinner meal, but they just refused to eat it."

When the riot began, Hoyle went to the recreation area and tried to talk with the prisoners. "I told them to put their grievances in writing and the warden would give them a fair hearing, but they went on rioting.."


Several workers in the tailor shop reportedly refused to work for about an hour Thursday morning.

Employees at the Jones county court house, a block away, could clearly hear the noise made by the rioters.

Prison office girls were sent home at noon, when prison officials suspicioned something might be brewing.

Flames were shooting 20 feet in the air above the print shop at one time.

A prison truck was backed through a garage door at the motor school during the rioting, and two trucks were crashed together near the school building.

Guards were reportedly alerted late Thursday morning that "trouble might be brewing".

One prison guard told an Express reporter "I knew something was going to happen. They've been trying to run this place from Des Moines."

One highway patrolman reported a guard told him he had been warned by a prisoner that a riot was in the making, and that the prisoner predicted "accurately" what would happen.