Sunday, April 03, 2011

Black Sheep Sunday: Kokomo Bandit In Prison Break

Kokomo Tribune, Kokomo, Indiana, December 29, 1930, page 1.



Desperate Criminals Gain Control of Their Cell Block at Michigan City Prison, but Surrender Without Bloodshed When City Police and Firemen Reinforce Guards -- Overpowered Guard Shouts Alarm -- Sawed Bars and Rope Ladder Tell of Well Plotted Scheme -- Prisoners Without Arms -- Leaders Placed in Solitary Confinement

Michigan City, Ind., Dec. 29. - (AP) - An elaborately planned jail break attempt failed at the Indiana state prison today.  A combined force of guards, city police and firemen forced 12 desperate criminals who had gained control of their cell block to surrender without bloodshed.

The 12 men, most of them bank robbers or murderers, had overpowered their guard, Guy Burklow, but not before he shouted an alarm to outside guards.

The convicts barricaded the doors and prevented prison guards from entering, but when city police and armed firemen augmented the watch on the walls, the men surrendered.

The 12 men were released from their cells by a key which prison officials said had been fashioned from a spoon by the leader of the plot, Joseph Burns, serving a term for participating in the Culver, Ind., bank robbery of 1925.

Warden Walter H. Daly said the attempted break occurred at 12:30 o'clock this morning, at a time when a limited force of guards was on duty.  The only weapon found among the twelve men was a knife, the warden said.


"The men were in cell house D, to the north of the administration building." Warden Daly said. "The attempted break occurred at a time when our guard force was limited.  We did not set up machine guns as reported, before the men surrendered peacefully.

"Burns, a murderer, was only one of the leaders in the plot.  All have been placed in solitary confinement."


Other prisoners besides Burns who were said to have attempted to escape were:

Harry Pierpont, Kokomo, serving 10-21 years for bank robbery; Albert Rosenberg, St. Joseph County, 25 years, robbery; James Jenkins, Greene county, serving life for murder; Dick Day, Terre Haute, 10-21 years, bank robbery; Howard Ware, Vigo county, 25 years, auto banditry; Maurice Delature, Marion county, life, habitual criminal; Frank Badgley, Miami county, life, habitual criminal; Louis West, Marion county, 16-21 years, bank robbery; Wayne Williams, Allen county, life, murder; Willard Tex, St. Joseph county, 10-21 years, robbery, and Russell Clark, Marion county, 20 years, bank robbery.


Prison authorities found several other indications that the attempt was well planned.  One man had sawed away two iron bars when police gained control of the cell block and another had a rope ladder ready for use.

The D cell house, in which the attempt was made, was designed to hold 340 men but was occupied by more than 500 and the attacking forces had no idea how many of these men were free.

No shots were fired on either side.  The prisoners apparently had no hidden firearms and guards inside the cell blocks do not carry weapons.


Harry Pierpont, one of the dozen who attempted to escape from the Michigan City prison, was convicted in the Howard circuit court May 6, 1925 on a charge of robbery and is serving a sentence of ten to twenty-one years.  In addition to the sentence, he was fined $1,000 and costs and disfranchised for a period of ten years.

Pierpont was one of five men convicted here of robbing the South Kokomo Bank.  Others who were convicted at the same time and on similar charges were Earl Northern, Roscoe Hayes, Everett Bridgewater, and Thaddeus Skeer.  All received penalties similar to that imposed on Pierpont.

Records of the Howard circuit court show that Pierpont's age at time of his conviction was twenty-three.  His place of residence prior to embarking in a criminal career was never clearly established.  It is said he had lived in Ft. Wayne, Toledo and Indianapolis, though not long in any of those places.  He had hung around Kokomo for some time before the bank robbery was framed.
Cousin Harry PIERPONT (1902-1934), just didn't want to stay behind bars. From county jails to state prisons, he was always trying to escape, right up until the end.

Black Sheep Sunday – create a post with the main focus being an ancestor with a “shaded past.” Bring out your ne’er-do-wells, your cads, your black widows, your horse thieves and tell their stories. And don’t forget to check out the International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists (IBSSG). This is an ongoing series at GeneaBloggers.

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