· Roy Sheppard (1897-1977)
It must be Monday, because we’re having ham and beans today, thinks Fannie Elizabeth Masters Sheppard, jail matron and cook at the Reno County jail on the fifth floor of the courthouse.
It’s 0750 hours, December 29, 1958, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Fannie, 61, wife of Sheriff Roy Sheppard, also 61, is working with a trustee in the county jail’s kitchen.
There’s still the aroma of bacon in the air from breakfast as Mrs. Sheriff washes beans to be served later with ham. Her jail trustee is washing dishes.
Jailer Charles Grubbs and trustee Cleo Day are putting mop buckets into the bull pen, a bar-enclosed open area where prisoners mingle.
Suddenly, two prisoners, John Beason, 20, and Ralph England, 21, grab Day. There’s a struggle.
Grubbs, standing in the doorway, immediately starts to shut the steel bull pen door, but a prisoner jams a mop handle into the doorway, preventing its closure.
Prisoners Ron Smith, 21, Tom Colvin, 18, and Tom Gimpel, 20, rush towards the door as Grubbs runs down the hallway. Unable to throw the jail keys between the bars, outside the locked perimeter, Grubbs is jumped and attacked with a crude blackjack made from a sock with a hard bar of soap inside. After the inmates secure the jail keys, Grubbs is held by three prisoners, while the other two steal cash and grab their coats.
Fannie attempts to make a phone call but is stopped by a prisoner. She screams. As the inmates discuss locking her in the bullpen, the kitchen trustee grabs a butcher knife, takes a defensive stance, and declares: “Nobody’s hurting Mrs. Sheppard.”
Fannie thinks of Tommy, her youngest child, but realizes he’s safe.
Then memories of Roy flash in her brain. As children, she and Roy start their education together at the same school, beginning in the first grade near Jacksonville, Illinois.
As a young adult, Fannie is living in Augusta, Kansas, teaching school, when Roy visits from Hutchinson and asks for her hand in marriage, tying the knot in 1923.
Roy joins his father, Ira, in the dairy farming business. Fannie and Roy begin their marriage owning a dozen chickens and two cows.
Fannie and Roy are content being dairy farmers when their rural life is interrupted in 1956. He’s picked by the Republican Central Committee to succeed Al Severson, who was forced to resign. The committee wants a man above reproach, with good moral fiber.
We had no intention of living off the farm, certainly no plan to live in the county jail, recalled Fannie, but Roy couldn’t find anyone to take over as jailer or a woman to be the jail matron.
Fannie’s memories collide with the reality of the moment. A jail escape is in progress, but she’s calm. Roy’s not present to protect her, but the firm voice of the armed trustee echoes in her head, “Nobody’s hurting Mrs. Sheppard.”
If Roy was here, the prisoners would be in real trouble, considers Fannie. Once Roy takes hold of someone, they never escape his powerful, bear-like grip. His commanding strength is a result of milking cows for 33 years.
Suddenly, the prisoners are gone, having used the jail keys to take a stairway down towards the fourth floor’s city courtroom.
Charles Grubbs, with one hand to his head, asks Fannie, “Are you okay, Mrs. Sheppard?”
“I’m fine,” replies Fannie, “just a little shook up. How are you?”
On the fourth floor, the escaping prisoners commandeer the elevator from Ed Donley, 77, pushing him to the rear.
On the first floor, all five men flee from the courthouse, crossing the street towards a used car lot, shivering from the cold wind, planning to get as far away from Hutchinson as humanly possible.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.