Leo was happy to see Williams step through the door because it meant that his time emptying out the latrine buckets was over. Six days of that duty had been enough. Unknown to him at the time was the fact that this person was a criminal of a similar type to himself although Williams had a more extensive criminal record than Leo. They also were fated to be linked through a notorious incident in Minnesota criminal history. John F. Williams, aka Joseph Francis Hendricks, also presented a bit of a contradiction in terms of other people’s perception of him. He was variously described as, “troubled but pleasant,” “a very dangerous character,” and “young and not looking the desperate part of a criminal.” His most recent arrest, the one which brought him to the Stearns County Jail, had been in Anoka. That warrant had been for suspicion of robbing the Saint Michael’s State Bank and “planning other crimes,” charges for which he had entered a not guilty plea. When he first walked into the community cell, Leo had immediately caught Williams attention due to the commotion he continued to raise about the conditions of the jail. Once Leo finally stopped haranguing about this in the general direction of the closed metal door he wandered over to the window and stood there looking out. Several minutes later Williams observed that he was now doing a close inspection of the window and the wall surrounding it, which prompted him to go aver and ask what Leo was thinking of doing.
“What’s it to you?” Leo snapped back.
“Easy bud, just making conversation I suppose. John by the way,” Willams replied sticking out his hand.
Leo looked at it but did not offer to shake. Instead he turned his attention back to the window. “I was just hoping to find a way out of this place, that’s all.”
“You think this is it?” Willams asked.
“Hardly,” Leo replied, “I believe it is reinforced behind this wall and besides it’s too damn visible to the guards. They don’t look through that little peephole in the door too often but when they do, this is right in their view. Even if I wanted to risk it I would need a couple saws and I ain’t got no way to get them right now.”
“You not from around here?”
“No, not, well, not recently anyway. Not for a long time.”
Williams reached up and attempted to shake the bars. “That’s pretty thick and sturdy. You even think it’s possible to cut them?”
“Of course it is, well, at least I could. You don’t know it but I’m an engineer, these things are possible if you know what you’re doing. Still, it’s too visible like I said. Too bad though, I’d like to get outta here.” Leo turned and took a step before Williams grabbed his elbow.
“You’re probably right, it’s too visible. Now, you don’t know me either bud, but I’m in good around these parts. You keep thinking with that smart brain of yours and if you figure something out, you let me know, ok? I could get you some things you might need, you just gotta take me outta here with you. Deal?”
Leo looked at Williams for a few seconds and then replied. “I’ll think about it.”
Nothing much happened the next day and then, during the afternoon of the twenty-seventh, three guards stepped through the door. Leo was leaning up against a wall about halfway down the corridor and wondered exactly what was about to happen. Up to this point in his incarceration there had never been a guard inside of the temporary cell. He quickly looked to see if any of them were armed but they had taken the precaution of removing their firearms prior to entering. Leo figured there was also a few extra officers on the other side of that door ready to come in and assist if anything got out go hand. Most of the prisoners ignored what was going on although Leo, Williams and a few others kept on eye on them as they walked down the hallway and stopped next to a door. As two of the officers turned and faced toward the prisoners, the other one removed the padlock and opened the door.
This action took place almost directly across from where Leo was standing. The door was only open for a few seconds as the deputy stepped inside and then closed it, but in that brief glimpse he saw that the room inside had a window. It was barred also but sparked an idea in Leo’s mind which he started to mull over. Three minutes later the guard remerged with a file box and the door was again secured, the trio of officers then exiting the temporary cell area. About an hour later Williams wandered over and sat next to Leo, who had taken a seat on one of the wooden benches and been sitting there silently since the guards had left.
“You alright there?” he asked, to which Leo made no reply. “Hey bud, you ok?”
“Hmm, yes, yes,” was the only answer he received, Leo continuing to stare toward the secured office door which had so recently been opened.
“Well, you’re thinkin’ a somethin’ I’m sure of it. You gonna tell me about it?” Williams asked.
Leo stayed silent for another ten minutes or so but then spoke. “You really think you can get some tools in here for me?”
“What’s the plan? You tell me that first.”
Leo then explained his idea to Williams, which began with cutting a small, low hole in the corridor wall outside the office that had been opened by the guards. This opening needed to only be large enough for him to low crawl through at night, and the piece that was cut out of the wall would need to be carefully preserved. That piece would be used to hide the hole both as he worked within the office on his plan and of course during the daytime hours. That work inside the office would consist of cutting through the bars of the window, making it possible to escape from the jail. They would need some cooperation from the other prisoners but Leo was confident he could get them to assist.
“So, can you get me some tools, some saw blades?” he asked Williams again.
“Sure I can but like I said, you need to take me with you. And when we’re out, well, you gotta rob a bank with me, ok?”
Leo did not hesitate. “That’s a deal. And I know just the bank.”
…to be continued