Mail Tribune 100, Sept. 2, 1919
The following news items were drawn from the archives of the Mail Tribune 100 years ago.
Sept. 2, 1919
CARTER’S ATTEMPT TO BREAK JAIL IS FRUSTRATED
Willis E. Carter, the Los Angeles auto thief and alleged desperate character who was captured at Roseburg last Thursday with a stolen California car valued at $5,400, and was brought here Saturday to answer to the charge of breaking into the Medford service station, in an attempt to break out of the county jail last night met with the surprise of his life.
A broken skylight in the county jail roof at Jacksonville through which a prisoner escaped last fall has never been repaired. Carter, who with other prisoners was in the jail corridor about 8 o’clock last night, started to escape by placing a chair on the table and mounting to the skylight over which there were iron bars. The first attempt to squeeze through the bars was unsuccessful and the prisoner came down again and discarded his heavy sweater and shirt. Then on the second attempt he squeezed through and lay flat on the roof.
In the meantime Sheriff Terrell had learned in some manner of the attempt to escape.
Hence when Carter raised his head to peer to the ground he was much surprised to see a number of armed deputy sheriffs with rifles scattered throughout the jail yard, and each pointing his weapon at him, ready to shoot should he make a move to come down the jail roof.
About the same time he heard Sheriff Terrell entering the jail and was commanded to get down quickly, which Carter did. “I was out in the yard when Carter stuck up his head,” said Sheriff Terrell today, “and as I did not want to see him killed, for the boys would have shot if he had made a move to come down, I hurried inside and made him come down.”
The sheriff has a difficult hob on his hands keeping this young man in jail. Carter declares he will escape if he can and yet will outwit his jailers. It was his second attempt to escape. Last Saturday night he had only been confined in jail and hour when he repeated his Roseburg jail trick of tearing iron strips off his cell bed with which he either forced the cell door or picked the door lock and gained access to the corridor, where he was discovered before he could make another move.
“You can’t win unless you take a chance,” said Carter in an interview today, “if you can’t win you might as well quit.” The prisoner was in a jovial mood and laughingly discussed with the sheriff and a reporter his frustrated plan to escape.
“Why those fellows in the yard nearly fell over themselves in getting into position to shoot at me,” he said, “and I quickly started to crawl back down through the skylight into the jail, when the sheriff appeared below me with his gun pointed at me. There I was between the devil and the deep sea. I was mighty glad to come down into the jail again.”
Carter was arraigned in Justice Taylor’s court this noon but the arraignment was continued over until Wednesday afternoon because Prosecutor Roberts desired to have Chief of Police Shambrook of Roseburg subpoenaed as a witness. In the meantime the prisoner is held in $1,500 preliminary bail.
In the informal discussion with Prosecutor Roberts of his case Carter showed exceptional shrewdness and familiarity with the criminals laws, especially of California. Prosecutor Roberts is undecided yet whether to hold him to answer to the Medford charge against him, or give him up to the Los Angeles police who are expected to arrive here tomorrow to be prosecuted in that city on the serious charges against him. The prosecutor feels that he has a sure case against Carter here, and will not probably give him up unless he is convinced that the Los Angeles police have a sure case.
It is no doubt fortunate in more ways than one that Carter’s attempted escape last night was frustrated, as with his leg shattered by a Los Angeles policeman’s bullet five weeks ago, if he had dropped from the jail roof to the ground he would have doubtless been seriously crippled. His nerve and daring are remarkable. Carter claims to be but 19 years old.