An Escape From County Jail


An Escape From County Jail


On the night of Tuesday, February 18, 1879, jailer A.J. Lackey and turnkey James Hamilton locked the cell doors on the several prisoners in the Madison County jail, situated just behind the courthouse in Richmond. They then left the "cage" around the cells, locked the cage door, and rotated the long iron bars which pushed a bracket or brace against each cell door so that the doors could not be opened even if they weren't locked.

At 7 a.m. the next day, jailer Lackey was not feeling well, so he remained in bed. Turnkey Hamilton proceeded alone to unlock the cell doors so that the prisoners could exercise in the walkway between the cells and the cage surrounding them. It was Hamilton's purpose to unlock the cells and then leave the cage and operate the bars that would move the braces away from the cell doors, allowing them to be opened by the prisoners.

However, as Hamilton was busy with the doors on one side of the cell block, one prisoner on the other side unlocked his own door with a wooden key he had made, and pushed the iron brace aside at a place where either he or someone else had broken it in an almost undetectable way. He quietly slipped through the cage door, locking it with the key which was still in the lock. The prisoner, Charles H. Leace, who had stolen a horse the year before, looked around the jail office and found two pistols. About this time Hamilton discovered that he had been locked in the cage. At gun-point Leace ordered him to release all the other prisoners to accompany him in his escape. Hamilton, however, ran to the toilet stall which had heavy sheet iron walls and called for help down a flue to the basement. Frustrated at his lack of success in getting the other prisoners released, Leace left by jumping out of a window, dropping one of the pistols in the process.

The janitor in the basement called to Lackey who immediately forgot his illness and jumped out of bed to pursue the escapee. He offered $100 reward to any man on the street who would capture Leace.

Sheriff N.B. Deatherage, who boarded at T.S. Ellis' on Second Street, soon got the word and took off on horseback down Irvine Street, then out Four-Mile Road to the gate of a field owned by Alex Tribble. He rode across the fields toward the Irvine Road and in a short time saw the escapee running in the direction of the house of Robert Miller near the Irvine Road. The sheriff dismounted and placing his pistol on a fence to steady it, fired three shots -- all of which missed their target. About this time Deputy Joe Deatherage arrived by way of the Irvine Road and they both pursued Leace, trapping him in a fence corner not far from the Miller house. Leace, who was out of breath and cold, offered no resistance.

Several other men arrived soon after the capture, and they all walked back to town with the prisoner whose hands were securely bound. A search of the man's cell produced a letter addressed to Hamilton which indicated by its contents that he had been planning the escape for some time.

Jailer Lackey was happy to get his prisoner back in jail. Sheriff Deatherage was happy because he had made a fast $100. Even the prisoner, when he got his breath back, joked about almost getting away.


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “An Escape From County Jail,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed August 19, 2018,