WALDON’S PONDERINGS: A dramatic jailhouse escape … and recapture


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:49 am on Thursday, July 17, 2014

Three inmates of the Montcalm County Jail engineered a dramatic escape from their cell by fashioning a skeleton key out of a tin tobacco box, only to be captured in a huckleberry swamp several miles away.

That was the big news locally 100 years ago this week in the Greenville Independent.

Frank Dines, James McCully and Frank Murray snuck out of jail in Stanton around 8 p.m. on a Friday night. A soundtrack to their great escape was provided by a local band , which was playing on the streets in front of the courthouse that evening.

The escaped inmates locked the doors behind them, leaving one other inmate, Bert Parmenter, a Wyman farmer, who had made his own “sensational” escape four weeks earlier. That escape had been made during the temporary absence of Sheriff Rasmussen from the jail. Parmenter was recaptured.

Dines was serving a jail sentence for threatening a farmer in Crystal Township and he made made threats since his arrest to “get” several people who were instrumental in his conviction.

McCully and Murray were both known “tramps,” who were arrested in Sidney 10 weeks prior for robbing a farmhouse of “eatables.”

Twenty minutes after the three men escaped, their inmate Parementer alerted jail officers and the alarm sounded.

Dines was recaptured early the next morning at a farmhouse near Crystal.

McCully and Murray, who were both carrying loaded revolvers, were caught Monday morning, six miles south of Ionia in a huckleberry swamp, where they had been chased by Sheriff Rasmussen and several Ionia County officers.

During the chase, an Ionia officer ordered the two men to stop. As the two men continued to flee, the officer shot Murray twice. Amazingly, the bullets passed through his clothes.

The two men were chased upriver as far as the asylum grounds. The tramps then changed course across country, going south. They tried to take refuge in a wheat field and then a huckleberry swamp.

When recaptured, they were both exhausted.

All three prisoners were locked in separate cells upon their return to jail. This time, the doors were fastened with padlocks on the outside.

Upon further investigation, evidence inside the jail showed where the men had removed bricks and attempted to “make their way to liberty,” but had failed due to the steel linings in the wall.

However, picking the jail locks proved to be much easier, as one key opens 14 locks at the jail and doors were not equipped with bolts.

Jail officials experimented with the locks after the escape. It was discovered “to the amazement of the officers” that a piece of haywire, twisted, would easily open any door in the jail.

“A new system of locks will probably be installed, something that cannot be opened from the inside,” the Greenville Independent reported. “Although the jail is comparatively good, the system of locks appears to be as antiquated as the locks on some old village cooler.”

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