people who met Charles Frazier met him either in prison or in the prison
hospital. Frazier, one of a multitude of 1930s-era gangsters, was frequently in
prison and he frequently showed up at the hospital complaining of gunshot wounds.
He wasn’t faking it.
Whitey Walker met Frazier in the prison hospital
at Huntsville. The two men
soon realized they had a lot in common, including gunshot wounds. Frazier had
most recently been shot while trying to escape the Huntsville
prison. The wound was believed to be fatal but Frazier pulled off a miraculous
recovery. Walker had been wounded as part of the series of unfortunate events
that led to his incarceration.
At the time they met Frazier was already
sort of a legend of the penal system. His career at that point spanned 16 years
and included four different names and nine (!) prison escapes from three different
prisons. In 1933 he was one of a dozen prisoners who broke out of Angola prison
in Louisiana and was an important contributor to making that one of the bloodiest
escapes in the state’s history. The law caught up with him in Texas but he avoided
extradition to Louisiana by agreeing to a life sentence for a string of robberies
in Houston County. Life sentences didn’t mean much to Frazier because he never
planned to be in prison for very long.
Whitey Walker was born in Rogers
in 1897 and left home at 18 to become a criminal. He was either very good at it
– he committed a lot of crimes – or he was not very good at it at all because
he was also arrested a lot, too. He kept getting paroled or, in one case, pardoned
by Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, joining hundreds of others with that distinction.
an Oklahoma prison Walker and some of his buddies got permission to go fishing
but they never came back. They became known as the “Fishing Hole Gang.”
Back in the free world, Whitey robbed a bank, got arrested and, not surprisingly,
made bail, as might be expected from a bank robber. In another expected move,
he left town.
After a string of bank robberies in Central Texas, Walker
and his cohorts, Blackie Thompson and Roy Johnson, left the state
with their loot. They headed to Florida where things unraveled quickly and completely.
Some stolen money was traced back to Thompson, and Walker took a shotgun blast
to the shoulder during an ill-fated bank robbery in Tallahassee.
in Texas, Walker and Roy Johnson were given life
sentences and sent to the Huntsville
state prison along with Thompson, who was sentenced to die in the electric chair
known affectionately as “Old Sparky.” Whitey Walker was recovering from the shotgun
blast when he met Charles Frazier in the hospital at Huntsville
prison and mentioned how much he would like to see his buddy Thompson escape his
Frazier said he could make that happen.
from the infamous “Death House” at Huntsville
was planned for the ninth inning of a baseball game between the Humble Oilers
and the Prison Tigers. Frazier managed to get his hands on some guns, which he
used to force a guard to unlock Thompson’s cell and then let condemned man out
while the guard took his place inside.
Frazier, Thompson and two other
men joined Walker, Roy Johnson and Hub Stanley in a mad dash for freedom after
first overpowering another guard and taking him prisoner. They used a pair of
bolt cutters, supplied by an accomplice, to grab an extension ladder. They used
the guard they had overpowered as a hostage, threatening to kill him if another
guard interfered as they extended the ladder and began to climb the wall.
guards at other lookout towers spotted the escape attempt and opened fire. The
first bullet hit Charles Frazier as he tried to get over the wall. He fell to
the ground with a thud that sounded final but he got up and tried to scale the
wall again. Again, he took a bullet and hit the ground, this time dragging Roy
Johnson with him.
Halfway up the ladder, Whitey Walker called out, “God,
it looks like we are gone!” A moment later he took a bullet to the lungs and he
was sure enough gone. Three men, including Thompson, escaped but were later captured.
Walker was buried in Rogers. Charles Frazier was carted back to the hospital,
complaining of gunshot wounds.
Frazier was put in solitary confinement,
his condition deteriorating to the point that he became the poster boy for prison
reform. Denied baths, haircuts and human contact and fed only bread and water,
he was described as looking and talking “like a fugitive from the grave.” Other
men, many much less incorrigible than Frazier, were in similar condition.
Frazier was sent to Louisiana to serve a life sentence for his role in the Angola
escape. In 1936, he tried to escape again. This time he was shot either nine times
or six times – accounts vary – but he survived again.
Theories abound as
to what became of Charlie Frazier. One account claims he spent seven years at
Angola before passing away in his windowless prison cell. Another puts his death
years later, in 1959. In his book “Running
with Bonnie and Clyde,” author John Neal Phillips wrote, “Years later Frazier
was pardoned. By then he had converted to Christianity. He spent the rest of his
But Cathy Fontenot with the Louisiana State Prison Museum
at Angola said their records show that Frazier died in 1957, still an Angola inmate.
He was a prison trusty at the time of his death. The legendary escape artist pulled
his final vanishing act not inside a prison but at Charity Hospital – a site where,
over the years, Angola inmates sent for treatment had staged dozens of escape
1, 2013 Column
"Letters from Central Texas"
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