Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interrupted study thwarts jailbreak

A county clerk trying to find some peace and quiet in order to do a little studying thwarted a jailbreak on October 4, 1922, in Pendleton. The attempted escape made a strong case for the construction of a new jail building in Umatilla County.

C.C. Proebstel, deputy county clerk, returned to his office after working hours that evening in order to do a little reading in the peace and quiet of the empty courthouse. An unusual noise disturbed his study, but he paid little attention to it at first. After the noise had gone on for a while, Proebstel came to the conclusion that someone must be using a saw in the jail. He went to the sheriff’s office to report his suspicion, but no one at the office was able to go to the jail to investigate.

Proebstel returned to his studies, but the suspicious noise weighed on his mind and he returned to the sheriff’s office several times until he was able to find a deputy that could look into the matter. When Deputy Sheriff Dave Lavender arrived to inspect the jail, he found Fred Blake coming down a ladder on which he had been standing to saw through boards in the ceiling of the jail (which was the floor of the courtroom above). Blake was using a case knife that had been notched for use as a saw.

Blake had been arrested as one of four men that held up and robbed men in the Huron road camp the previous spring. The sheriff’s office theorized that someone outside the jail had supplied Blake with his improvised saw and that it had been notched before it was given to him. Blake had made considerable headway, sawing through three boards before his efforts were discovered. If Proebstel had not been irritated by the sound of the saw, Blake may very well have won his way to freedom.

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