June 1, 2016

5 Stories from the Montana State Prison Records

by Caitlin Patterson, Electronic Records Archivist

In 2008 the Research Center embarked on a long-term digitization project to post scanned images from the Montana State Prison records and make them available on the Montana Memory Project. Since scanning began, staff members, interns, contract workers and volunteers have scanned, collected metadata and posted the prisoner description sheets of over 10,000 prisoners who served time at the Montana State Prison. In addition to the crime and sentence, the description sheets provide information about convicts’ education, work history, appearance and closest living relatives, as well as a photo, making them a valuable resource for genealogists. And thanks to countless hours of metadata entry, done mostly by our intrepid volunteers, those who visit the Montana Memory Project can search for prisoners not only by the name under which they were incarcerated, but also by any aliases, their prisoner number, the crime they committed, the year they were incarcerated, their gender, descent, religion, and occupation.

In the years that we have spent working with these records there have been a few that have stood out, some for the daring or inventiveness of their crimes, some for their tragic or shocking nature, and some for the apparent quirks of the convicts themselves. Included below are a few, though certainly not all, of the high (or low) lights, with the backstory gleaned from newspaper reports at the time.

Pat Hollingsworth
Prison Record

On December 8, 1936, Pat Hollingsworth was received at the State Prison. His description sheet states that he was convicted of grand larceny for stealing “a Lafayette Coach from the police dept., at Missoula” and malicious destruction of property after he “burned up” the Lafayette Coach. The Daily Missoulian reported the theft of the police car from in front of the police station Monday morning, November 30, 1936. Over the next eight days the paper reported on the search for the police car and its discovery in a ditch, badly charred; the arrests of Hollingsworth and another man, Albert Boyle; Hollingsworth’s changing story of the crime; and both men’s arraignment. When first apprehended, Hollingsworth claimed that he had ridden in the car but that it had been in the possession of another man, who he knew only as John. Eventually, Hollingsworth confessed to stealing the car on his own, explaining that he hadn’t realized it was a police car until he accidentally turned on the siren as he was driving out of town, calling it his “most embarrassing moment.” Albert Boyle was convicted of malicious destruction of property for his part in the burning of the car, but not of any involvement in its theft.

Quoted Article
[1] “Details of Car Theft Disclosed by CCC Worker” The Daily Missoulian, December 4, 1936, page 3.

“Patrol Car is Purloined from Police Station” The Daily Missoulian, November 30, 1936, page 1.
“Man is Jailed in Connection with Car Theft” The Daily Missoulian, December 1, 1936, Page 12.
“Police Continue Work in Case of Stolen Prowler” The Daily Missoulian, December 3, 1936, page 5.
“Police Thanked for Capturing Fugitives” The Montana Standard, December 3, 1936, page 3.
“Pleas of Guilt Are Entered on Car Theft Count” The Daily Missoulian, December 8, 1936, page 10.


Don Williams
Prison Record
George Blend
Prison Record

Don Williams and George Blend were convicted of an even more daring vehicle theft after they stole and attempted to fly away an airplane. The wrecked plane was discovered 300 yards from the hanger at the Harlowton Air Port,  while Williams and Blend were arrested the next day in Lennep. According to the reporting of their confessions in The Harlowton Times, Williams and Blend had both lined up jobs in Alaska and decided to steal the plane and fly it as far as Spokane. They arrived prepared with five gallons of gasoline and a can of paint to hide the numbers on the plane. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the necessary skill as pilots and crashed the plane as they tried to take off. After the crash the two walked twelve miles to Two Dot, Williams suffering from a broken nose and other injuries sustained in the crash. From there they managed to stow away on a train as far as Lennep before they were discovered and kicked off by the crew, who then notified authorities.
“Airplane Bandits Captured Near Lennep Thursday Morning” The Harlowton Times, January 29, 1931, page 1.
“Airplane Bandit is Given Sentence of One Year in State Penitentiary at Deer Lodge” The Harlowton Times, February 12, 1931, page 1.
“Blend Given Four Year Jolt for Stealing Cavill Plane” The Harlowton Times, February 19, 1931, page 1.


James Brown
Prison Record
In the fall of 1939, there were a string of robberies in Butte. In under a week someone robbed the Parkway Bar, the YMCA, and the Currie Service Station. Joe Stewart was arrested for the first two robberies, but was already in custody when the Currie Service Station was robbed. He was still awaiting trial when James Brown, also known as James Spence, was arrested after being caught skulking near a warehouse as he was preparing to hold up the P. H. Fallon Service Station. When he was arrested, Brown was carrying a white handkerchief which he planned to use as a mask, a paper bag, and a toy pistol, his apparent weapon of choice. Brown was identified as the robber of the YMCA and admitted robbing the Currie Service Station, but did not confess to robbing the Parkway Bar until his trial, leaving Stewart to idle in the county jail for several more days before being cleared of any involvement. As a motive, Brown claimed that he intended to send the money to his ailing sister-in-law.

“Suspect Held in Probe of Two Robberies” The Montana Standard, November 17, 1939, Page 8.
“County Will File Charges in Robbery” The Montana Standard, November 18, 1939, page 1 (continued page 2)
“Service Station Robbery Probed” The Montana Standard, November 21, 1939, page 2.
“Butte Robber is Wounded by Police” The Montana Standard, November 23, 1939, page 1 (continued page 2)
“Victim in Robbery Identifies Suspect” The Montana Standard, November 29, 1939, page 6.
“Stewart Not to be Tried for Robbery” The Montana Standard, November 28, 1939, page 1 (continued page 2)
“Court Dismisses Robbery Charge Against Stewart” The Montana Standard, November 29, 1939, page 5.

Evelyn Donges
Prison Record
Tom LaFave
Prison Record
Another notable spree began with a robbery that turned fatal and ended with a life sentence for one of the youngest women ever incarcerated at Deer Lodge. On September 11, 1951, Evelyn Donges, then age sixteen, lured John Hoffman into an alley where he was beaten and robbed by two other teenagers. Hoffman died four days after the attack. After the robbery, the three teens picked up another friend and left town in a stolen car, initiating a manhunt that stretched as far as Texas. One of the four left the others in Smithfield, Utah, and hitchhiked back to his home in Laurel. The other three were arrested September 23 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Donges and another of the attackers,
Tom LaFave, were charged with first degree murder. The third teenager involved in the attack was too young to charge. Both Donges and LaFave were eventually paroled.

 “Miles City Death Probed by Jury” The Montana Standard, September 16, 1951, page 10.
Miles City Daily Star. September 14-30 (multiple articles, page 1), October (articles on the 1, 2, 7, 12, and 26, page 1), November 26, and December 3-12 (multiple articles).


Another record that stood out for its grievous nature was that of Martin Bray. Bray’s record states that he was sentenced to life imprisonment, but also notes that he was “an ex-Deputy Sheriff, who is crippled for life thru’ a self inflicted shot.”  On May 16, 1918, on a crowded street in Butte, Bray opened fire on his ex-wife and K. S. Showers as they walked to a theater with her three children, then turned the gun on himself. Both K. S. Showers and Gladys Bray died, but Martin survived to stand trial. Bray’s lawyers, who included a young Wellington Rankin, tried to prove insanity. They could not argue that Bray was innocent, since there were numerous witnesses to the shooting, or that he was even an amiable person, as he was described as “brutal, a heavy drinker, irresponsible and wicked.” The jury was not convinced and convicted Bray. There was no mention in the papers of Bray being a deputy sheriff, though the Butte Daily Bulletin suggested that his apparent penchant for violence would have made him a better hired deputy for the Anaconda Copper Company than a miner. Bray was paroled in 1933. In 1937 the Helena Salvation Army hosted a talk by a Martin H. Bray, a reformed convict, but there is not enough information to prove definitively that he was the same Martin Bray.
The Helena Independent
June 6, 1937, pg. 2

Martin Bray
Prison Record

Tell us what you think.  Are these two pictures of the same man?

Quoted Article
[1] “Bray Trial Put over Till Monday” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 19, 1919, page 6.

“State Topics” The Glasgow Courier, May 31, 1918, page 2. (ChronAM)
“Martin Bray Too Ill to Stand Trial” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 1, 1919, page 6. (ChronAM)
“‘Impulsive Insanity’ Says Attorney Sulgrove” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 16, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Bray Insane Doctors Say” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 17, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Would Say Nothing to Prevent Hanging of Former Husband” Great Falls Daily Tribune, April 19, 1919, page 3. (ChronAM)
“Bray Trial Put over Till Monday” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 19, 1919, page 6. (ChronAM)
“All Testimony Is Now in Case in Hands of Jury” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 22, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Bray Convicted of First Degree Murder” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 23, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Martin Bray Seeks New Trial to Ward off Life Sentence” Great Falls Daily Tribune, May 1, 1919, page 8. (ChronAM)
“Martin Bray Gets Life Sentence in Pen” The Butte Daily Bulletin, May 31, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Bray Appeals to Supreme Court” The Butte Daily Bulletin, June 2, 1919. (ChronAM)
“Many in Butte Jail Await the Penalty for Their Offenses” Great Falls Daily Tribune, November 24, 1920. (ChronAM)
“Bray to Begin Life Sentence Again Today” The Anaconda Standard, March 23, 1921, page 5.
“Salvation Army to Hold Union Services” The Helena Independent, June 6, 1937, page 2.

These are the stories behind just a few of the records that caught our attention. Others that might warrant further research include George Ratigan, who assaulted a police officer with a cuspidor; William Wallace and Clair Traver, who held up their own pool hall; Frank Maki, arrested for malicious injury to a building by explosives in an attempted murder; Nelo Haro, sent to Deer Lodge for destroying a toilet in the Red Lodge jail; and Fine Bow and Mike Snake, both of whom, separately, tried to collect a coyote bounty on gopher pelts.

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