Lewis E. Lawes

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Lewis E. Lawes
Lewis E. Lawes crop.jpg
Warden of Sing Sing
In office
Preceded byDaniel J. Grant as acting warden
Succeeded byRobert John Kirby
Personal details
Lewis Edward Lawes

(1883-09-13)September 13, 1883
Elmira, New York
DiedApril 23, 1947(1947-04-23) (aged 63)
Garrison, New York
Cause of deathCerebral hemorrhage
Spouse(s)Kathryn (died 1937)
The gravesite of Lewis E. Lawes

Lewis Edward Lawes (September 13, 1883 – April 23, 1947) was a prison warden and a proponent of prison reform. During his 21-year tenure at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, he supervised the executions of 303 prisoners.[1][2]


Lawes was born on September 13, 1883 in Elmira, New York.[2] He was the only child of Henry Lewis Lawes (died 1925) and Sarah Abbott. His father worked as a prison guard at the New York State Reformatory, now called the Elmira Correctional Facility.[3]

Lawes ran away at 17 and joined the United States Coast Artillery. Afterwards, he worked at an insurance company before beginning his prison career as a guard at Clinton Prison in Dannemora, New York on March 1, 1905. On September 30, 1905, he married Katherine Stanley. He subsequently worked at first Auburn Prison, then Elmira Reformatory. In March 1915 he was named Superintendent of the City Reformatory on Hart Island in New York City. Lawes became warden of the Massachusetts State Prison in 1918. New York Governor Al Smith asked him to take over as Warden of Sing Sing. Lawes took charge on January 1, 1920.[1]

He was featured on the cover and in an article of Time magazine issue of November 18, 1929.

His wife, Kathryn (1887-1937), died on October 31, 1937 at Ossining Hospital after she fell at the Cortlandt, New York end of the Bear Mountain Bridge. The heel of her shoe was caught between two boards and it caused her to fall and break her leg. She wasn't found until nighttime and she died from hypothermia.[4][5][6]

He remained at his post as Warden of Sing Sing for twenty-one years, instituting reforms, until he retired on July 16, 1941.[1][7][8] He was replaced by Robert J. Kirby.

Lawes became the president of the Boy Rangers of America in 1941.[9]

Lawes died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 23, 1947 at age 63 in Garrison, New York.[7][8] He was interred at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.


Lawes wrote several books. Several of his works were made into films. His most famous book, Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing, was made into a 1932 movie under the same title, starring Spencer Tracy, and again in 1940 as Castle on the Hudson, featuring John Garfield. Invisible Stripes in 1939, with George Raft, was based on his novel of the same name, while Humphrey Bogart starred in You Can't Get Away with Murder in 1939, an adaptation of Chalked Out, a play Lawes co-wrote.

His papers are archived in the Special Collections of the Lloyd Sealy Library, John Jay College of Criminal Justice.[2][10]


  1. ^ a b c "Lawes is Retiring As Sing Sing Head. Foe of Capital Penalty Put 303 to Death. Found Some Prisoners 'Very Fine Men'". New York Times. July 7, 1941. Retrieved 2012-12-02. Lewis E. Lawes, warden of Sing Sing Prison here since Jan. 1, 1920, confirmed this afternoon that he had resigned last Thursday. He added his resignation had been accepted and that he would retire probably on July 15 to devote himself to writing, lecturing and the furtherance of 'many causes which have long interested me,' including boys' clubs. ...
  2. ^ a b c Ralph Blumenthal (November 6, 2011). "A Man Who Knew About the Electric Chair". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-02. The warden of the Sing Sing Correctional Facility for 21 years, Lawes supervised the executions of 303 prisoners ... Born in 1883 in Elmira, N.Y., Lawes had worked as a guard at Clinton Prison in the Adirondack wilds of Dannemora, N.Y. ...
  3. ^ "Lawes Rushing to Dying Father". New York Times. September 13, 1925. Retrieved 2012-12-02. Harry L. Lawes of 1051 ... Street, father of Lewis E. Lawes, Warden of Sing Sing Prison is near death here tonight. Mr. Lawes who is 63 years old, has ...
  4. ^ "Wife of Warden Lawes Dies After a Fall. Lies Injured All Day at Bear Mountain Span". New York Times. October 31, 1937. Retrieved 2012-12-02. Mrs. Kathryn Lawes, wife of Warden Lewis E. Lawes of Sing Sing prison, died in Ossining Hospital shortly before 11 o'clock tonight of injuries received some time during the day near the Westchester end of Bear Mountain Bridge. ...
  5. ^ United Press (November 2, 1937). "Death Of Mrs. Lawes, Wife Of Warden". The Grape Belt and Chautauqua Farmer. Retrieved 2012-12-02. Mrs. Lawes was found Saturday night near the east entrance to the Bear Mountain bridge. Her right leg had been broken ...
  6. ^ International News Service (November 2, 1937). "Convicts Mourn Wife Of Warden. 200 At Sing Sing File Past Bier". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2012-12-02. The death of Mrs. Lawes, the result of a fall when her shoe caught on a
  7. ^ a b Associated Press (April 23, 1947). "Lewis E. Lawes, Former Sing Sing Warden, Succumbs". The Evening Independent. Retrieved 2012-12-02.
  8. ^ a b "Lewis E. Lawes, Ex-Sing Sing Head, Dies At 63". Chicago Tribune. April 24, 1947. Retrieved 2012-12-02. He began his work at Sing Sing in December, 1919, appointed at 37 as warden by the late Gov. Alfred E. Smith. He retired July 16, 1941. ...
  9. ^ "Lawes Heads Boys Group. Ex-Warden of Sing Sing Elected President of Rangers" (PDF). New York Times. September 17, 1941. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
  10. ^ "Papers of Lewis E. Lawes 1883-1947". Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Retrieved 5 March 2013.

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