Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Info found on John Ricklefs in The Hartford Courant

So, as I mentioned in my last post, thanks to a tip from fellow blogger TCasteel over at Tangled Trees, I was able to find more information on the criminal hijinks of Great Uncle Jack Ricklefs in the newspaper archives of The Hartford Courant. I found several stories from 1919, when he escaped the prison in Wethersfield, and several from 1936, when he was returned to Connecticut by the state of Massachusetts (where he served time in prison during the years in between) to be tried for that escape and finish serving the remaining original sentence.

The more I read about John, the more I shake my head at either his stupidity or his stubbornness, in that he seems to be stuck in an endless loop (and I'm not sure if it's by choice) of going to jail, either being released or escaping from said jail, then being arrested within a year or so for the very thing that he was previously in jail for, only to be sent back to jail and the cycle continues. But these last few stories made me very sad for him. But also very angry. I kinda wanted to reach back in time and smack him upside the head and just shout, "Stop it already!" at him.


Okay, so as we already know, he was one of four prisoners to escape from Wethersfield prison in December of 1919, and I found some fun articles talking about the many escapes from that prison in that time period, whether due to negligience or complicity on the part of prison staff. I also found a fun editorial calling this particular group of escaped convicts kinda stupid for choosing to break free in the middle of winter. I think I concur. Anyway, within a day they were all captured except for John, who we already know ended up in prison in Massachusetts just two years later. But I knew very little about his time there, especially since I've reached a brick wall in obtaining his prison records from the state archives there since I don't know when John died. But the articles from 1936 fill in some of the very sad and somewhat horrible details of his years there. I will summarize:

  • He was arrested in Massachusetts for his specialty (although you'd think he'd be better at it by that point, it being his specialty and all) of breaking and entering and sentenced to 12 to 15 years. He was given an additional 3 years for, big surprise, a failed escape attempt.
  • We have more aliases to add to the list following True Name John Ricklefs. The list now reads aliases John Anderson, Harry Young, Robert Johnson, James Hamilton, James Ricklefs, and Henry Johnson. It's definitely a method of keeping the cops from finding you quite as easily but I would be super confused as to what name I was using when. 
  • He ended up serving 15 years in several Massachusetts prisons, including Deer Island, New Bedford, and Charlestown.  
  • Seven of those years he spent in solitary confinement. In a Feb. 22, 1936 article, it reads: "Ricklefs told the court that during his confinement in Massachusetts ... he was kept for seven years in a "blind door cell," from which he was removed only 15 minutes at a time, five times a week for exercise." A parole officer corroborated his story.
  • From same story: "'This man has been severely punished,' Judge Jennings said to State's Attorney Hugh M. Alcorn. 'I don't see how he's kept his sanity.' ... Ricklefs, whose home was on Patchogue, L.I., is now gray-haired and stoop-shouldered, with a mild, bespectacled face. His pictures at the time he was an inmate showed him to be sturdy with strong, hard features."
As far as I know, this was the end of John's criminal journey. Well, after serving his time in Connecticut he was returned to New Jersey to finish serving his time there, and THAT was the end of his journey. But by then he was in his 50s or 60s. With the exception of just a few years, he spent his entire adult life in prison. I'm hoping that now, FINALLY, he had learned his lesson. Or that he was just too tired and cranky to continue the criminal lifestyle. But you never know. After all, his brother, though ten years younger, was still at it out on the East End of Long Island. Which is part of the reason my search for John continues...


  1. hey mary ellen, cuz gary wandelt, retired cop...
    wow, didn't know we had a crook/convict in our family, but thanks sooooo much for your interest
    & research, you'd make a grrrrreat detective... both sides of my family were stubborn germans i gather... keep up the good work... anything on wandelt's you come across please let me know...

    1. Hi Gary! Yep, we have some colorful characters on our tree! Thanks for the note - I always like to think of myself as a Nancy Drew-like detective when I look for and find this stuff! Lol - will definitely let you know if I find Wandelt info!