this day in crime history: december 16, 1962


On this date in 1962 – the 25th anniversary of the Cole/Roe escape attempt – Alcatraz inmates John Paul Scott and Darl Lee Parker took a shot at busting out of The Rock. After bending the bars on the kitchen window, they made it to the shore and swam for it using inflated rubber gloves as makeshift water wings. Parker made it about 100 yards and stopped on a rock formation near the island. He was found there half an hour after the escape was discovered by prison officials. Scott was found an hour and a half after Parker, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. He had made it to Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. After a stint in a nearby hospital, Scott was returned to Alcatraz. John Paul Scott is the only Alcatraz escapee who ever successfully swam to the mainland… that we know of.

Further reading:

Utica Observer“2 Escape from Alcatraz; Freedom Short Lived”

Alcatraz History – Escape Attempts

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this day in crime history: december 16, 1937

On this day in 1937, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe decided they needed a change of scenery. The two Oklahomans were inmates at the infamous federal prison on Alcatraz Island. Over a long period of time, they had filed through the bars on one of the windows in the prison mat shop, where they worked. They waited for a stormy day, when the guards in the towers would be less likely to see them leave the prison. When the time was right, they crawled through the window and disappeared. When prison officials discovered that the men were missing, they conducted an exhaustive search of the island, but there was no sign of the two men. It’s believed that the men tried to swim to shore using empty five gallon oil cans as floatation devices, and that the current – stronger than usual due to the storm – carried them out to sea, where they drowned.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Alcatraz Escape Attempts

Alcatraz History – Escape Attempts

this day in crime history: december 11, 1985

On this date in 1985, Hugh Scrutton, a computer store owner in Sacramento, CA was killed when a bomb loaded with nails and splinters exploded in the parking lot of his store. Scrutton was the ninth victim, and first fatality, in the 17 year bombing spree of the man who turned out to be the nuttiest of nutty professors: Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber. By the time he was arrested in 1994, Kaczynski had planted sixteen bombs. Two of the bombs were defused before they could explode. The other fourteen bombs killed three and injured eleven. He is currently serving a life sentence (without the possibility of parole) in federal prison.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Theodore Kaczynski

FBI – The Unabomber

The Unabomber’s Manifesto

this day in crime history: november 26, 1933

On this date in 1933, the people of San Jose, CA decided to take the law into their own hands. Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes were being held in connection with the kidnapping and murder of 22 year old department store heir Brooke Hart. The townsfolk, already enraged by the nature of the crime, whipped themselves into a frenzy when rumor spread that the two men were going to try an insanity defense. On the night of November 26th, they stormed the jail, broke down the door, and took the two men. The crowd brought them to a nearby park, where they hung each man from a tree. No one was ever prosecuted for the lynching. In fact, California Governor James Rolph, who had refused the Sheriff’s request for National Guard troops to hold off the mob, praised the action and promised to pardon anyone charged with the lynching.

Further reading:

Wikipedia: Brooke Hart

San Jose PBA: The Hart Murder and Lynching

this day in crime history: september 5, 1975

President Ford being rushed from the scene of an assassination attempt.
President Ford being rushed from the scene of an assassination attempt.

On this date in 1975, Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme was arrested after pointing a gun at President Gerald Ford in a park in Sacramento, CA. The gun, a .45 automatic, was found to have four rounds in the magazine and none in the firing chamber. Fromme later claimed she had intentionally removed the round from the firing chamber, and that she had gone to the park to alert Ford about the plight of California redwood trees.

Fromme was charged and convicted for the attempted assassination of the president. At the sentencing hearing she threw an apple at the prosecutor, striking him in the face. She was sentenced to life in prison. (Apparently the apple-a-day thing doesn’t work on lawyers.)

Lynette Fromme was granted parole in July of 2008, but was not released until August 2009 as she had to serve extra time for a brief 1987 prison escape. Upon release she moved to Marcy, NY.

Seventeen days after Fromme’s assassination attempt, Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate President Ford outside a hotel in San Francisco, CA.

Further reading:

About.com – Lynette Alice “Squeaky” Fromme

Wikipedia – Lynette Fromme

Syracuse.com – Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme plans to live in Oneida County

this day in crime history: august 9, 1969

On this date in 1969, members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered five people at the Los Angeles home of actress Sharon Tate.  The victims included Tate (who was eight months pregnant), hair stylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Polish actor/writer Wojciech Frykowski, and recent high school graduate Steven Parent.  Three of the victims were friends of Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski.  Polanski was in Europe filming a movie at the time of the murders.  The fifth victim, Steven Parent, had the misfortune of visiting the home’s caretaker (who was staying in an adjacent cottage) on the night of the murder.  He was intercepted by the Mansonites as he was leaving the property.

The victims were all shot and/or stabbed by Manson followers Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Watkins, and Patricia Krenwinkle while Linda Kasabian stood watch.  After the murders, Atkins wrote “pig” on the front door of the house using Sharon Tate’s blood.

The following night, the four killers, along with two other Manson followers, Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan, would murder Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.  Manson would actually accompany the murderers to the scene this time, but left the dirty work to his minions.

When police finally caught up to Manson and his crew, they convinced Linda Kasabian, who hadn’t actually committed any of the murders, to testify against the other members of the family.  All of the defendants were ultimately convicted.  They are all currently incarcerated in California, except for Grogan, who was paroled in 1985, and Atkins, who died in prison in 2009. Linda Kasabian returned to her native New Hampshire after the trial.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Charles Manson and the Manson Family

Find-a-Death – The Death of Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders

this day in crime history: august 7, 1970

On this date in 1970, four men took hostages in the Marin County, CA courthouse in an attempt to free three prison inmates. The incident began when Jonathan Jackson carried a bag containing several guns into court during the trial of San Quentin inmate James McClain. He used the guns to free McClain, as well San Quentin inmates Ruchell McGee and James Christmas, who were there to testify at the trial. The men took Judge Harold Haley, Deputy District Attorney Gary Thomas and jurors Maria Elena Graham, Doris Whitmer, and Joyce Rodoni hostage. They walked the hostages out of the building and to a rented van. On the way out of the building, they informed the police of their demand: Release the “Soledad Brothers” by 12:30 PM that day. The Soledad Brothers were three inmates who were charged with murdering a prison guard at Soleded Prison in January 1970. The guard was killed in retaliation for the the fatal shooting of four black inmates by a prison guard at Soledad. One of the men, George Jackson, was the brother of Jonathan Jackson.

While moving between the courthouse and the van, there was a brief exchange of gunfire. The gunmen then loaded the hostages into the van and drove off. As the van headed to the 101 freeway, it was stopped by a police roadblock. After the van stopped, police and the gunmen engaged in a shootout. In the ensuing battle, hostage-takers McClain, Christmas, and Jackson were killed. McGee was seriously injured. Judge Haley was killed by the shotgun the hostage-takers had secured to his neck. Deputy DA Thomas was paralyzed by a shot to his back, and juror Graham was wounded in her arm.

Radical activist Angela Davis was eventually arrested and charged with conspiracy, as the guns used by the hostage takers were registered to her. She was acquitted of the charges. George Jackson was killed the following year while leading a prison riot at San Quentin Prison.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Marin County courthouse incident

Wikipedia – Harold Haley

NY Times – Angela Davis is Sought in Shooting that Killed Judge on Coast