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Treasures of the Archives: Wanted: Escaped Prisoners from the State Penitentiary, 1913

Michael O’Donell had a hard life, according to this record. Walla Walla State Penitentiary, Wanted: Escaped Prisoners from the State Penitentiary, 1913, Penitentiary, Washington State Collection, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives.

Michael O’Donell had a hard life, according to this record. Walla Walla State Penitentiary, Wanted: Escaped Prisoners from the State Penitentiary, 1913, Penitentiary, Washington State Collection, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov.

Today, criminals rarely escape from prison and when they do apprehension is normally swift and certain. With instantaneous communication, photographs, fingerprints, and vital statistics there is nowhere to hide.

Things were different in 1913, when Wanted: Escaped Prisoners from the State Penitentiary was published. This fascinating document, issued by the superintendent of the Walla Walla State Penitentiary, is a catalogue of nearly one hundred men (and one woman) who had escaped from the prison over the previous twenty years. A mugshot of each escapee is followed with their hometown, occupation, criminal history, and vital statistics. The criminals of early Washington were varied, ranging in occupation from bookbinders to shingle weavers and in crimes from forgery to train robbery.

In an age before reliable fingerprint identification, the “Marks and Scars” of each escapee were noted in remarkable detail. Thomas Moran, a murderer from Clark County, was noted for his vaccination scars, location of various moles, and a “tattoo of dancing girls on right lower arm.” Burglar, Michael O’Donell (featured above), had a “deep dimple” at the point of his chin and “numerous syph. [syphilis] scars on body.” Walter Steadman, a Snohomish farmer convicted of robbery, was notable for his “slightly stooped” posture, and a “tit mole” on his right buttock.

Wanted: Escaped Prisoners from the State Penitentiary is one of many interesting documents in the State Government Agency Publications on your Washington State Archives. Spend some time with the riff-raff today!