Friday, January 2, 2015

Fugitive rescued after months in handcuffs

A man who escaped from Washington police traveled for months with his wrists bound in handcuffs before being picked up north of Pendleton in January 1915.

The man, with matted hair and beard, filthy and dressed in rags, and with handcuffs grown into the flesh of his wrists, was spotted camping in the gulch across the Lee Street bridge. Several neighbors and campers notice his strange behavior and called police. The man tried to run but was apprehended Jan. 6, 1915.

Sheriff T.D. Taylor and his officers first cleaned the man up at the county jail, trimmed his beard and hair and gave him clean clothes, and then whisked him away to the Bowman photography studio to have pictures taken to help in identifying the fugitive. The man was then taken to St. Anthony Hospital, where Dr. Guy Borden, assisted by Deputy Sheriff Joe Blakely, removed the manacles with a hacksaw after administering anesthetic. Dr. Borden said it was incredible that he had remained at large for so long without discovery, or without ridding himself of the handcuffs, and he was lucky not to have lost one or both hands, or his life. On the right arm the manacle had eaten its way almost to the bone, and the flesh had completely covered it. On his left arm the cuff was halfway concealed by skin. The man had picked at the locks until they would no longer work, and Sheriff Taylor didn’t have a key that would fit.

The man gave his name as Robeno Battiste, a Swiss-Italian immigrant who had no idea why he had been arrested. Speaking through a Portuguese inmate at the jail and a local Italian man, Battiste said he was just walking down a road near Seattle when he was grabbed and clapped in irons. He believed he was being taken back to Canada and escaped when the officer was making a phone call. Sheriff Taylor received a visit from U.S. Immigration Agent E.L. Wells, Walla Walla, two days later who said Battiste had escaped from the law in Nooksack, Wash., on June 19, 1913  — he had spent 19 months on the lam in handcuffs.

Information from the immigration office in Portland confirmed Battiste’s identity, and said he was arrested in Nooksack on suspicion of being an illegal alien trying to sneak into the country. Battiste, not speaking English, thought he was being arrested for some serious crime and in his ignorance had made his escape at the first opportunity. Wells took Battiste back to Walla Walla, declaring that if he had committed no crime he would probably not suggest deportation, considering what Battiste had gone through. He also said he would try to interest wealthy Italians in Walla Walla to take up his cause, and find him work once he was recovered from his ordeal.

Battiste, however, had other ideas. He walked out of the hospital ward at the Walla Walla county jail and made his second escape on Jan. 10. Sheriff’s deputies caught up with him again Jan. 19 at Eureka, Wash., on the Snake River, but Battiste jumped out of the buggy and fled again, to be recaptured after a two-mile chase that led over a steep bluff into a ravine.

By March 2, Battiste was still being held in the Walla Walla jail’s hospital ward, though he appeared to have certain privileges. The East Oregonian reported Battiste stirred up officers again when he once more disappeared from the jail’s confines. Deputy Sheriff Sam Bryan and Immigration Inspector Wells were soon hot on his trail, and caught up with him leisurely walking on Main Street. He was confused at all the commotion, saying he had merely gone for a stroll and was on his way back to the jail when officers caught up with him. He was okayed to take walks thereafter, but was required to tell jail officials before he left the premises. By this time his hands had improved considerably, and it was expected he would soon be ready for release.

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