July 6, 1959: Monroe prisoners take hostages in breakout attempt

On July 6, 1959, four inmates at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe marched into a visiting room with butcher knives taken from the kitchen and held 38 inmates, visitors and guards hostage.

Their demands? “A car and freedom.”

Police rescued hostages the next morning. It had been more than 13 hours.

Later that day, The Herald published this story:

Thirteen and a half hours of terror for 38 men, women and children held hostage by four knife-wielding reformatory inmates came to an end early today as officers charged through a tear gas barrage to subdue the “kill crazy” rebels.

The guards’ surprise attack came at 4:08 a.m., just two hours ahead of the final deadline set by the four inmates in their bid for freedom.

The rescue battle was brief. Then the released hostages – faces tear-streaked and clothes reeking of tear gas fumes – were led downstairs from the reformatory visiting room which had been their prison for 13 ½ long hours.

Held at knife-point through those danger-fraught hours were 24 civilians – including one 5-month-old baby and half a dozen children – all relatives of reformatory inmates. Also held were 11 inmates being visited and three reformatory guards.

The four rebellious inmates, armed with butcher knives taken from the reformatory kitchen had overpowered one guard and marched into the institution’s second floor visiting room shortly after 2:30 p.m. Monday.

They demanded a car and freedom.

Read more from the June 7, 1959, edition of The Herald in our collection of historic front pages.

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