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Winfield Daily Courier - February 3, 1894

Wilbur Norton Tries to Escape.

Prison Officials Claim the Attempt was Due to Neglect of Cowley's Officers.

The following appeared in the press dispatches of last evening's papers.


LEAVENWORTH, Kansas, February 1.

There was consternation among the officials of the Kansas penitentiary today over the almost successful attempt to escape of a prisoner under sentence of death.

On December 27, 1893, the sheriff of Cowley County brought to the penitentiary Morgan Wright and Wilbur Norton, under sentence of death, and Charles Roberts for three years for burglary. The prison officials claim that in recording the new arrivals in the presence of the sheriff, Roberts and Norton exchanged names and assumed each other's sentence. Accordingly Roberts was put in the coal shafts and treated as a life prisoner, while Norton was worked outside under guard. Lately he acted queer and it is said made an effort to escape today.

It also came to the knowledge of the prison officials today, through a convict who worked himself in the confidence of Roberts, that there was a conspiracy among the Cowley County trio for Norton to get on the three year sentence, when he (Roberts) would soon after give his right identity, and if necessary be taken out on habeas corpus.

This evening Roberts was brought up and made a confession to the officials and said it was made up among the prisoners on the train while coming to the pen. The prison officials are boldly making allegations against the Cowley County officials.

A COURIER reporter called at the county jail today and was informed that ex-Sheriff J. B. Nipp had left for Santa Fe last evening; hence an interview was impossible. Under Sheriff Rothrock was present and as he held the same position under the former administration that he does at present, he was shown the dispatch and asked, "Have you any statement or do you know anything of the allegations made?" He replied, No, I do not, I am not the one to be interviewed and could only act under the order of my superior officer. As you know the night of our taking Norton, Wright, and Roberts to the penitentiary we had one other prisoner, Col. Parker, to be taken to the reform school. I guarded the prisoners as far as Topeka and can positively say that nothing was said among them but that I heard and nothing of the kind, spoken of in this article, happened while I was with them. At Topeka I left the sheriff with his assistant, and by his orders took the colored boy to the reform school.

Aside from this I have nothing to say and know nothing. Sheriff Skinner was asked if he knew anything of it. He said, "I have heard of this for some few days, but do not believe one word of it." When asked who he learned it of, he declined to say, and remarked again, "That he believed should an investigation be made everything would be found correct." The COURIER regrets that Cowley County or one of her officers should have a slur cast upon their names, and it is believed that when Capt. Nipp is called upon for an interview that such corrections will be made as will set right and remove all doubt as to the willful neglect of any of our officers.

Cowley County Historical Society Museum