1939 prison break, capture topped news

Courtesy of the Anuta Research Center Sheriff Edward J. Reindl is a legend in Michigan law enforcement, serving more than 40 years as the county’s top cop. One of the mainstays in his crime-fighting arsenal was this stable of bloodhounds in the 1930s and a custom-made mobile vehicle to transport them and their handlers. Deputies, from left, Ernest Ziemer, John W. Reindl, Joe Tilley, Jerry Collard, Allan Steinbeck, Sheriff Reindl and Charles Baker. John Reindl, the Sheriff’s brother, designed and built the mobile vehicle in 1932.

Monday, Sept. 25, 1939, seemed like an ordinary day for folks in Menominee and Marinette who had been hardened to the challenges in life as a result of the near decades old Great Depression.

The everyday news delivered to family doorsteps by the messengers employed as newsboys at the Herald-Leader and Eagle-Star contained pretty much the essential information about the war in Europe and the headlines coming out of the state capitols in Lansing and Madison.

Halfback Jack Raboin scored two touchdowns, and Johnny Butts and Harold Hanson once each, to pace the Menominee Maroons to a 26-6 win over Escanaba St. Joseph High School at Walton Blesch Field. The New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds were headed for the World Series, and Billy Conn was preparing for his much-publicized light heavyweight fight against Melio Betina. Nothing extraordinary on the news front.

About the time the two local newspapers were rolling off the presses on that Monday, a prison break was taking place at the state branch penitentiary in Marquette, 130 miles north of here before the highway route was shortened by about 10 miles. With no local radio stations up and running (WMAM went on the air a month later), and television years away from a humble beginning, the Herald-Leader and Eagle-Star were the town criers for news-thirsty readers.

The four daring prison escapees were captured in Menominee within hours of their breakout. The newspaper delivery boys were the darlings of the two towns the following day because they were hand-carrying the newsreaders had been waiting for.

The four convicts were Joseph M. Mushro, 24, of Detroit; Ralph Stears, 37, formerly of Daggett; Thomas McCarthy, 27, Memphis, Tenn., and John Thompson, 30, Detroit. Stears was serving a life sentence for armed robbery. Mushro was serving a life sentence for murder. McCarthy was a lifer for a holdup and murder. Thompson was pulling 20-30 years for a robbery holdup.

The foursome overpowered a prison guard pulling sentry at the door of the state parole board meeting room. They were armed with knives stolen from the prison kitchen.

After barging into the meeting room, the felons tied the hands of Warden Marvin Coon, Deputy Warden William, Newcombe and two members of the parole board. A. Ross Pascone was chairman of the parole board and assistant director of probation and parole. The other board member was Gerald Bush.

A parole board reporter, prison chaplain, prison physician and a board clerk also were in the meeting. When the chaplain attempted to block the door, a convict pressed a knife against his stomach while a second felon knocked him to the floor with a blow to the head.

The prisoners took the money from the hostages and demanded a prison vehicle to make their get-away. They warned that anyone who was not willing to cooperate would be killed.

The warden ordered a prison vehicle brought to the administration building where the takeover was in progress. Bush was untied and appointed the designated driver for the prisoners.

Meanwhile, prison guards, Michigan State Police and local law enforcement units had the prison grounds surrounded but never fired their weapons because they feared for the lives of the hostages.

Bush drove the vehicle through the prison gate and headed south on U.S. 41. About seven miles out of Marquette, the men stopped for gas, using Bush’s money to pay for it. Newcombe was released with instructions to notify pursuing officers that harm would come to the hostages if they attempted to outrun them.

Sheriff Edward Reindl of Menominee, who was alerted to the prison break, was traveling north from the county jail with Deputy Charles Baker driving the sheriff’s vehicle. Reindl accidentally tripped the handle door and tumbled to the pavement with Baker traveling 72 miles an hour.

The sheriff suffered serious skin abrasions to his shoulders, elbows, knees and hands. He ordered Baker to continue to Stephenson where he telephoned his deputies in Menominee to establish a roadblock at the U.S. 41 and M-35 intersection. He proceeded to the office of Dr. Karm Kerwell to be treated for his injuries. He and Baker then returned to Menominee to be positioned at the roadblock.

Mushro switched positions with Bush while the speeding getaway car was in motion just north of the Menominee city limits. The driver slowed down briefly for the roadblock, then suddenly gunned the engine and sped past the blockade and drove north on M-35.

Police anticipated Mushro would have difficulty maneuvering the sharp curves on old M-35 because he was unfamiliar with the turns. The fleeing auto failed to make the turn at North Shore Golf Club and overturned in a ditch as more than 40 police officers encircled the vehicle. None of the occupants were injured.

Warden Coon was the first to crawl out of the wreckage.

The prisoners were handcuffed and transported to the Menominee jail under heavy guard. Coon and the other hostages returned to Marquette.

Less than 12 hours after their 3:30 p.m. escape the same day, the four convicts were back in their cells in Marquette.

Marquette prison escapees have found it challenging to make their getaway through Menominee County. In May 1953, seven convicts used knives to overpower prison guards and lock them in a cell, then used acetylene torch to slice prison bars and flee the grounds.

Three of the convicts were captured within hours. The other four stole a car and drove south into Menominee County. Their vehicle plunged into the Menominee River at the Nathan Bridge after a wild chase.

One of the prisoners was nabbed near the Four Seasons Club in Marinette County, two others near Quinnesec, Mich. The final felon, Lloyd Russell, 31, managed to escape capture until August 1954 when he was gunned down during a supermarket robbery in Spokane, Wash.

The 1939 and 1953 prison escapes were not only hot news stories in the Twin Cities but made national headlines. Menominee and Marinette law enforcement units played major roles in both of the endings.

And it was the newsboys delivering the Herald-Leader and Eagle-Star who hand-carried the news that the bad guys had been captured.