San Quentin, circa 1900.

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Historic photos compiled by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer

Office of Public and Employee Communications

Since its inception, some employees of the state prison system have gone above and beyond the normal call of duty to help those in need. In this installment of Unlocking History, we explore the stories of three of those employees going back to 1908.

Capt. Randolph saves people from 1908 fire

A fire at a hotel near the state prison found one correctional captain acting quickly to save lives.

Captain Sl Randolph Sq 1920s

Capt. Samuel L. Randolph, circa 1920.

On Oct. 25, 1908, a fire quickly spread from the kitchen to other rooms of the Sheppard hotel. Captain of the Yard Samuel L. Randolph wasted no time. He rushed into the burning building and pulled a woman and man to safety.

“(Fire) did considerable damage to the building, and only the prompt action of Captain Randolph of the prison guard saved Miss Margaret Nails from serious injury if not death,” reported the Sacramento Union, Oct. 26, 1908. According to news accounts at the time, she was the daughter of the hotel proprietor.

“The only hotel at San Quentin was gutted by a fire at 6 o’clock this afternoon,” reported the San Francisco Call, Oct. 26, 1908. This report also gave credit to a San Rafael citizen and an attorney who happened to be engaged in a political debate held at the hotel as both men were running for a county supervisor seat.

“When the gasoline stove exploded, the vapors set fire to (Ray) Sicnor’s clothing. Captain Randolph rushed to the blazing man and, enveloping him in his coat, carried him from the fire. Sicnor was taken to the prison hospital, where he was treated by Dr. Wade Stone, the prison physician,” the Call reported.

Randolph was previously Overseer of Stock and Farm for the prison. He was appointed Captain of the Yard by Warden Edgar, according to the Sausalito News, March 3, 1906. Randolph started as a correctional officer in 1896 and had a long career with the prison. He was still listed as Captain of the Yard as late as 1925.

A few years after the fire, Captain Randolph was attacked by an inmate.

“As he was passing through the main prison yard, Captain of the Yard Samuel Randolph was stabbed in the back by a convict named Thomas Murphy,” reported the Marin County Tocsin, Feb. 25, 1911.

The stab wound wasn’t serious, according to news reports. Murphy was serving a five-year sentence for burglary. A year later, Murphy was sentenced to eight years in Folsom State Prison for attacking Randolph.

It wasn’t the first time Randolph had been injured.

In 1898, as a new correctional officer, he had his eye on two inmates he believed were trafficking in opium. One morning, he surprised the cellmates.

“As the door swung open there lay the opium in small packages scattered all around the cell. As soon as the prisoners saw Randolph, they grasped package after package and began to hurl them into the yard. Randolph jumped inside and was immediately pounced upon by (Jack) Kane, while (Joe) Keyes kicked the guard’s feet from under him,” reported the San Francisco Call, June 11, 1898.

Two other officers responded and subdued the inmates.

A year later, he was attacked by inmate Luis Rivas while taking the inmates to the chapel.

“Rivas was out of his regular position, and, when told to get into his right place, replied with an oath,” reported the Call, Feb. 15, 1899. “(Randolph) took hold of him and received a blow between the eyes that knocked him down and partially stunned him. He pluckily returned to the fray.”

He subdued Rivas and began to take him back inside when Rivas attacked again, knocking Randolph to the ground. He was trying to choke Randolph when backup arrived and subdued the inmate again. “Randolph, with the exception of a few minor cuts about the face, is none the worse for his encounter,” the paper reported.

In 1900, he was shot in the leg by former San Quentin inmate James Emmington.

“Prison Guard Samuel Randolph was shot and badly wounded by a discharged convict … at Sheppard’s hotel at San Quentin about 6 o’clock Thursday evening,” reported the Sausalito News, Nov. 24, 1900. “Randolph’s wound is serious, the ball having passed through the upper part of his leg.”

“Emmington and his partner Davis went to San Quentin to bury opium. Davis was to call at the prison to see prisoner Parker and tell him where it had been planted (but he) was refused the privilege of seeing Parker. The two men loafed around the saloon until Randolph and other guards came in,” reported the Marin Journal, Jan. 24, 1901. When their eyes met, a “row commenced and resulted in Emmington shooting Randolph in the leg. … Witnesses (said) Emmington was the aggressor and that Randolph was endeavoring to avoid trouble.”

Emmington previously served 10 years in San Quentin and Parker was his cell mate at the time. He was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon for shooting Randolph and sentenced to 10 years at Folsom State Prison.

In 1912, inmate Abraham Ruef was granted permission to meet his former bondsman William Cohn just outside the prison office, in view of prison staff but out of earshot. Cohn worked was a business partner with Ruef’s uncle. The captain ordered Officer William Bab to carefully search Reuf upon his return.

“After the meeting, which was in plain view of the guards on the walls, Bab stopped Ruef and searched his clothing. Captain Randolph was at hand and stepping up to Bab, he asked the officer if he found anything,” according to the Sacramento Union, Jan. 6, 1912. Bab said he didn’t find anything. “Randolph immediately called Ruef and made a search (finding) pieces of chocolate together with a newspaper clipping. … He then ordered that Bab, the guard, should be taken outside of the gates, and upon his recommendation, Warden Hoyle discharged him.”

Randolph ran a tight operation, according to all accounts. As an officer, he worked to keep contraband out of the prison and continued this effort as a captain.

“Captain Randolph is engaged in a determined war on the opium smugglers of the penitentiary,” reported the Call, Jan. 8, 1907.

In 1920, his efforts targeting drugs in prison were highlighted in Sunset magazine.

“His life was threatened repeatedly and several times attempted but (Randolph) went unswervingly ahead,” reported the magazine. “The warden, on evidence produced by Randolph, finally induced the state legislature to make drug smuggling into prisons a felony.”

Inmate Harry Morgan pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs into the prison and was sentenced to an additional five years. Capt. Randolph is the one who busted him, according to the Sausalito News, Sept. 1, 1923.

The captain also had a softer side, including growing flowers in his garden. He often entered his dahlias in regional flower shows.

“Captain Randolph is an exhibitor today in the Dahlia Show at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco,” reported the Marin Journal, Sept. 15, 1921. “He is entering the dahlias with which he took first prize for the best general display two weeks ago at the Hotel Oakland dahlia show.”

He also found love, saying “I do” in 1922.

“Captain Samuel L. Randolph and his bride, who was Mrs. Ellen Evers, are enjoying a honeymoon following their marriage,” reported the Marin Journal, Aug. 3, 1922. “Captain Randolph is well known through his long connection with San Quentin prison, where he has held the position of Captain of the Yard for many years. … They will make their home at San Quentin.”

When the couple returned home to San Quentin after their four-week honeymoon, their friends threw them a surprise party.

“Calling without announcement at the home of the couple, they found Captain Randolph somewhat worried as to his chance to supply provender for his guests,” reported the Marin Journal, Aug. 31, 1922. “He decided to go out and get a quantity of ice cream. He was rather nonplussed when his guests trailed along. Arriving at Recreation Hall, they took the captain and his bride inside, where they had prepared a splendid banquet. Captain Randolph was loud in his praise of the floral decorations, mainly of dahlias. This may have been prompted by the possibility that he knew they had come from his famous gardens.”

Prison riot claims officer, another claims warden

Clarence A. Larkin, described as a “6-foot-6” and “burly” by newspapers at the time, was no stranger to handling difficult situations.

Warden Clarence Larkin 1936 Appointment

Warden Clarence Larkin was appointed Folsom Prison warden in 1936. He was killed the following year.

“Two escaped convicts from Folsom penitentiary, Jose Mena and Pete Corty, had a gun battle at 8 o’clock this evening at Tower House, near (Redding), with Clarence Larkin and Ed Carson, guards from the prison,” reported the Sacramento Union, Sept. 22, 1921. “Larkin and Carson, having got trail of the fugitives, sent word to Sheriff Richardson to send out men with shotguns. The guards lay in wait on the highway over which the convicts were expected to approach. Finally the two arrived, carrying a small bundle. They were at once covered by flashlights and revolvers of the guards. A command to halt was not obeyed, however, and the convicts fled in the darkness, firing as they retreated.”

He started his career as a correctional officer in 1915 at Folsom State Prison and worked there his entire career, other than his enlistment in World War I. Larkin was appointed captain of the yard in July 1924.

On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, 1927, a massive riot took place at the prison. Correctional officers were taken hostage and nearly 1,000 tried to escape. Inmates had armed themselves with two pistols, an ax and multiple knives. The National Guard was called in to help. Larkin was hailed as the “hero of the riot” for his actions.

The standoff lasted for nearly 24 hours.

“The end of the rebellion came after a night during which state officials had assembled at the prison all resources of the National Guard, including guardsmen, machine guns and armored tanks. It was the greatest turnout of state troops since the Wheatland hop riots of 1913,” reported the Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, Nov. 25, 1927. “Prison directors and representatives of Governor C.C. Young had gathered at the prison to advise Warden Court Smith and kept a night long vigil.”

According to the newspaper, “for the first time in California’s history, many modern weapons that had been used in the world war were called into play. These ranged from machine guns and rifles to tanks and tear gas bombs.”

In all, 13 lost their lives, including Officer Ray Singleton who tried to block their efforts and an inmate trustee who was hit by a stray bullet fired by the inmates.

Seeing they were outgunned, inmates surrendered and turned over the weapons and ammunition. Six were charged with being the ringleaders of the revolt.

Five of the ringleaders were sentenced to death while the sixth cooperated with prosecutors and was given life imprisonment.

Fsp Warden Clarence Larkin 1930

Folsom Prison warden, Clarence Larkin enters the gate, circa 1930.

A decade after the large-scale riot, Larkin was named warden.

“Larkin, former captain of the guard and recognized as one of the toughest penal institution officers in the United States, has been appointed warden of Folsom,” reported the Healdsburg Tribune, April 21, 1936.

His tenure was short-lived as a riot the following year found him taken hostage. The Sept. 19, 1937, incident was dubbed “Bloody Sunday” by the press. Three were killed in the incident, including one correctional officer. The attempted break lasted only 10 minutes.

The inmates took Larkin outside and demanded he order the officers to stand down and open the gates. Larkin told the inmates their plans wouldn’t work because the officers would shoot no matter what. Their plans thwarted, they turned their blades on the warden and the captain. The riot was over.

“Larkin, stabbed 12 times with one of the blades penetrating his liver, and (Captain of the Guard William) Ryan, stabbed three times in the lungs, were taken to Sacramento hospitals,” reported the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sept. 21, 1937. “Larkin, Ryan and Guards Harry E. Martin and James Kearns battled seven convicts in the escape attempt, which began in Ryan’s office in the prison yard. Martin was stabbed fatally in the melee.”

Martin, stabbed through the heart, was killed trying to save Larkin and Ryan.

“Martin met a hero’s death, slashed a dozen times as he fought his way to the side of the superiors whom the convicts sought to hold as hostage,” reported the Madera Tribune, Sept. 20, 1937.

Larkin did not survive, making him the fourth death associated with the attempted prison break.

“Warden Larkin, 46, of Folsom Prison died this morning … from injuries received from knife stabs in a prison outbreak attempt,” reported the Healdsburg Tribune, Sept. 24, 1937. “Infection followed the 12 stab wounds, however, gradually spreading through the warden’s chest and abdominal tract.”

Several thousand turned out for Larkin’s services in Sacramento, according to the Madera Tribune, Sept. 27, 1937. He was laid to rest at East Lawn cemetery.

“Larkin was in many ways a remarkable man. When he was appointed warden at Folsom, the convicts themselves cheered him and nearly 250 wrote him letters applauding his appointment. He was in truth a hero who died because of his own strict sense of duty,” according to an editorial in the Desert Sun, Oct. 15, 1937.

Five inmates were charged with organizing the break and sentenced to death. Their sentences were carried out in the state’s new gas chamber in late 1938.

Construction supervisor subdues burglar in 1910

H.C. Halverson, construction foreman at San Quentin, was surprised when a discharged inmate, Roy Fitch, returned to break into his home in 1910.

“Halverson … was awakened and grappled with the intruder,” reported the Marin County Tocsin, April 23, 1910. “A furious battle ensued and two rooms in the house were wrecked. Halverson, who is a powerful man, finally won out and succeeded in binding his prisoner. The melee was so noisy that guard Moulton heard it and rushed to the scene. It is said he found Halverson sitting on a hair mattress on the floor, beneath which was the bold burglar firmly bound. Halverson had his good right hand badly cut by landing one of the volleys of punches directed at Fitch, on the kitchen stove.”

Fitch was familiar with the home as he’d previously worked there as a trustee cook.

For more stories on the history of the state prison system and those who helped shape the department, see Unlocking History.

San Quentin as seen in 1910.