One of the most infamous prison escapes of all time is chronicled in a new book written by a local author and historian.
“Leavenworth Seven: The Deadly 1931 Prison Break,” authored by Ken LaMaster, will be released Feb. 18.
The book tells the story of the Dec. 11, 1931, escape of seven inmates at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth.
LaMaster said Grover Durrill, Tom Underwood, William Green, George Fallon, George Curtis, Stanley Brown and Charles Berta, all inmates at what at the time was a maximum security prison, conspired with other inmates at the prison, staff members of the prison and notorious gangsters not then incarcerated to break out.
They broke into an administration office of Thomas White, warden of the penitentiary, and took him hostage as well as several other staff members.
LaMaster said the inmates were able to pull off the escape because of overcrowding at the prison at the time. He said there were 4,500 inmates incarcerated at USP and there were only about 70 correctional officers.
“It allowed them to more freely circulate among the prison population and get the conspiracy going,” he said.
LaMaster said the inmates had been hatching plans for an escape for six years prior to the breakout.
He said the inmates marched White down the front steps of the penitentiary, commandeered a car on Metropolitan Avenue and headed west.
But their freedom was short-lived. More than 1,000 local law enforcement personnel, prison guards and an infantry unit from Fort Leavenworth quickly arranged a manhunt to recapture the inmates. After a shootout later that afternoon, three inmates were killed and three were recaptured. Another surrendered two days later.
LaMaster said the story about the escape quickly became worldwide news.
“The editor of the Leavenworth Times was on the phone with newspapers all over the world that night,” he said.
LaMaster said the story of the escape, and his initial research about it, began as far back as 1983 when he began working as a correctional officer and historian at the federal penitentiary.
“The story has been in my head ever since then,” he said.
He said research for the book included some 2,500 pages of FBI crime reports and numerous contemporary, first-person accounts.
The 150-page book includes numerous photographs of the villains, law enforcement personnel and vehicles used in the escape.
The book can be purchased on several internet sites or by contacting LaMaster at 913-704-9331 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The cost of the book is $22. The book was published by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press.