people who met Charles Frazier met him either in prison or
in the prison hospital. Frazier, one of a multitude of 1930s-era
gangsters, was frequently in prison and he frequently showed up
at the hospital complaining of gunshot wounds. He wasn’t faking
Whitey Walker met Frazier in the prison hospital at Huntsville.
The two men soon realized they had a lot in common, including gunshot
wounds. Frazier had most recently been shot while trying to escape
prison. The wound was believed to be fatal but Frazier pulled off
a miraculous recovery. Walker had been wounded as part of the series
of unfortunate events that led to his incarceration.
At the time they met Frazier was already sort of a legend of the
penal system. His career at that point spanned 16 years and included
four different names and nine (!) prison escapes from three different
prisons. In 1933 he was one of a dozen prisoners who broke out of
Angola prison in Louisiana and was an important contributor to making
that one of the bloodiest escapes in the state’s history. The law
caught up with him in Texas but he avoided extradition to Louisiana
by agreeing to a life sentence for a string of robberies in Houston
County. Life sentences didn’t mean much to Frazier because he
never planned to be in prison for very long.
Whitey Walker was born in Rogers
in 1897 and left home at 18 to become a criminal. He was either
very good at it – he committed a lot of crimes – or he was not very
good at it at all because he was also arrested a lot, too. He kept
getting paroled or, in one case, pardoned by Governor Miriam “Ma”
Ferguson, joining hundreds of others with that distinction.
At an Oklahoma prison Walker and some of his buddies got permission
to go fishing but they never came back. They became known as the
“Fishing Hole Gang.” Back in the free world, Whitey robbed
a bank, got arrested and, not surprisingly, made bail, as might
be expected from a bank robber. In another expected move, he left
After a string of bank robberies in Central Texas, Walker and his
cohorts, Blackie Thompson and Roy Johnson, left the
state with their loot. They headed to Florida where things unraveled
quickly and completely. Some stolen money was traced back to Thompson,
and Walker took a shotgun blast to the shoulder during an ill-fated
bank robbery in Tallahassee.
in Texas, Walker and Roy Johnson were
given life sentences and sent to the Huntsville
state prison along with Thompson, who was sentenced to die in the
electric chair known affectionately as “Old Sparky.” Whitey Walker
was recovering from the shotgun blast when he met Charles Frazier
in the hospital at Huntsville
prison and mentioned how much he would like to see his buddy Thompson
escape his death sentence.
Frazier said he could make that happen.
The escape from the infamous “Death House” at Huntsville
was planned for the ninth inning of a baseball game between the
Humble Oilers and the Prison Tigers. Frazier managed to get his
hands on some guns, which he used to force a guard to unlock Thompson’s
cell and then let condemned man out while the guard took his place
Frazier, Thompson and two other men joined Walker, Roy Johnson and
Hub Stanley in a mad dash for freedom after first overpowering another
guard and taking him prisoner. They used a pair of bolt cutters,
supplied by an accomplice, to grab an extension ladder. They used
the guard they had overpowered as a hostage, threatening to kill
him if another guard interfered as they extended the ladder and
began to climb the wall.
Other guards at other lookout towers spotted the escape attempt
and opened fire. The first bullet hit Charles Frazier as he tried
to get over the wall. He fell to the ground with a thud that sounded
final but he got up and tried to scale the wall again. Again, he
took a bullet and hit the ground, this time dragging Roy Johnson
Halfway up the ladder, Whitey Walker called out, “God, it looks
like we are gone!” A moment later he took a bullet to the lungs
and he was sure enough gone. Three men, including Thompson, escaped
but were later captured. Walker was buried in Rogers.
Charles Frazier was carted back to the hospital, complaining of
Frazier was put in solitary confinement, his condition deteriorating
to the point that he became the poster boy for prison reform. Denied
baths, haircuts and human contact and fed only bread and water,
he was described as looking and talking “like a fugitive from the
grave.” Other men, many much less incorrigible than Frazier, were
in similar condition.
Frazier was sent to Louisiana to serve a life sentence for his role
in the Angola escape. In 1936, he tried to escape again. This time
he was shot either nine times or six times – accounts vary – but
he survived again.
Theories abound as to what became of Charlie Frazier. One account
claims he spent seven years at Angola before passing away in his
windowless prison cell. Another puts his death years later, in 1959.
In his book “Running
with Bonnie and Clyde,” author John Neal Phillips wrote, “Years
later Frazier was pardoned. By then he had converted to Christianity.
He spent the rest of his life preaching.”
But Cathy Fontenot with the Louisiana State Prison Museum at Angola
said their records show that Frazier died in 1957, still an Angola
inmate. He was a prison trusty at the time of his death. The legendary
escape artist pulled his final vanishing act not inside a prison
but at Charity Hospital – a site where, over the years, Angola inmates
sent for treatment had staged dozens of escape attempts.
© Clay Coppedge
1, 2013 Column
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