Jail Break! Great Escapes from the Squirrel Cage Jail ..and other crimes

Two prisoners from Pattonsburg, lodged in the Daviess County jail to serve a 90-day sentence for carrying concealed weapons, performed the magical feat of walking through the bars of “chilled steel to liberty and a return the freedome of plying their pilfering vocation” in January, 1899. And nobody knows how — and a grand jury later describes the rotary jail as “not safe for the safe keeping of prisoners.”

One of the reasons a Squirrel Cage Jail was constructed in Daviess County was for its apparent security. But despite its unique design, there were instances when prisoners did, in fact, escape. Here are the most noteworthy:

JANUARY, 1899

Two prisoners from Pattonsburg, lodged in the Daviess County jail to serve a 90-day sentence for carrying concealed weapons, performed the magical feat of walking through the bars of “chilled steel to liberty and a return the freedome of plying their pilfering vocation” in January, 1899. And nobody knows how — and a grand jury later describes the rotary jail as “not safe for the safe keeping of prisoners.”

Ed Conley and Adam Brown were partners in crime with a tramp hoodlum called “Moxie,” who was responsible for the death of Constable Wm. Parker on Oct. 29, 1898. During court proceedings, Conley was shown to have provided Moxie with the pistol used in the killing. Both Conley and Brown are suspected of several robberies.

The Pattonsburg Call reported that Conley and Brown were arrested by Police King and Newman at Port Arthur depot. A robbery raid on Pattonsburg had just occurred the night before, and the men arrested were thought to be a part of that band. Another man who was with them during the nighttime melee had gotten away.

When searched, officers found a complete outfit of skeleton keys which labeled Conley and Brown as being more than just ordinary bums. They were locked up in Pattonsburg’s calaboose. But when the marshall checked a short time later, he found the suspects had sawed one of the hinges nearly off the door. A search, however, revealed no saws. The two suspects were then handcuffed together, and in a short time it was found that they had cut the handcuffs.

Conley and Brown were searched again before departing with authorities from Pattonsburg. A number of saws and burglar tools were taken from their clothing. “How they got their implements of distruction (while in jail at Pattonsburg) is as much of a mystery as what was done with the bars of chilled steel that Daviess County paid the contractors to put in the cages and gratings, which Conley and his pal went through like a rat through a cracker box, cutting a hole wherever they desired and carrying off pieces of the grates as mementos.”

This jail escape prompted a grand jury investigation, and condemnation of the jail as “unsafe for the safe keeping of prisoners.” The county court approved the condemnation, but provided no means for repair.

(rewritten by Darryl Wilkinson from newspaper clipping of the Gallatin Democrat on Jan. 12, 1899)

AUGUST 31, 1967

Three escaped from this Squirrel Cage Jail but were promptly captured in Liberty, MO, within the hour by Missouri State Troopers. Two prisoners, a Kansas City man facing murder charges and a Pattonsburg man facing burglary and larceny charges, broke out of jail and forced another prisoner to flee with them. The jail was not guarded since the sheriff and his wife were visiting a hospitalized deputy in St. Joseph at the time of the break. The escapees destroyed a cot and used a steel rod to break the cell lock. They then stole a car which had been impounded during the investigation of another case.

September 10, 1970

One prisoner, jailed here on charges of disturbing the peace and forgery in Caldwell County, escaped by pushing up a loose roof section in the jail. He was later caught hitchhiking north on Hwy. 13 by a city night watchman.


The following lists a few of the mor notorious local crimes which occurred during the latter years the Squirrel Cage Jail was in use in Daviess County:

  • 1955 – Sheriff A.F. “Buster” Clements crushed his hand in a car crash while chasing two Gallatin boys who escaped from the Caldwell County Jail. The sheriff underwent surgery after the thumb on his left hand was torn from the socket and bones shoved through the palm of his hand. The escapees were apprehended in Kansas City after a 20-block chase involving six squad cars and four gun shots.
  • 1957 – A bad check artist, using six different aliases, was finally jailed here; five Gallatin businesses robbed
  • 1959 – Pattonsburg man faces murder charges, held in Squirrel Cage Jail
  • 1961 – Authorities ponder future of Squirrel Cage jail after state review; jail later significantly modified in 1964
  • 1965 – Jamesport bank robbery
  • 1967 – Murder trial goes to Buchanan County on change of venue, concludes with conviction
  • 1971 – Man murders wife outside a tavern on the Gallatin square, later
    sentenced to 10 years at the state penitentiary; 16-year-old Pattonsburg
    youth faces charges of murdering another youth
  • 1974 – Man incarcerated here after pistol whipping two Gallatin men
    at the Daviess County Country Club
  • 1975 – Two men jailed here after armed robbery at a trading post business located west of Gallatin