Henri Young

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For those of a similar name, see Henry Young (disambiguation).
Henri Theodore Young
Henri Young.jpg
Born (1911-06-20)June 20, 1911[1]
Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Other names Henry Theodore Young[2]
Criminal charge manslaughter, bank robbery
Criminal status unknown

Henri Theodore Young (born June 20, 1911) was a convicted bank robber and murderer who, while serving one of a series of prison terms, attempted a 1939 escape from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary with four other inmates. Two escapees were shot, and one died of his wounds; all surviving were quickly recaptured. Two at least, Young and Rufus McCain, received sentences of solitary confinement, and served them at Alcatraz for a period a few months (until autumn 1939). A little over a year after his reentering the Alcatraz general prison population (December 1940), Young murdered fellow escapee McCain; no apparent motive was ever being disclosed. Young's subsequent trial featured a spirited, creative defense that put Alcatraz and the penal system on trial, leading to questions about how the prison was run. Young was transferred from Alcatraz to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, Springfield, Missouri, in 1948, and then to Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla on completion of his federal sentence, to begin a life sentence for the 1933 murder conviction. Young "jumped parole" in 1972 after release from Walla Walla, with his stated whereabouts reported as "unknown". Were he still to be alive at end of 2015, he would be 104 years old. Henri Young is perhaps best known in relation to the highly fictionalized character of the same name appearing in Murder in the First (1995), where his portrayal there as victim rather than antagonist was by the SAG- and Golden Globe-award winning actor Kevin Bacon.


Young became a bank robber and was known for aggressively taking hostages.[3] In 1933, he committed and was convicted of murder.[3][4] After spending time in prisons in Washington state and Montana,[3] he was sent to the federal prison on Alcatraz Island. On the night of January 13, 1939,[5] Young, with prisoners Rufus McCain, Arthur Barker, Dale Stamphill, and William Martin, attempted to escape.[5] Martin, Young, and McCain surrendered, while Barker and Stamphill refused to surrender and were subsequently shot.[5] Barker eventually died from his injuries.[5][4]

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.[4] 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 [the defense] 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'”,[6] where both of the historical assertions were inaccurate.[3]

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 for 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.[7]

In 1954 Young was transferred to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla to begin a life sentence for the murder conviction in 1933.[3] He was released from Washington State Penitentiary in 1972, at age 61; he "jumped parole and, according to Washington State authorities, his whereabouts are unknown."[3]

Historicity of film adaptation[edit]

The film Murder in the First (1995) presents Young as being arrested for stealing $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.[3] As noted above, Young had a prior murder conviction before arriving at Alcatraz (and indeed went on to leave Alcatraz, to serve the remainder of that murder sentence later in life); in these and other ways, the events depicted in the film, per best sources, are purely fictitious and so historically inaccurate.[3] Other incongruities include Young's actual released from segregation after a few months[3] and his killing of McCain more than a year later.[3] It is true to history, however, that Young's defense tried to creatively denigrate the prison and its staff and resorted to exaggeration regarding Young's experience (e.g., stating that Young had been in Solitary Confinement at Alcatraz, for over three years).[6]


  1. ^ Alphabetical Index of Former Inmates of U.S. Penitentiary, Alcatraz, 1934–63. NARA Microfilm Publication 458. Records of the Bureau of Prisons, 1870–2009, Record Group 129. NARA, Pacific Regional Office, San Francisco, California.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j ""Henri Young: Murder in the First and the U.S. Penitentiary Alcatraz". Alcatrazhistory.com. May 1, 1941. Retrieved 9 April 2015. "Statement of James V. Bennett, Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons 
  4. ^ a b c "Alcatraz History, Page 3: Winds of Change". Alcatrazhistory.com. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d "BOP: Alcatraz". Bop.gov. Retrieved 2015-04-10. 
  6. ^ a b Alvin D. Hyman (April 16, 1941). ""Young On Trial In Alcatraz Killing: Psychological Defense Revealed; Young Lawyers Quiz Jurymen"". San Francisco Examiner. p. 20. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  7. ^ 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. 

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