Article published July 8, 1958
Hole In New Jail Punctures Pride
2 Prisoners EscapeBy JIM OLIPHANT
Using a couple of broken spoon handles, two prisoners dug their way out of jail and into the pride of Spartanburg County Sunday night.
Although one of the escapees was captured Monday afternoon, the damage had been done. The county's brand new, "escape proof" jail is no longer escape proof.
While many folks chuckled and wondered how it happened, Architect Harold Woodward fretted over what he termed a contractor's error in failing to put in all of the vertical steel rods blue-printed for every concrete block.
"The contractors have been contacted and they will be here early Tuesday morning. They will have to prove to me and to members of County Board of Control that no more steel rods have been omitted, or tear down the jail," Mr. Woodward asserted.
The firm is West Construction Co. of Winston-Salem.
The jail and adjoining new courthouse were dedicated less than two weeks ago after being built for about $2,300,000. The jail, until Sunday night, had been called one of the state's most modern detention facilities.
Ben E. Gramling, chairman of the county board, denied Monday that the jail was improperly constructed so that more money could be spent on the adjoining courthouse.
Jimmy Lawson Thompson, 22, of Clover, trapped by a bogus check and a taxicab driver's directions, was returned to County Jail late Monday afternoon after his arrest at York.
James Earle Warden, 34, of Greenville, scheduled for County Criminal Court appearance Monday morning on a probation violation charge, was still at large late Monday night.
The two men, digging with broken spoon handles, outsmarted the jail's elaborate locking system by piercing a wall of their two-man "maximum security" cell and getting into the ceiling.
There they punched a hole in the celotex ceiling and then it was a comparatively simple matter to escape through an unlocked door, out an unbarred window on the south side of the jail, dropping several feet to the ground.
Sheriff B.B. Brockman, who interrogated Thompson upon his return to county Jail Monday afternoon, said the escapee gave no information concerning the escape.
"He was extremely reluctant to talk, except to say he became sorry he escaped and surrendered to York County authorities," the sheriff said.
The version at County Jail however, differed with Thompson's story.
Early Monday afternoon, Avery H. Penland, driver with Yellow Cab Co., came to the jail to take out a warrant for a man who had given him a bogus check for his fare from Startex to York.
Talking with county police, Penland described the man, and the officers realized the description fitted Thompson, whose home is at Clover near York. Following Penland's directions, York County Sheriff Grover Noe quickly arrested the escapee.
"He said he and Warden escaped about 11:15 p.m. after working with the spoon handles for one and a half hours," the sheriff said. Thompson told officers that Warden left him after the pair had walked to Lyman.
Thompson, apparently sore from the walk and the long drop from the jail's second floor, eluded a B&B photographer who tried for pictures.
The escape, which caused widespread comment throughtout the city, was discovered about 6 a.m. Monday when Jailer Royce Holden was told by a trusty that the two prisoners had gotten out.
Warden has a criminal record dating back to 1938 and has escaped from jails at Raleigh, N.C., and Greenville - slashing a jailer with a knife at Greenville. He was lodged in jail here Saturday night.
Thompson, arrested on a fraudulent check charge in Clover May 23 and lodged in County Jail June 4, was awaiting trial in Federal Court here on a charge of interstate transportation of stolen property.
Warden, whose whereabouts late Monday still stumped authorities, was described as six feet tall, 190 pounds, brown hair and hazel eyes.