|Henri Theodore Young|
June 20, 1911|
Kansas City, Missouri, United States
|manslaughter, bank robbery|
Henri Theodore Young (born June 20, 1911) was a prisoner at Alcatraz who attempted to escape with four other inmates, Arthur Barker, Dale Stamphill, William Martin, and Rufus McCain. He was quickly recaptured and placed in solitary confinement. After his release he killed McCain. His subsequent trial led to questions about the way Alacatraz was run.
Young became a bank robber and was known for aggressively taking hostages. In 1933, he committed murder. After spending time in prisons in Washington state and Montana, he was sent to the federal prison on Alcatraz Island. On the night of January 13, 1939, Young, with prisoners Rufus McCain, Arthur Barker, Dale Stamphill, and William Martin, attempted to escape. Martin, Young, and McCain surrendered, while Barker and Stamphill refused to surrender and were subsequently shot. Barker eventually died from his injuries.
Young and McCain were each allegedly sentenced to long terms in solitary confinement, but they were back in the prison's general population within months. A year later, Young killed Rufus McCain by plunging a spoon into his neck; he never revealed his motive. At his trial for McCain's murder Young and his attorney argued that the harsh system at Alcatraz had brutalized and dehumanized him. According to the San Francisco Examiner, "Emphasis which they repeatedly laid on the fact that Young was in isolation or solitary confinement for more than three years—and that he drove his knife into McCain’s abdomen just eleven days after release from such confinement, made it clear that the defense hopes to show not only that Young was “punch drunk” but that the punches were administered by the Alcatraz 'system'.”
Describing conditions in solitary confinement Young stated:
"Its size was approximately that of a regular cell-9 feet by 5 feet by about 7 feet high. I could just touch the ceiling by stretching out my arm... You are stripped nude and pushed into the cell. Guards take your clothes and go over them minutely or what few grains of tobacco may have fallen into the cuffs or pockets. There is no soap. No tobacco. No toothbrush, The smell - well you can describe it only by the word 'stink.' It is like stepping into a sewer. It is nauseating. After they have searched your clothing, they throw it at you. For bedding, you get two blankets, around 5 in the evening. You have no shoes, no bed, no mattress-nothing but the four damp walls and two blankets. The walls are painted black. Once a day I got three slices of bread-no-that is an error. Some days I got four slices. I got one meal in five days, and nothing but bread in between. In the entire thirteen days I was there, I got two meals... I have seen but one man get a bath in solitary confinement, in all the time that I have been there. That man had a bucket of cold water thrown over him." - Young testifying his experiences in "The Hole" at Alcatraz during his 1941 trial.
In 1972 Young was released from Washington State Penitentiary at age 54; he jumped parole and disappeared. According to Washington State authorities his whereabouts remain unknown.
Murder in the First alleges that Young was arrested for stealing only $5, that he was tortured after his escape attempt, that he killed McCain in the cafeteria immediately after his return to the general population, and that he was found dead in his prison cell in 1942 just before his appeal with the word “victory” on the wall. Many of the events depicted in the film, however, are historically inaccurate; in reality, Young was released from segregation after only a few months and killed McCain more than a year later. However, the defense at his trial stated in court that Henri Young was locked up in Solitary Confinement for over 3 years.
- Henry Young: Murder in the First and the U.S. Penitentiary, Alcatraz
- Alcatraz History
- A Brief History of Alcatraz
- San Francisco Examiner. 16 April 1941. 20
- Ward, David A.; Kassebaum, Gene G. (19 May 2009). Alcatraz: The Gangster Years. University of California Press. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-520-25607-1. Retrieved 8 September 2012.