Sam Shockley

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Sam Shockley
Samuel Shockley's Alcatraz Mugshot
Samuel Richard Shockley, Jr.

(1909-01-12)January 12, 1909
Caney Township CO Little River Arkansas, U.S.
DiedDecember 3, 1948(1948-12-03) (aged 38)
Cause of deathExecution by gas chamber
Other namesSamuel Richard Shockley "Crazy Sam" Alcatraz nickname
Criminal statusExecuted along with his friend
Parent(s)Richard "Dick" Shockley, Anna Mae Bearden
Conviction(s)7-3-1928 received state reformatory, Granite OK; charge, larceny domestic fowls; sentence, 2 years. Discharged on expiration. 1-14-31 Arrest. Birmingham, fined $53. 2-5-31 Arrest. Birmingham Escaped Owing 31 days.9-25-34. Jerome Arizona. Arrest. for drunkenness and disorderly conduct.4-28-38 Arrest. Bank Robbery & Kidnapping in Paoli Oklahoma Garvin County, life imprisonment. [ When subject was arrested he made a daring attempt to escape from his hide out. Several guns were recovered. Subject and co-defendant burglarized residence. Took automobile and kidnapping Mr and Mrs Pendley]
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment (5-16-1938); Death Sentence (12-21-1946)

Samuel "Sam" Shockley, Jr. (January 12, 1909 –

December 3, 1948) was an inmate at Alcatraz prison (Inmate nr 462) who was believed to have a share in the Alcatraz uprising or Battle of Alcatraz in 1946. Two prison guards, Bill Miller, shot by Joe Cretzer and Harold Stites, mistakenly shot by the officers on the hill outside who were firing into the D block, and three inmates, Bernie Coy, Joe Cretzer and Marv Hubbard, were all shot dead by countless rounds of rifle fire, grenades, tear gas and deck gun shells of the Coast Guard, US Marine Corps, extra officers from other prisons and the local Police department. It was assumed that the uprising was organized by six inmates: Clarence Carnes Inmate no. 714, Bernard Coy Inmate no. 415, Sam Shockley Inmate no. 462, Miran Thompson Inmate no. 729, Joseph Paul Cretzer Inmate no. 548 and Marvin Hubbard Inmate no. 645, this mainly by the bias of the sensation-loving press and media, they were already labeled killers.


Shockley was the son of Richard "Dick" Shockley, and Anna Mae Bearden who died when Samuel was five years old. He was born in Caney Township CO Little River Arkansas. His father was a sharecropper with eight children; Merdle 1900 - Frank 1901 - Anna Belle 1904 - Patrick 1906 - Bryan 1908 - Samuel Richard 1909 - Ruth 1913 - Richard S 1915. Samuel Shockley left school as soon as he was able to work the fields. His formal education ended at the third grade and by the age of thirteen he exhibited signs of serious instability. His father died when he was twenty two. Sam left the family and became a transient. Soon after he hit the road he was arrested for stealing some chickens in Gavin County and was send to Granite State Reformatory.

While in prison he was beaten by a fellow inmate, suffering brain damage and numerous scars on his head and neck. He was released the following year, but he sustained a second beating by a police officer, which inflicted further head-trauma. In June 1936 Sam married a Shoshone Native woman, but the marriage only lasted two years. Sam Shockley and Edward Johnson were arrested in March 1938 for robbing a man of his car, bank robbery and kidnapping Mr and Mrs D.F Pendley, both employees of the bank of Paoli, Oklahoma, and sentenced to life imprisonment at the USP at Leavenworth on 16 May 1938. In Leavenworth, examined by prison psychiatrists, it was determined that he had a low IQ of 68 and the mental age of a 10 years 10 months old child, He suffered episodes of hallucinations and demonstrated serious emotional instability. He was incapable of coping with the normal prison environment, presenting a risk to himself and others. Rather than confine the obviously mentally deranged prisoner in the Medical Center for Fed. Prisoners at Springfield, Missouri the Administration of Leavenworth send him in September 1938 to Alcatraz.

When he was transferred to Alcatraz from Leavenworth Prison, it was felt the strict routine there would better manage him. Throughout the early 1940s at Alcatraz Sam's condition continued to deteriorate because he was placed for 3 years in the D block isolation section, and for most of the time in the Hole or Dungeon, the darkened stripped cells on the ground level. Here he spent most of his time in darkness. At night he was only allowed a blanket and a mattress, during the rest of the day he was sitting and lying on the cold concrete. He displayed classic schizophrenic symptoms, paranoia, hallucinations, disorientation and auditory delusions. But at Alcatraz, Sam Shockley's mental condition worsened. His IQ dropped to 54, indicating a mental age of an eight year old child. In 1942 the Alcatraz prison physician described Sam as emotionally very unstable with episodes of hallucinations. On 21 May 1941 there was an attempted escape from one of the island's workshops along with Joe Cretzer, Arnold "Shorty" Kyle and Lloyd Barkdoll an Oregon bankrobber, and Sam Shockley. During the escape attempt from the mat shop the men held a number of guards hostage. The convicts started sawing the bars to the outside. After an hour the convicts had not been able to cut through the steel bars. The convicts surrender after Captain Paul Madigan, captain of the guard, arrived in the mat shop and the hostages were released unharmed. Barkdoll managed to speak with warden James Johnston and convinced him that Sam Shockley was not in the plot. Sam was released and send back to his cell.

On 2 May 1946, during the Escape the inmates Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, and Marvin Hubbard took custodial guard Cecil Corwin by surprise. They opened the D isolation cell block door to free Rufus Whitey Franklin who was still confined to the D block isolation cell and for all Coy knew, still in the darkened solitary cell with 2 doors, the outer doors made of solid steel and the inner doors were electronically operated and barred.

Coy had planned to take control of the cell house and D block so Franklin could be released once the escape was underway. Although it appeared to the inmates that they had all the cell house keys, none of them fit the lock in the rear door of the cell house which led to the recreation yard. It was through this door the convicts intended to leave the cell house. The key 107 opened the rear door to the recreation yard but custodial guard Joseph Burdett hid this key under the wall seat of cell 404. The escape attempt failed due to the jamming of the recreation yard door lock, because if the wrong key is used and this is attempted several times the system will block completely, and all this turned into an armed confrontation which lasted 48 hours. Two custodial guards, Bill Miller and Harold Stites, and three inmates, Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard, were shot dead, 3 critically injured and 10 wounded custodial guards.

Lawyer William A. Sullivan who was appointed by judge Louis Goodman to defend Sam in the Alcatraz Trial, elicited from Carl W Sundstrom, custodial guard, that at no time did he ever see a weapon in Sam's hands. Sam did attack Sundstrom, but Sundstrom never was injured by Sam. Sundstrom also stated that Sam was running around and acting like a crazy man. Other inmates such as Jack Pepper, James Quillen, Howard Butler, Edwin Sharp and Louis Fleish made statements that Sam was running up and down the corridors carrying a wrench and wearing an officers jacket several sizes too large for him. He looked like a clown, which amused the onlookers. He repeatedly swore at the hostages. Also the men all established that Sam was in the D block when the shooting began that injured the guards taken hostage, and later killed guard W.H. Miller.

Joseph Moyle, inmate no 561, testified that Sam did not say anything, he was just standing there and he did not think he knew what was going on. He, and other inmates, who testified in court denied that they ever heard Sam urge Cretzer to shoot the guards. Sam was not a part of the plan at all and merely tagged along because no one told him he could not. Moyle agreed to testify as a important defence witness but Sullivan got a letter, handed to him by warden James Johnston himself, in which Moyle declared that he no longer wished to be summoned as a witness in the court case because it would not be in his interest. With this, Sullivan lost one of his best witnesses in the case.

A motion for separate trial for each of the defendants, on the ground that they could not get a fair trial if they were tried together because the acts of each defendant would be considered by the jury to be acts of all, was denied by the judge. Also a transfer of the trial, because of the widespread adverse publicity and press coverage prevented the defendants from obtaining a fair trial, Judge St Sure denied. A request for two lawyers to assist Sam was rejected, while in a weighty court case, where the death penalty can be demanded, it is very common that the defendant may take two lawyers for defence. Also a request for an independent psychiatrist doctor to testify that Sam was mentally ill was refused.

The Henri Young trial in 1941 has a lot of parallels with the Sam Shockley trial. Both were non-aggressive and mentally handicapped men. Both had been confined for lengthy periods of time in isolation and had long records of minor misbehaviors for which they suffered harsh punishments. Both men had almost complete lack of recall of the events for which they were on trial. Hennesy, the US Attorney and Goodman the Fed. District Court Judge feared a second Henry Young trial, in which the jury publicly attacked Warden Johnston's administration as cruel and inhumane, and demanded that Alcatraz be closed and the Administration investigated by Federal authorities.

Shockley, along with Miran Thompson and Clarence Carnes, was found guilty of murder in the first degree at the Alcatraz Trial in December, 1946, the Circuit Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit San Francisco CA. Nineteen-year-old Carnes was spared the death penalty after some custodial officers who had been taken hostage testified that he had refrained from following instructions from Cretzer to kill them, but it was most due to the strong defence of his lawyer Archer Zamloch. Although Sam Shockley's lawyer W.A Sullivan pleaded insanity, he and Miran Thompson both received death sentences to the great disbelief of the lawyers, and even at the prosecutor's officer US attorney Frank Hennessy. President Truman, a good friend of Warden James Johnston, denied the bid for clemency. Sam accepted his fate and rejected any further efforts to stay the execution. They were executed simultaneously in the San Quentin gas chamber on 3 December 1948.[1] Sam Shockley is buried at Pollard cemetery, Haworth, McCurtain Country, Oklahoma.

General references[edit]

  • Alcatraz Justice - The Rock's most famous Murder trial by Ernest B. Lageson. Creative Arts Book CA Book ID 15836/ ISBN 088739-408-6
  • Battle at Alcatraz - A Desperate Attempt to Escape the Rock by Ernest B. Lageson. ISBN 1-886039-37-2
  • on 2019-03-23
  • Alcatraz, California, U.S. Penitentiary, Prisoner Index, 1934-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.,
  • on 2019-03-30
  • 2019-04-03
  • 2019-04-03