Death by playing cards

Oct 20, 1930: Convict William Kogut, who was waiting execution on San Quentin's death row, somehow knew that it was possible to make a bomb out of playing cards. This was because, at the time, the red ink of cards contained nitrocellulose. So by scraping off enough of the red ink, Kogut was able to make a pipe bomb out of a hollow bedpost. He used this to kill himself, rather than letting himself be executed.

Modern playing cards no longer contain this explosive ingredient.

Somewhat confusingly, Snopes classifies his death as a "legend," even though their brief write-up seems to confirm that it happened exactly as described.

More info:

Oroville Mercury Register - Oct 20, 1930

Posted By: Alex - Wed Jun 23, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Death, Suicide, Prisons, 1930s

Cockroach trained to carry cigarettes

1938: Prisoners in solitary confinement in Amarillo, Texas figured out how to get cigarettes by training a cockroach to carry them under the cell door.

Salt Lake Tribune - Mar 2, 1938

Klamath News - Apr 9, 1938

Posted By: Alex - Mon Aug 17, 2020 - Comments (1)
Category: Prisons, Smoking and Tobacco, 1930s

Prisoners who escape a day before release

The recurring weird news theme of prisoners who escape from jail a day before they're set to be released. Usually the escape isn't anything too complicated. They're on a minimum-security work detail, from which they simply walk away. But still, why leave if all you have to do is wait a day and be legally free? Because if caught again, they're looking at years of new imprisonment.

Three examples below, though I'm sure there must be more. Worth noting: I didn't find any follow-up stories mentioning their capture. So maybe they all got away with that one extra day of freedom.

McComb Enterprise-Journal - Mar 11, 1990

An inmate from the Shelby County Detention Center working at the state highway garage grabbed a truck and took off Wednesday – the day before he was scheduled to be paroled. Police are looking for Andrew Joseph Wilson, 21, who escaped from work detail in Shelby County Wednesday. Andrew Joseph Wilson, 21, of Richmond escaped while on work release Wednesday by stealing a vehicle that was found ditched in Anderson County.
- Sentinel News - Dec 13, 2013

The Massachusetts Department of Corrections is searching for Barthesday Deberry who escaped Tuesday morning after walking away from a work detail near Boston. Deberry was scheduled to be released on Wednesday (TOMORROW!!!!) after serving five years on a fire arms conviction.
-Newport Buzz - Mar 1, 2016

Posted By: Alex - Mon Jan 08, 2018 - Comments (2)
Category: Prisons

Coed Prisons

I hadn't realized that federal and state governments had, for a while, experimented with coed prisons. From Prison Journal, 59(1), Spring/Summer 1979:

Since 1971, over 20 coed state and federal facilities have been established, although over half have since reverted back to one-sex institutions out of conceptual failure and dilemmas of operation, implementation, and evaluation. Currently (1979), 10 adult coed prisons exist in the united states. Ethnographic research into coed prisons includes seven studies since 1973 focusing on sex roles and the overall prison environment. Two of the studies reveal a lack of predatory homosexuality in coed prisons, while other studies find sexual discrimination in such institutions. Overall, the ethnographic literature yields few findings which support the effectiveness of coed prisons. Recidivism research, another type of cocorrections research, has been utilized in a number of studies to indicate a reduction of criminal activity. One study suggests that females may not profit as much as males from the correctional environment. Other vague and unsophisticated recidivism studies show success for releasees from coed prison. Although the available recidivism data on cocorrections suggest that incarceration in a coed institution has the potential of reducing adjustment problems on release, data do not convincingly demonstrate the effect of the coed experience on postrelease behavior or an overall reduction in the crime rate.

I'm having difficulty finding out if there still are any coed prisons in the US. I'm guessing there aren't.

Hattiesburg American - Aug 27, 1974

Posted By: Alex - Sat Nov 18, 2017 - Comments (2)
Category: Prisons, 1970s

Pinky Bonded

Rachel Deckert was supposed to turn herself in at the Lewis County Jail on an outstanding misdemeanor warrant. She did. Problem was, she was pinky bonded to her girlfriend, and they couldn't separate. As a form of couples therapy the two had used epoxy to glue their pinky fingers together inside a copper pipe.

Said Detective Patty Finch, "They haven’t been able to feel their fingers for three days."

Not clear how the two will be unattached. Pinky amputation is a possibility.

More info: The Chronicle

Posted By: Alex - Wed Nov 01, 2017 - Comments (11)
Category: Prisons, Couples

Romanian Jail Craze

No matter how bad you think things might be, at least you're not in a Romanian jail pounding rusty nails into your head.

For a related post, from way back in 2012, check out The Method of the Nail.

The Guardian - Aug 6, 1995

Posted By: Alex - Tue Aug 08, 2017 - Comments (3)
Category: Prisons, 1990s

Inmate Escape Pod

1980: Fred Caddedu escaped from Millhaven penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario by concealing himself inside an "escape pod" made out of a hollowed-out stack of dirty food trays.

The food trays were loaded onto a truck and taken to the unguarded, off-site kitchen to be cleaned. Once there, Caddedu just walked away. He was caught and returned to prison several months later.

His escape pod later became an exhibit in the Correctional Service of Canada Museum.

Image source: Museopathy

The Ottawa Journal - July 14, 1980

Posted By: Alex - Sun Mar 26, 2017 - Comments (1)
Category: Prisons, 1980s

Operation Sleep

In 1957, the Woodlake road camp prison in California began an experiment in convict rehabilitation. It was called "Operation Sleep." The idea was to use sleep learning to reform convicts. As the prisoners slept, they heard the soothing voice of a psychiatrist speaking the following script:

Listen, my inner self, remember and obey this creed of life: Live relaxed, completely and utterly relaxed... Love, rule my life. Love God, my family, and others... Have faith... work with others... Face life without fear, be calm, unafraid... Know myself and my faults... live without alcohol... Alcohol is a poison. I do not need alcohol. Abstain with ease. Alcohol is repulsive to me...

I am truly happy. I give my life to my family, to my friends, and to the world. I am filled with love and compassion for all, so help me God.

The script had been written by the County's Public Defender, John Locke, with help from a local Presbyterian minister, Rev. Glen Peters, and a hospital therapist, Robert C. Lally. They described Operation Sleep as "a type of brain-washing — but not the type used by the totalitarians."

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any data on whether the experiment actually had an effect of criminal behavior. The superintendent of the prison noted, "We have had excellent cooperation from the inmates. But of course, it is too early yet to tell what effect it will have. We won't know until after the men have been released and face the temptations of freedom again."

The picture at the top is from Newsweek (Dec 30, 1957), and shows one of the prisoners who participated in the experiment. The fact that he's sleeping with a dog seems a little strange. I guess the inmates got to keep pets in this prison.

Wilmington Morning News - Oct 11, 1957

Update: I found a news story from 1961 offering a 3-year update on Operation Sleep. I'm actually surprised that the prison kept the experiment going for that long. Public defender John Locke claimed that the experiment had been showing positive results, but said they needed to keep it going for another 3 years to be sure. From the Ottawa Citizen - Feb 21, 1961:

For three years now the sleep therapy program has been in operation. Locke and his associates are careful to admit that it will be at least three years more before anything conclusive can be deduced from the careful check they keep on prisoners after their release.

Almost from the beginning though, the guards at the road camps noticed that the young inmates did not cause the same amount of trouble they had created formerly and were surprised when prisoners started coming to them for counsel.

What is probably most indicative of the therapy's effect is the decrease in alcoholism revealed by surveys among ex-prisoners.

Posted By: Alex - Mon Sep 26, 2016 - Comments (3)
Category: Prisons, Sleep and Dreams, 1950s

Wee tot sent to prison, 1906

Harsh justice in Switzerland.

Could this boy perhaps have been the youngest person ever convicted of a crime and sent to jail?

The Minneapolis Journal - Nov 18, 1906

Wee Tot Sent To Prison
Three-year-old Swiss is convicted as a thief.

Geneva, Nov. 17 — The Swiss public and press are aroused at the extraordinary action of a magistrate presiding at the criminal sessions at Weinfelden in the commune of Thurgoirs, who has sentenced a child barely 3 years of age to three and a half months' imprisonment for "theft."
The child, who is the son of a laborer, saw some penny toys dangling from the doorway of a shop. He seized two of them, and took them home, and an hour later was "arrested" by a tall gendarme on a charge of theft.
When the case was called at Weinfelden the child had to be carried by a gendarme, as he could not be seen over the top of the dock.
In response to the magistrate's questions the little fellow laughingly admitted that he took the toys. He could not speak plainly, and it was with difficulty that the gendarme, who acted as intermediary, was made to understand that he wanted them "as he did not have any toys like other boys."
"Three and a half months' imprisonment," said the magistrate sternly.
The boy's parents fell on their knees before the magistrate, and pleaded with him to remit the sentence on account of his tender age and his inability to distinguish between right and wrong. The magistrate declined to revise the sentence, however, and said "Remove the prisoner."
The gendarme, who was much affected, carried the child out of the dock and placed him in the arms of an astonished warder.

Posted By: Alex - Sun Nov 08, 2015 - Comments (8)
Category: Prisons, Babies and Toddlers, 1900s

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Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

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