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As Armstrong Stepped Onto Moon, 17 Georgia Prisoners Escaped

I was 10 years old when the late Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, but I remember it like yesterday. I clipped quite a few articles at the time because I already had an interest in space – everybody did, it seemed.

The clippings came from the local Savannah Evening Press in Georgia, from a military newspaper that my father received as an Army officer, and from the Boston Herald, which we got because that is where my father and mother came from.

Some of the clippings related to the space program but there were others that were unrelated but interesting.  This is one, taken from the Savannah Evening Press on July 21, 1969.

17 Flee State Prison Camp as All Eyes Fix On Moon

Police Capture One; Massive Search On

By Jim Majors

Staff Writer

While attention was focused on America’s moon men last night, 17 prisoners sawed their way out of the state prison branch at Travis Field and escaped.

As guards and other prisoners kept up via TV with the exploits of Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, the 17 inmates sawed through a bar on a dormitory window and slipped over an eight-foot wire fence.

One fugitive was recaptured at Reidsville about 2 a.m. by police there. He was identified as Billy Knight, a Reidsville area resident. The other escapees are still at large.

Knight caught a ride in Pooler about 1 a.m. with a Reidsville man, but was arrested shortly after arriving in Reidsville, authorities said.

Notified at Midnight

Prison Warden P.O. Youmans said he was notified of the break about midnight.

Four large search parties were thrown into a massive manhunt in the areas surrounding the prison compound, which covers about 15 acres and is ringed by an eight foot fence topped with barbed wire.

The search parties were using dogs. Volunteer airborne possemen are scanning the area by plane.

Mesh Cut

Youmans said a one-half-inch steel bar was sawed in two at both ends in one of the concrete block buildings divided into dormitories. A steel mesh covering the window was cut.

Removal of the bar gave the prisoners only a seven-inch clearance. Two shirts were found near the fence, he said, and one end of the bar had traces of a gum-like material on it.

One of the shirts belonged to Charlie Clark, a convicted murderer serving a life term, the warden said. Another escaped prisoner, Walter Sims Smith of Savannah, was serving time for manslaughter.

There were 13 Negroes and four white men in the escape party Youmans said, and their sentences ranged from five years to life imprisonment. They were among 134 prisoners at the branch.

From Two Dorms

Youmans said the escapees were from two separate dormitories and that 82 other prisoners remained in the buildings. Youmans said he did not believe any of the prisoners are “dangerous.”

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This entry was posted on August 25, 2012 by in Tracking the Past.
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