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Oldest
Convict
Dead

Anamosa, Jan. 7—Wm. Dilley, Iowa's oldest convict in point of time served, is dead. He passed away at the Anamosa penitentiary. The machinery of the old frame simply re-fused to longer carry the load of affliction. Dilley looked much older than he really was. He was gray and stooped like an octo-genarian. In reality he has spent just half of his life behind prison bars. Dilley's crime was wife murder and committed at a time before capital punish-ment had become a recognized method of atonement in Iowa. He was doing a life sen-tence from Johnson county, where he was convicted in January, 1877. He had served 26 years. Dilley's number was 239. The highest register number today is 4.967, and thus has he witnessed the ad-mision and departure by death, parole and com-pleted sentence of 4,000 men. Dilley has assisted in the con-struction of every building that has been erected in the pentiten-tiary in the last quarter of a century and this means that he has a hand in practically every piece of archi-tecture that now adorns the state property, for the walls and all the handsome buildings that now grace the property have supplanted the former wooden stockade and the temporary structures in use at the time of his incarceration.
space From the Davenport Daily Republican, Davenport, Iowa, January 8, 1903 and submitted by Cathy Joynt Labath

On April 23, 1872, the Fourteenth General Assembly appointed William Ure, Foster L. Downing and Martin Heisey as a Board of Commissioners to locate and provide for the erection of an additional penitentiary for the state of Iowa. The board met on June 4, 1872, at Anamosa, Jones county, and selected a site within the corporate limits of the city. Fifteen acres were donated by the citizens of Anamosa to the state of Iowa. Also donated were 61 acres "of good pastureland" close to the area. Among the other reasons for its selection, three nearby quarries were sufficient for all state demands for high quality limestone for public buildings.

Photo: Lorie Vogel. Long known as the Iowa Men's Reformatory, the facility has recently been renamed the Anamosa State Penitentiary. Let's hope the inmates are suitably penitent.

For history, photos and stories of the prison, check out Steve Wendl's Anamosa State Penitentiary web site.

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The 1915 Index

On November 1, 1915, Record Clerk C. L. Peterson released an index of all prisoners and prison employees from the institution's inception (May 13, 1873) through January 1, 1915. Peterson's partner in the indexing project, fellow Clerk S. W. Wetmore, died before its completion. The Index purports to catalog some 8348 names of inmates and staff.

Go to the 1915 Index.

Reformatory Staff, 1903 1903 Guards

Iowa Men's Reformatory staff, 1903. This classic photo was taken at the back steps of the dining hall. First row (l-r): George Walker, George Beaman, A. A. Fife, Harry Smith, Harry Powers, Dr. Samuel Druett, H. H. Kratovil, Wm. D. Thomas 2nd row: Martin McCarty, C. I. Nelson, W. A. Hubbard, John Edwards, Michael Boos, J. Mitchell. 3rd row: J. A. Brummitt, Benbow, C. W. Pulley, H. G. H. Harper, Conner, Oscar Svanberg 4th row: B. G. Rees, C. E. Bauserman, Charles Gould, H. F. Hardt, G. Gwehle, Tip Patterson, George Seeley. 5th row: Graham, J. N. Noel, Lieberknecht, B. F. Morse 6th row: James Taylor, J. H. Lowe, C. D. Stout, Bert Waggoner.

Recognize any of your ancestors in this 1903 photo? You can click on it anywhere to enlarge that section. My great-granduncle, J. W. Albert "Bert" Wagoner is far right in the back row. Kind of short, but he has the best moustache! The 1895 census lists him as a prison guard, so he worked there quite a while.

For a great selection of prison photos go to Steve Wendl's Web Page.

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Photos: John Balster

April 6, 1893
Death of a Female Convict

Caroline Thomas died at the prison last Thursday at the age of 22 years. She was brought from Des Moines last December for keeping a house of ill repute and her sentence was for six months. The prison physician's certificate states that she had a stroke of paralysis February 16 and another March 31. She was placed in a room fitted up for her and two of her associates took care of her night and day, manifesting every kindness possible under the circumstances.

The burial service was held in the women's department, conducted by Chaplain Crocker and assisted by Rev. L. U. McKee, of the M. E. church. About a dozen kind ladies of the city were also in attendance. The women's apartment was tastefully decorated with flowers, under the guidance of Mrs. Powers, the matron. The services were very impressive, the lessons of warning and exhortation being set forth in a most tender yet direct and forcible manner. Interment was made in the potter's field in Riverside cemetery, Warden Madden saying that no female convict would be buried on the farm while he was in charge of the institution.

We add a word that we would much prefer be not spoken save for the solemn warning it conveys. The father of Caroline Thomas lives at St. Charles, in Madison county. He was informed of the sickness of his daughter before her death. A letter from him dated the 4th says, among other things, that Caroline would not follow the advice of her parents but persistently disregarded their wishes. He could not come because too old and poor, having seven boys in the family.

A further additional fact we ascertained was that Caroline had been living with a negro in Des Moines, who has another white woman mistress, and that this negro was very anxious to have the body of Caroline shipped to Des Moines and placed in his charge. It seems that a few days ago he shot a man who visited his place, and the supposition is that he desired to create public sympathy by providing for the burial of this woman. The father directed otherwise, however, and the mortal remains of a fearfully wrecked life, well-nigh consumed by the fires of passion and disease, were laid away under the sod in a strange, unknown burial ground.

Caroline Thomas might now have been an adornment in society as a representative of beautiful young womanhood, but she rejected the counsels of her parents, willfully sought those paths that take hold on hell, and after a few brief years—wonderfully brief years—of ignominy and shame she laid down to die in a prison—where, be it said, she received the first tokens of real kindness she has known since she went forth from the home and the ministrations of parents who sought better things for her. This was a terrible fate for Caroline Thomas - but is she alone guilty? Does anyone think that the men who helped drag her down will not have this question to answer in the judgment?

For a selection of other stories involving crime and criminals, prison breaks and Iowa Men's Reformatory history, go to Steve Wendl's Web Page.

space This photo, taken by Steve Hanken in July 2005, shows that Caroline Thomas' gravestone has been cleaned since the photo above was taken.

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