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December 3, 2015 / Joanne Yeck

The Buckingham Outlaws: Part IV

Post_4_Jail Break

Jail Break

Since early August of 1908, three of the four outlaws had been jailed at Buckingham Court House. Inexplicably, Willie Thomas was let out on bail, released by Bail Commissioner John Boatwright during Commonwealth’s Attorney Hubard’s absence from the county. Thus, only three men, Charles Thomas and Ben and Arthur Zimmerman were confined to a cell on the second floor.

On Saturday night, September 5th, the three desperados broke out of jail, taking advantage of an old repair in the wall where two rivets held an iron bar in place. On Tuesday, September 8th, Richmond’s The Times-Dispatch reported the escape:

After cutting the rivet and bending the piece of iron back so that they could crawl through, the prisoners tied the sheets together, and fastening one end to the grating, they let themselves down, leaving three notes – one to the sheriff, one to the jailer, and one to the other prisoners in jail. They told the jailer that they liked the board he furnished them, but staying there was too confining, and if he got them again he would have to burn the mountains and sift the ashes. They thanked the sheriff for some small kindness he had shown them, and told him they would be back the first day of court.

The other prisoners in jail – two young negroes – when asked if they knew what time these three white men left the prison, said they did not know.

It is not known how the rivet was cut, but it is thought to have been done with an old case-knife, which was inserted between the bars. Doubtless Saturday night was chosen as the time of escape because there was a downpour of rain and the darkness occasioned by the clouds precluded all chance of detection.

A later report called the letters “saucy” and stated that the men had claimed if they ever returned to Buckingham Court House, it would be as corpses.

On September 30th, The Denver Post printed that Willie Thomas was responsible for assisting the jail break. The Times-Dispatch noted that Willie Thomas was “generally considered the shrewdest of the gang.”

Where was the guard? What was Jailer Spencer doing on Saturday evening?

Coming next: Reward Offered

Need to catch up? Click here: The Buckingham Outlaws: Part I


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