Battle Continues Ten Hours After Convict Captures Guns

by Edward V. McQuade

Rioting desperadoes on Alcatraz island yesterday turned the Federal penitentiary there into an inferno of gunfire in one of the bloodiest prison uprisings in California history.

One guard was killed and at least nine guards and an undetermined number of convicts wounded in a pitch battle that still was raging early this morning, more than 10 hours after the rebellion broke out.

At midnight, however, the besieging guards had finally shot their way into the main western cell block, where the convicts were entrenched.

The barricaded prisoners were holding approximately 20, more than half the normal complement of the island’s guards as hostages. One of these escaped last night and reported two of the captive guards were wounded.

The dead guard was Harold P. Stites. He had been machine gunned in the back at close range, according to the Coroner’s home office here. It was believed he may have been a “grudge” victim, as some years ago he broke up an escape attempt by killing one convict, wounding another and capturing a third.

Associate Warden Edward P. Miller was reported among the wounded.

A “tough guy” convict, Bernard Paul Coy, Kentucky bank robber, precipitated the riot. Convict Coy’s job was to clean up gun galleries. It was reported he overpowered a guard there, helped himself to weapons and made his way to the guards’ dressing room, forced them at gunpoint into the cell block and threw a master switch opening all cells in the block. He asked the inmates to join him. Sixteen did.

Thousands of rounds of ammunition and tracer bullets split the night sky as thousands watched from hilltops and piers on both sides of bay.

The island was a ring of fire in the night, outlined harshly by searchlights and the blinking beacons of ceaselessly patrolling gunboats.

A determined attempt to storm a gun gallery held by the convicts was repulsed last night, Warden James A. Johnston reported, with two guards seriously wounded in the attack.

The most sustained burst of gunfire in the entire day came shortly after 9 o’clock and lasted 45 minutes.

At the same time heavy clouds of smoke poured out the windows of the entire cell block. Apparently a fire inside the cell block had been started by tracer bullets fired by the guards and by incendiary fires.

At 9:10 p.m. the police boat D.A. White, patrolling the island, had reported the firing as still “heavy and continuous.”

Thirty Marines from Treasure Island, sent at the request of Warden James A. Johnston, were detailed to guarding about 150 prisoners not involved in the insurrection.

The Marines rounded up these men in the prison yard and held them there, impaled in the glare of giant searchlights. The Marines were armed with rifles, submachine guns, smoke and tear gas bombs.

A cordon of heavily armed Navy and Coast Guard planes and boats encircled the island. Picked San Francisco police marksmen also patrolled the area in the police boat.

An unknown number of women, the wives of guards, nurses and clerical workers, took refuge in the island’s air raid shelter—a relic of wartime preparedness.

One of the first of wounded guards brought ashore last night, Fred Richberger, said he believed there were many wounded on the island, “but none we can get at.” He indicated some were injured in blocked-off, besieged areas under the range of convict fire.

Late last night, Coast Guardsmen shuttling back and forth from the island with casualties reported the situation was “still out of control.”

“All the cons in that cell block are armed,” a crew member of the prison launch reported.

After dark, most of the fighting seemed to have been isolated to the western wing of the main block. Persistently, in relays of two, about a dozen guards would walk boldly up a catwalk to this wing, stand upright and empty their guns through the windows, then retreat to be relieved by their fellows.

The telephone line to Alcatraz was open throughout the day. In addition, Warden Johnston kept the public informed of developments in a series of five telegrams. Most serious of these came at 5:43 p.m. when he announced:

“Our situation is difficult and precarious. Our officers are all being used in every place that we can man. The armed prisoners on the island are still eluding us so that at the moment we cannot control them. The Navy, Coast Guard and San Francisco Police Department are standing by to help when we find we can use them to our advantage.”

Center of the action was the oblong-shaped main cell block, running north and south atop the island.

The convicts were entrenched in the center tier of the three-tier block, firing back as guards poured bullets and tear gas into the windows.

This position gave the convicts advantage in fire control. Guards at first fired at long distance from the grounds below, but drew so heavy a fire they had to deploy and shift position constantly.


As the fight progressed, the guards hunched down, ran along a ramp outside the tier windows, stood on tiptoes and fired rifles and tear gas bombs directly through the windows.

With tactics reminiscent of Indian warfare, the guards often would put their caps on the ends of extended rifle barrels, draw the convict’s fire and thus spot their position.

Many time the convicts hurled back unexploded bombs. As these exploded outside the building, they gradually set the shrubbery and grass afire so that the battle was fought amid clouds of drifting smoke.

A contingent of FBI agents and other Federal operatives was held at the ready on the other side of the island.

The break started shortly after 3 p.m., when highway patrolmen and motorists on the Golden Gate Bridge reported hearing gunfire from the island.

At 3:17, Warden Johnston revealed that a convict somehow had obtained a machine gun and had imprisoned “most” of the island’s officers in the cell house.

It was definitely reported that no prisoner had as yet escaped to the mainland, but police were stationed every block along the waterfront and all police and city emergency hospitals were alerted.

Nine San Francisco police cars, carrying about 20 especially armed officers, patrolled the waterfront to intercept any convict who might reach shore and be on the alert should Johnston require additional help.

In response to appeals from the island, an emergency corps of doctors and nurses from the Marine Hospital and U.S. Public Health Service was sent to the island.

Alcatraz authorities were in radio communication with the police, Navy and Coast Guard boats.

Warden Johnston was believed reluctant to ask for military aid because the convicts were hiding most of the prison guards as hostages and a full-scale offensive might incite them to murder the officials.

From the sound of the convicts gunfire, experts estimated that in addition to the machine gun they had plenty of 45-caliber ammunition. A prison official said he knew definitely that one of the convicts had at least 30 rounds of rifle ammunition.

Even in the midst of the battle, guards apparently kept those prisoners not fighting under control. Shortly after 6 p.m. a file of prisoners was seen to march under guard from one of the machine shops.


At the Marine Hospital, Cochrane was reported most seriously wounded of the guards. He was taken immediately to surgery.

Guard Fred Richberger said he reported on duty at 4 p.m. and was shot and wounded almost immediately after he went into action.

“I had three years in Europe without getting shot and then had to get this,” he said, ruefully.

In San Francisco, anxious wives of Alcatraz guards and employees lined the Aquatic Park pier. Their children, for the most part oblivious of the day’s tragic import, romped about.

San Francisco police at the scene were under the command of Captain Bernard McDonald, Sergeant Emil Dutil and Sergeant Dick Hanlon. Dutil and eight of the department’s best marksmen were practicing at the police range near Fleishhacker Pool when the summons came.

There are at least 100 officers at Alcatraz, with about 30 or 40 on duty at any given time. The normal prisoners complement is between 250 and 300.

As the battle still raged last night, Dr. J.C. Geiger, city health officer, ordered all emergency hospitals alerted. Harbor and Emergency Hospitals were expected to bear the brunt of treating the wounded and injured.

The last word from a spokesman at Warden Johnston’s office was:

“The firing is still going on.”

The entire San Francisco squadron of the Civil Air Patrol will take to the air today on dawn patrol, Lieut. Herbert P. Simmons, intelligence officer reported. The planes will be on reconnaissance duty to watch developments on the island and render any assistance they can, he said.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 3 May 1946, pages 1 and 7.

Here’s the Story of How it Happened...

by Stanton Delaplane

This was how it happened on Alcatraz:

About 3 o’clock, one of the toughest cons ever sent to the Big House overpowered a guard in the gun gallery catwalk and took his gun away from him.

This man is believed to be a Kentucky bank robber, doing 26 years the hard way. He was too tough for Atlanta Penitentiary. So they sent him to the Rock.

In the toughest stir, this man went crafty and tractable. That may have given him access to the catwalk where an armed guard, behind screen and locked doors can survey the whole cell block.

At gun point he drove the guard down to the guard’s room, where he stuck up 20 or more guards getting ready to go on duty.

He gathered up all the guns he could carry. Then, driving the guards before him, he went back to the cell block, where he threw the master switch opening the cells.

“Come on boys. Let’s go,” he said.

Sixteen cons joined him and armed themselves.

At 3:30, motorists on the Golden Gate Bridge heard firing from the island. By 4 o’clock, patrol boats circled the island, guards outside opened fire and Alcatraz cell block D was under siege.

Warden Johnston tried to contact the cell block by an extension telephone, but no one answered.

Johnston threw a main switch, locking every cell in the prison.

The captured guards have not been seen. They may be tied up as hostages. They may be dead.

It was reported late last night that 16 hard case cons are still holding the cell block, pouring out a light volume of gun fire.

The remaining 200 prisoners are herded into the laundry building, guarded by a Marine detachment.

The holdout 16 are believed to be a gang who last Thursday burned mattresses and rioted in D cell block. They were probably restricted to cells during the day. This earlier riot may have been a plotted maneuver to arrange the restriction, and the subsequent attempted break.

The Chronicle phoned Federal Director of Prisons James V. Bennett in Washington, who said:

“I don’t understand how he could have gotten that gun with the officer up there. It was in one of the gun galleries of the main cell block.”

It was not known what convicts were doing the shooting.

Presumably it was the original escaper who killed Guard Stites and wounded four others.

Chill-eyed convicts with long memories had it in for Harold Stites. He killed one man and shot another during a 1938 break.

It was not explained how his body was recovered.

Stites was machinegunned in the back at close range. His body must have been outside the beleaguered cell block. Stites probably was killed from the back, coldly and deliberately, when the guards were held up.

One wounded guard was sure who started it and who did the shooting. “It’s a bastard named Coy,” he said.

He didn’t know his first name.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 3 May 1946, pages 1 and 7.


Harold P. Stites, guard, shot through the back.

Fred J. Richberger, guard, wounded in calf of leg.
Harry Cochrane, guard, wounded badly in upper left arm near shoulder.
Robert Sutter, guard, slight nose wound.
Elmus Besk, shot in both legs.
Herschel E. Oldham, guard, shot in left arm, hand and other parts of the body.
Henry Winehold, captain of the watch, serious but undetermined injuries.
Joe Simpson, lieutenant of the watch, serious but undermined injuries.
[In addition,] a man identified only as Miller [and] two unidentified guards.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 3 May 1946, page 1.

Coy Was Too Tough for Atlanta

Bernard Paul Coy, Kentucky bank robber, who is believed the leader of the desperate break on Alcatraz is a rail-thin, short man, about five feet four. He is somewhere in his middle thirties or forties.

Coy went up from the western district of Kentucky with a brother for an armed stickup of a small bank.

He was too tough for Atlanta Federal prison. They sent him to Alcatraz. A few years ago, he applied for a writ of habeas corpus and Attorney Rinaldo Scioroni Jr. was appointed to defend him. The appeal was denied.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 3 May 1946, page 7.

50 Yards From Island

I Smell Powder, Cold Sea Air; I see Guards Attack---They Look Scared

By George Draper

OFF ALCATRAZ, May 2—I am sitting on a small Government boat 50 yards from the gun fight raging on the west side of the prison island.

We moved in close to see better and because we knew the men holding the first floor of the main cell block towering above us were using small, short-range automatic arms.

I am the only reporter on this particular boat, and we are 200 yards closer to the fight than the next nearest launch, which is loaded down with heavily armed “Feds.”

Just above me, it seems guards are lying on their bellies firing rifles. I watched them hit the dirt—Army style—firing, advancing, taking cover.

There’s a tinge of powder smoke mixed with the salt smell of the cold sea air. The slow, deliberate rifle fire of the guards is being answered by the tommy-gun bursts of the convicts.

The grease gunners are on the inside shooting out. They can’t quite reach us, but they can sweep the guards.

Apparently they have plenty of ammunition. They are throwing five shots for every one they take.

Walter Rigwald, one of the young crewman, is keeping his eye on one guard trying to creep in close.

“I’m just waiting for him to get it,” he’s saying.

I am watching a huddle of guards and plainsclothesman hiding around the south corner of the building. We can see them, but the convicts can’t.


Some kind of an attack is about to take place. On the roof of another building north of the old cell block we catch a glimpse of two guards, their heads bobbing above the roof wall.

“Watch those guys,” I said to the kids on the crew, and just as they turn their heads two figures stand up and pump three or four rifle shots down into the north end windows of the cell block.

Another one of the crewmen is Leroy Nickelson. He is saying this is the finest fight he ever saw. His buddy, Frank Gustafson thinks so too.

Now the guards huddled at the south end of the building are starting to move. They are hugging the wall, crouching low, and from the way they are scurrying along we think they are probably scared stiff.

There are five of them. They are moving along the ramp ten yards apart. Cross fire spurts from one of the cell block windows.

“There. See that. Those guys are asking for it.” That’s Rigwald worrying his head off. We are all watching now—watching and waiting for someone to get it.”


Fire from the grilled but shattered windows steps up. The angle is wrong. The convicts can’t get in a shot as long as the guards hug the wall.

Still they hit the ground. A few seconds pass. Then they are moving again.

I ask the crew what time it is. One of them says it’s 5:30 p.m.

The steep hillside between us and the cell block is covered with purple flowers. No one knows what kind they are. Not that it matters right now.

We are watching those five men who have moved in under the convicts’ field of fire and are only a wall-width from them.

One of the guards raises up. He stands on tiptoe, stretches his hand up full length, fumbles for the window ledge. He is feeling for a hole in the glass.


He crouches down, pulls something out of his pocket, then reaches for the window again. That’s tear gas he’s throwing inside. In a second it comes bouncing out again like a red-hot rock.

The grenade bounces off the guard and lands smoking in the purple flowers. Other guards are now reaching up and throwing grenades in the broken windows. Two of them just shoot revolvers inside. They can’t see where they are shooting, of course.

Another grenade sizzles out one of the windows, and a small ground fire has started in the purple flowers.

We think one of the guards has been hit in the hand. He is grabbing his wrist and has pulled back to the south end of the building.

The air is popping with shots and the flapping of gear aboard our small ship. It’s getting chilly, the sun is getting low, and there’s a stiff chop on the bay.

Fire is coming from the cell block, from about half its enormous length.

The tear gas hasn’t worked. The prisoners are sitting tight. Maybe the way they are scurrying along they are waiting for a curtain of darkness. Anything might happen then. Nobody’s won this little war yet—but this is certain: The convicts can’t win.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 3 May 1946, page 11.

Most Violent In Johnston’s Long Career

By Robert De Roos

The chatter of gunfire yesterday afternoon, shattering the quiet of Alcatraz, opened the most violent chapter in the long career of Warden James A. Johnston.

Quietly he took charge of the battle against the bitter convicts—fighting without a chance of final success—who poured small arms fire from their besieged cell block.


He brought to the battle a lifetime of experience as a prison administrator.

There have been outbreaks of violence before because Alcatraz is a volcano of raw emotions which is bound to erupt sooner or later.

Johnston himself was attacked by a berserk convict, Burton E. Phillips, a bank robber, in 1937. Phillips struck Johnston repeatedly, knocking him to the floor of the prison mess hall, but the warden was not seriously hurt.

Johnston was appointed warden of Alcatraz in June of 1934 when the prison opened. His appointment was a recognition of his outstanding ability as a prison director, recognition of the fact that Johnston is a humane, fair warden.

He was chairman of the California Board of Control when Governor Hiram Johnson appointed him warden of Folsom in 1912.

Johnston was named to “do something” about Folsom where riots and attempted escapes were almost out of hand.


He did something: He abolished corporal punishment; he abolished the strait jacket treatment usually given recalcitrant prisoners; he installed showers for the prisoners and improved their food and ventilation.

In 1913 Johnston was appointed warden of San Quentin and served until his resignation in 1926. He later served as Chairman of the California Crime Commission and State Director of Penology.

As much as any man, Johnston is responsible for the modern California prison system—regarded as a model—and is among the country’s leading penal administrators.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 3 May 1946, page 11.

Alcatraz Revolt---The Second Day---The Desperadoes Prefer Hopeless Continuation

by Alvin D. Hyman

A half dozen wild and defiant shots shattered hours of silence on Alcatraz Island last night and signaled resumption of a murderous battle which has already cost the lives of two guards and injured 13.

The shots, fired from barred windows by cornered inmates, ended a tacit truce which began shortly after noon. They served notice the desperate ringleaders of a foredoomed escape plot, have abandoned all hopes of arranging a deal with authorities and are determined to fight it out to the death.

Guards at once picked up the gauntlet, and opened up a withering and unanswerable fire pouring it on the muddled convicts through holes chipped in the massive roof.

Indications that this type of fire had driven the convicts from a position they had defended for more than 24 hours were at once apparent.

Firing broke out in a new section of the building, a hundred feet south of the spot where it had been concentrated all day. The convicts, it appeared, had retreated to a spot out of line of the fire which rained upon them from above.


A few minutes later, floodlights illuminated the entire area and word came from the island that authorities would take a night’s rest; that until daylight no further “operations” would be undertaken against the entrenched felons.

They thus extended their resistance through a second night, despite strong evidence that they are extremely few in number and that they are armed far below the strength indicated by early reports.

A prison attaché, speaking from the Warden’s office, informed the New York Times that at no time did the rioters have any arms other than those taken from Bert A. Burch, guard, whose slugging started the deadly affray. Those arms, he said, consisted in their entirety of one rifle and one pistol.

The Warden’s first message informing the outside world of the island’s death struggle, said specifically that the rioters had obtained possession of a machine gun. But the office spokesman said last night: “There is no machine gun.”

He added this further astounding information: The sum total of ammunition available to the insurgents was apparently 50 rounds of rifle shots and 25 pistol bullets.

How many convicts paid with their lives for recklessly embarking on the one-in-a-million chance for liberty has not been established, he said. The casualty list cannot be compiled, he pointed out, until the mutiny is subdued and authorities have free access to the cellhouse.

This informant disclosed that the dead and wounded guards held as hostages when the battle broke were rescued by sheer weight of numbers. Guards stormed the mutineers, drove them back from the hostages and held them back until the casualties were carried to safety.

He added that two prison attaches are still technically imprisoned within the cell house. They are Dr. Roy Farr, dentist, and Dr. Stuart Clark, intern. They were in an isolation ward when the rioting started and their retreat was cut off, he said. But they are beyond reach of the convicts, are in telephone communication with the Warden’s office, and are, he added, “quite happy.”

This information supplemented that obtained earlier from another prison official.

What approximated an inside appraisal of the situation was obtained by San Francisco police at 9 o’clock last night. Captain Michael Gaffrey telephoned the island and talked to man identifying himself as “The Armorer.”

He said that no more than nine convicts were still holding out but that these were resisting every effort to blast them into submission.

Their position was not improved he said, by the fact that they had absolutely no access to food. “The Armorer” concluded hopefully: “I think we’ll be able to wind things up in the morning.”


Overtures toward a deal had come from the besieged convicts after a morning of merciless pounding form rifle grenades poured through barred windows, and from hand grenades dropped through holes in the roof.

By telephone from their cell block fortress, the desperadoes betrayed their hopeless position by asking the Warden’s office about “a deal.”

Warden James A. Johnston, 72-year-old leader of the weary prison forces curtly replied:

“The only possible deal is: Throw out your weapons.”

For more than four hours thereafter, silence prevailed on Alcatraz, while convicts were considering the warden’s ultimatum.


Then, as dusk fell for the second time over the embattled penitentiary, gunfire from within the cell block disclosed rejection of the warden’s implacable terms.

Earlier in the day, gunfire had also sounded within the cellbock, but with widely different import. The relentless pounding of grenades, coupled with the roar of power-diving Army planes, which buzzed the prison for psychological effect, had obviously unnerved some of the mutineers.

Wild cries were heard inside the building and some of them were understandable as offers of surrender. A rifle shot chopped of those cries and no further screams were heard.

Leaders of the revolt, prison authorities believed, were ruthlessly stamping out counter-revolt.

As the renewed battle swelled into almost continuos exchanges of fusillades, Warden Johnston broke the silence he had maintained throughout the day and issued a statement in which predicted complete victory.

“We feel we have completely prevented the mass escape plot,” he said in a telegram to The Chronicle, “Now we must secure the firearms and the men who have them.”

How extensive a task this may be was still uncertain. In the absence of definite, official word, numerous and conflicting rumors were heard. Some said two entire cell blocks of convicts were engaging the prison forces in battle and that all were heavily armed.

At the other extreme was a report that at no time did the rebellious convicts have more than one rifle and one pistol among them; that only 25 convicts, all housed in one tier of cells, were taking part in the fight; and that these 25 were surrounded by hostile, or at last unco-operative and non-combatants.


Warden Johnston’s forces went into the resurgent battle with one source of anxiety and difficulty removed.

Throughout the Thursday night fighting, they had been heckled and worried by approximately 150 convicts herded into the prison’s yard and kept under some semblance of order by Marine guards.

Authorities freely admitted these convicts had become “mean” and in a mood to cause trouble. At least one, identified by witnesses as the notorious “Machine Gun” Kelly had been forcibly removed from the group and placed in strictest confinement for acts which reports described as “insults” to the Marine guards.

On this phase, Warden Johnston told The Chronicle:

“We have succeeded in getting the work area shop and industrial prisoners into the cell house and locked up. This large group was corralled in the yard last night. Getting them in cells relieve us of that difficulty and enables us to concentrate on groups that are armed and difficult to dislodge.”

In rejecting the warden’s demand for surrender of their weapons, the insurrectionists were making a Hobson’s choice, authorities pointed out. With all hope of success gone after the first few hours of the foolhardy attempt, the participants are confronted with three possible moves, all ending in death:


They could surrender and face trial on a capital charge.

They could turn their seized weapons on themselves.

They could continue resistance and in their own phrase, “go out in first class.”

That continued resistance could only mean death was amply evident to the besieged convicts. Even as the order to surrender reached them, work parties chipped away at the thick concrete roof above them, opening a way for possible introduction of gas or explosives against which they have no conceivable defense.

Ready for action against them were detachments of Marines and soldiers form Bay posts and stations—combat troops equipped with mortals, bazookas, “shape” charges and numerous other irresistible and deadly devices recently proved in war.

General Joseph Stilwell himself led one Army detachment of 20 to the island and discussed the desperate situation with the warden.

Stilwell left the island after a short visit, and his headquarters explained: “The General was merely making a courtesy call. This is strictly a Marine show, as far as the Army is concerned.”

Also flocking to the battleground on the city’s doorstep were guards and prison officials from every Federal penitentiary in the land—from McNeil Island and Leavenworth and Atlanta.


James V. Bennett, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, left Washington by plane to give the situation his personal attention.

And California’s San Quentin prison, at the direct request of Warden Johnston sent 11 of its guards into the fight.

How many convicts were still alive to consider the impossible position into which they had worked themselves was not known.

First reports indicated some 15 or 16 murderers, kidnapers and bank bandits had responded to the cell for a mass prison break. Warden Johnston, in listing the leaders, had named seven.

Whether the remainder had been killed in the fierce fighting, or whether their names were omitted because not yet know to prison authorities was unclear, but no release of the convict causalities have been made.

Certain was the fact that two prison guards had died and that 13 others had been shot, kicked and savagely beaten by the convicts who ambushed them on Thursday afternoon.

That count of casualties was made at San Francisco’s Marine hospital, where the wounded men were taken for treatment.


There they told stories showing plainly that the Alcatraz rioters, with the feel of weapons in their hands and the smell of liberty in their nostrils, had gone violently, brutally mad.

Without exception, the wounded named Joseph Cretzer, lifer, as the most senselessly ferocious of all the rioting crew.

They recounted how he herded defenseless guards into a cell, bashed their faces with a pistol butt, and laughed as he warned them he intended to kill them in cold blood. In a dying statement, William A. Miller, guard, named Cretzer as his killer.

Cretzer, said his victims, had been a prison trusty and had assumed command of the insurrection shortly after it broke.

Gunfire ceased on Alcatraz shortly after noon yesterday, after a morning of intense activity.

At midnight Thursday the battle had subsided into patternless, sporadic firing of small arms. The rifle shot; a lull of 15 or 20 minutes; a cluster of pistol shots; a half hour of silence. Then a tracer bullet would draw a thin red line across the entire cell block and expire in a fiery sunburst as it collapsed against a wall.

This occasional firing as inside the building where the desperadoes, no longer protected by the presence of hostages, were being inexorably squeezed into an untenable corner.

With daybreak, offshore observers got their first informative glimpse of the battleground. Fitted concrete walls revealed the intensity of the fire which guards and Marines had directed against the besieged convicts.

The removal of hostages having altered the situation strongly against the cell-block’s doomed defenders, the besieging force tried new tactics. A deeper rumble supplanted the crack of rifles and cough of pistols as guards pulled pins and dropped hand grenades into the cell-block from the roof.

Eighteen times in 15 minutes observers lying off the embattled island heard the muffled explosions of rifle grenades and watched smoke puff up through the skylights.


At 9:30 a platoon of Marines assembled in front of the Administration building, where a Flag few, but few at half-staff.

The Marine detachment marched smartly away and shortly thereafter the day’s plan of attack began to manifest itself.

A group of four men—two of them apparently guards, the other two apparently Marines—took up a position on the slope some 50 yards below the cell block.

Soon they began lobbing rifle grenades into a window of the cell-block, following a definite pattern. Four grenades—a half hour’s inaction—then four more grenades. That continued all morning long, until the cease fire order came at 12:30.

One grenade fell short, setting fire.

Stationed on a catwalk around the corner from the window which as the particular target for the grenadiers, a prison official talked through a window apparently to the besieged men.

After each volley, he could be seen leaning against the sill, out of range of their weapons, but not of their hearing, gesticulating violently, obviously informing them further resistance against such tactics was useless.

All day long and throughout the night, as the battle waxed and waned and moved along the cell house, the lone negotiator stuck to his post repeating his grim sales talk, inviting the felons to come out and live or stay inside and die.

All day long, thousands of San Franciscans watched the island warfare from the shoreline and from hillside vantage points. In spots, their numbers increased to the point where traffic was blocked, and then police went into action clearing the streets.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 4 May 1946, pages 1 and 3.


Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License