Monday, February 3, 2020

When 4 Lewisburg Inmates Crashed A Garbage Truck Through the Prison Gates & Held My Great Grandmother Hostage

On Saturday morning, August 10th, at 9:30 am,four inmates at the Lewisburg Penitentiary jumped a fence, stole a garbage truck, crashed it through the gates, and drove to a wooded area near my great grandmothers house in Forest Hill area. After driving the truck into the woods, they went to my Grammy Mook's house where they tied everyone up, and stole Uncle Franks car to continue with their escape.  

The inmates, Richard  McCoy Jr, Melvin Walker, Larry  Bagely, and Joseph Havel, were sitting on a bench in the recreation area that morning.  A security guard and an inmate drove a garbage truck into the nearby industrial area.  The area was surrounded by a six foot cyclone fence with 4 strands of barbed wire at the top, separating it from the recreational area.

When the guard got out of the truck to inspect the area, the inmates, armed with knives,  jumped the fence and overpowered the inmate who was driving the truck.
The inmates then commandeered the garbage truck, and crashed it through the gates to make their escape.

Guards in the tower fired seven shots at the truck, but the garbage compacter was 4 foot higher than the cab, and the shots bounced off the compacter.  The guards attempted to chase the truck, but they could not drive the cars over the gates that were now laying on the ground. There was one guard on patrol outside of the gate, but he could not cut them off in time.

The windshield of the truck was broken when it crashed through the first gate, but none of the prisoners were injured.

My great aunt Geraldine Whittle, and her husband Frank, were visiting my great grandmother at her home in Forest Hill Pa.  Grammy Mook, Aunt Geraldine, and Catherine Fladd, my great grandmothers housekeeper, were sitting in the car in the driveway, waiting for Uncle Frank to take them shopping. For some reason I do not quite understand (but do not doubt is accurate) Uncle Frank was siphoning gas from the car to use in the lawnmower, before they left.

Two men in "GI Fatigues" approached Uncle Frank and tole him they wanted to borrow his car, to which he replied "You're kidding." At that point, two additional men appeared, with knives hanging from their belts. Still thinking they were kidding, Uncle Frank asked "What is this?  An initiation for some sorority?"  One of the men laughed.

The four convicts ushered them all into the house, and tied them up.  They asked if there were any guns in the house, and Uncle Frank replied "Why would I have guns when I am from Philadelphia?".  (Uncle Frank and Aunt Geraldine lived in Philadelphia and were only visiting in Forest Hill at the time.)

The convicts chose not to take his word, and made a quick search of the house, before escaping in Uncle Frank's 1970 blue ford.  They drove off towards Stonehaven Road, which was the road they used when they crashed through the gate of the prison.

Uncle Frank had seen the garbage truck pass the house, and had thought it was strange, as it wasn't something normally seen on those back roads.  The truck was found in a heavily wooded area about a fourth of a mile from my great grandmothers home.

My great grandmother, Mary Mook, was quoted in the local newspaper as saying  "They never raised their voices, or said anything nasty.  They were just so nice."  One of the escapees made conversation, telling her that he had three children.  He placed glasses of water on the table for the women, and allowed Uncle Frank to take his heart pill, even offering him water to do so. Although the convicts made no threats of harm, they did say "We don't want to hurt you.  But don't rile us, we're long-termers"  They cut the telephone wires, and took Uncle Frank's wallet, but they returned both his wallet and his money before they left.   "And they didn't even tie us tight!" said Grammy Mook. 

Uncle Frank was able to untie himself before the convicts had left the driveway. 
Aunt Geraldine told Uncle Frank, "You just wait here until they leave!"  But he didn't wait long, he ran to the home of Cleon Snyder, about 1/4 of a mile down Stonehaven rd, to call the state police.
"He didn't even bother to untie us!" laughed Aunt Geraldine.  "We had to unloosen ourselves while he was gone."

The local newspaper reported that there was about $250 worth of camera equipment in the car, some new fishing equipment, and baby gifts to be taken back to Philadelphia, and that there was a wooden carrier strapped to the top of the car.  Uncle Frank's car was recovered by police in New Bern, NC.  All of the personal items were still in the car, untouched.  The car did need some body repairs, and needed a new heater installed, but his insurance paid for all of that.  

This was the first escape from the Pen since the Nolan brothers escape 20 years earlier.  On September 10 1952, two Nolan brothers, accompanied by Elmer Schuer, broke out of the prison, taking a hostage on Penitentiary Road.  The hostage later escaped.  The Nolan brothers stabbed a man at Bucknell University and stole his car, before being killed in a gun battle in New York City.  Schuer surrendered to the NY police. 

On The Run
Although the newspapers reported two other cars were stolen in the area after the escape,  Uncle Franks ford was driven to North Carolina.

Three of the  men robbed a bank at Pollacksville, North Carolina on Tuesday August 13th, 1974, three days after their escape.  The fourth man was driving the get away car.

Havel and Bagley surrendered tonight after a brief gunfight with the police in a wooded area nearby. A hunt continued for the other two. 

Walker and McCoy hid out in  Wolf's Snare section of Virginia Beach, a quiet, middle‐class residential neighborhood, from September to November of 1974.

In early November 1974, FBI agents located Walker and McCoy in a home in Virginia Beach, VA.  The agents watched the house for two days, and when both men left, they stationed agents inside and outside of the cottage to wait for the convicts to return.  When McCoy came to the front door, an agent identified himself, and McCoy went for his gun.  He got one shot off before the agent returned fire and McCoy was killed.

Walker took off when, but agents stopped his car within a few blocks, and arrested him.

The Prisoners

Richard F. McCoy Jr was 32 years old when he escaped.  He was serving a 45 year team for "Air Piracy", and was described as a convicted skyjacker. McCoy gained national notoriety in 1972 when hp hijacked a United Airlines plane, demanded add got $500,000 and then bailed out over Provo, Utah.

McCoy, who grew up in Cove City North Carolina, was a former US Green Beret, and Mormon Sunday School Teacher.  In November, FBI agents tracked McCoy down in Virginia, where McCoy was killed when he shot at agents.

Melvin Dale Walker, age 35 in 1974, was from Morely Missouri.
Former Ten Most Wanted Fugitive #327: On November 9, 1974: Walker was apprehended in Virginia Beach, Virginia, after entering a house staked out by FBI agents. He attempted to escape by car but was arrested.

Joseph W. Havel, from Philadelphia,  was age 60 at the time of his escape.  He was described by prison guards as a loner, and the guards were most surprised by him being involved in the escape.  Havel was convicted in 1967, one of 4 men involved in the robbery of an armored car.  While serving time for that robbery, he escaped from the state prison, robbed a bank in Reading on March 8 1972, and was caught, convicted, and sentenced to ten years time  at the Lewisburg Pen.

Larry L. Bagley, from Des Moine Iowa,  was age 36 at the time of his escape. He was serving 20 years for bank robbery.

Bagley, Havel, and Walker had all attempted escape before, and had had additional years added to their sentences for their attempts.



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