Griffith Captured - Tells His Tale in 1921

(04/22/2002)

Transcribed by Norma Knotts Shaffer from microfilm of the Calhoun Chronicle dated 2/3/1921.

Holly Griffith Captured Bad Man Taken in South

Bandit will Have to Face Mason County Murder Charge
Griffith Tells Story of His Travels Since Escape

Holly Griffith, the noted Wirt county bandit, who escaped from the state penitentiary at Moundsville on January 6, after setting fire to the institution and murdering one of its inmates, was captured at Greenwood, South Carolina, on January 28.  He was returned to the penitentiary the latter part of last week and is now in the death cell awaiting trial for the alleged murder of Ira Roush, a young man of Point Pleasant, from whom it is said Griffith secured a small gasolene boat to further his plans for getting out of the country.

His capture was effected by G.T. Nelson, a lone police officer down in the town of Greenwood, South Carolina, without assistance.  Nelson arrested him for robbing the Silver Street post and express office.  He had four loaded guns, two razors and two knives on his person when searched, but he made no effort to resist when arrested by Police Officer Nelson.  Had it not been for this unusually heavy armament, it is likely that he would have escaped recognition as Griffith, but the fact lead the officers to think that he was some desperate criminal, and he was recognized in a little while as Griffith from the pictures sent out broadcast by the West Virginia Prison authorities.

Warden Terrell, of the penitentiary, was notified and immediately sent Deputy Captain of the Guard E.W. Athey to the South Carolina town to identify Griffith and bring him back to West Virginia.  On arriving there Captain Athey readily recognized and identified Griffith.  The latter refused to return without the formality of a requisition and the return trip was delayed a few days until Governor Cornwell could transmit the necessary papers which were promptly honored by the Governor of South Carolina.

The Greenwood policeman will receive the reward of $1,000 which was offered by the West Virginia authorities for the capture of Griffith dead or alive.

A special grand jury was called in Mason county Tuesday and Griffith will be indicted for the murder of Roush.  Legal authorities are agreed that Griffith will not have to be pardoned before he can be tried for his crimes committed since he was sentenced from Braxton county

Story Told by Griffith

After his arrest Griffith is said to have given the following version of his escape from prison and the route taken after his escape:

“That was easy enough and the only thing I regret is the killing of Henry Lewis, a fellow convict.  He was a good fellow and should have had sense enough not to attempt to molest me when he saw I was determined to go and was armed with a knife 26 inches long that I had taken from the tailor shop.

“You see it was this way.  I played the cornet in the band and was not locked in my cell until about 8 o’clock at night.  After we had finished playing for the evening it was dark.  On my way to the cell I did a little sidestepping.

“Instead of going into the prison proper, I stepped into the engine room.  The first thing I did was to stop the big dynamo.  This placed the prison in darkness.  Lewis saw what I had done and ran toward me.  He carried a heavy iron bar in his hand and struck at me a number of times.

“Well, I just ducked under his blows and came under him with my big knife.  I slashed right and left and he dropped.  I did not know that I had killed him until I read it in the papers at Cincinnati a few days later.  I was sorry that I had finished him, but you know I simply had to get away.  Who wouldn’t have done the same thing if they were in my place with a life in the pen staring him in the face?

“After dropping Lewis, I rushed out through the yard towards the carpenter shop.  One or two men attempted to stop me and I struck them down.  After reaching the carpenter shop I made my way to a spot that I had picked out and climbed through the skylight to the roof and from there to the prison wall.  I carried a coil of heavy insulated wire, and was soon safe on the outside.

“Whether friends met me or not is of no consequence, now that I am captured.  Maybe there were friends there and maybe there were not.  So far as that feature of my escape is concerned, my lips are sealed until death.  I never “squawked” in my life and do not intend to start now.  Nothing will induce me to tell, not even if I am sent to the gallows.  I will die with that secret in my heart.”

After he escaped the prison, “Holly” said he went to Benwood.  He remained there until late the following day, when he started for Fairmont, but after going a short distance changed his mind because he was known there.

“I doubled back on my tracks,” he declared, “and within 48 hours of the time I had left the prison I was again within the shadow of its walls.  I was close enough to it to recognize guards on the wall and men leaving it.  Of course I had changed my clothing and my appearance somewhat, but any man half wise would have been able to recognize me he had looked at me closely.

“That night I crossed the Ohio river at Benwood into Bellaire.  I was well supplied with money that had been smuggled into me days before I made my escape.  By whom or by what methods this was done will also remain a secret with me until I cross over into the unknown.

“After reaching Bellaire I boarded a freight train for Columbus and from there went to Akron.  From Akron I started to get into Mexico, but when I reached Cincinnati two policemen held me up one night and said “you look like an escaped convict and we’ve a notion to run you in.”

“I informed them that I was an honest man out of a job, looking for work and also wanted a place to sleep for the night.  One of them gave me a quarter and directed me to a lodging house on the water front.  I remained there until the next day, when I started South.  I traveled by freight and was soon in South Carolina.

“While walking along the street in Greenwood, I was tackled by a constable.  I had prepared myself to resist capture and fight to the death if necessary.  I was carrying four revolvers.  He placed his hand on my shoulder and said:

“You are one of them northern bums, and I am going to lock you up.”

“I had my hand on a big gun when he did this and could easily have killed him had I want to.  I thought at the time he would not be able to recognize me, so I didn’t pull the trigger.  I walked quietly with him to the police station.  I knew it was all up with me when I got there, but somehow or other I could not make myself kill that man.”

Captain E.W. Athey, of the prison board, does not believe all of Griffith’s story as outlined above.  He is convinced that Griffith visited his wife at Munday in Wirt County following his escape.  He states that Griffith, after scaling the prison walls, went to Rosby’s Rock where he boarded a freight train.  He was put off the train at Metz where it assumed that he robbed the postoffice.  From Metz, Captain Athey believes that Griffith went to either Clarksburg or Fairmont and thence to Wirt county where he secured two guns from his wife, one a .44 caliber Belgian Luger and the other a 33-20 Colt.  Both of these guns had been used when Griffith was captured and it is presumed that the Belgian pistol was used in killing Ira Roush at Point Pleasant.


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