Alcatraz officials characterized Henri Young as one of their worst charges, but his memories of his childhood tell of a boy who lived in awe of his mother and respect for his alcoholic father. Henri was born June 20, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri to parents who may have loved their children intensely, but often clashed with one another. Henri revered his mother, Helen. She liked people and wore pretty beads. He loved her hair which shone gold in the sunlight and turned a dark brown in the shade. "I used to compare her with other women and Oh! she was lovely!" he said to his prison psychiatrist. And then he mirthfully recalled:
She wasn't a good cook. (Much laughing) Dad cought a possum one time--she almost ran us all out of the house cooking it--Grandmother was there when she cook that possum--when she put it on the table none of us could eat it--we all left the table. (Much laughter) Oh! that thing was awful--Is there a cheese that smells strong? I remember she said this possum will smell something like this cheese. It will taste good - (laughing) Oh! you should have been there--my grandmother never did get over it--but she never cooked any more possum. But dad laughed all that day.(1)The only trait he didn't like in his mother was how she acted one way in the home and another when with her friends. She could be brave. In 1948, he remembered how his alcoholic father pulled a gun on her and his sister Ruth. Once Mr. Young calmed down or fell into a stupor, Mrs. Young seized the weapon and threw it into a nearby creek. The ballistomaniac Mr. Young did not speak to her for a week, but Mrs. Young impressed on him that she would not allow him to have a gun if he were to act like that.
Henri's father had "black eyes that get yellow spots in them when he gets mad." He worked as a machinist. He was a nice enough fellow when he was drunk and Henri admired him for his courage. Mr. Young showed his son how to fix shotgun shells:
I used to take the ends out of it--pour out those shot and put them in a cup of hot lard--bring them together and put them back in there--he told me the lard holds all of the shot together. He used to do that all the time--have me empty those shot out, put them in lard and put them together. He said only a fool would shoot some kind of shotgun--one kind is straight all the way down inside the barrow [sic] from one end to another and the other kind pinches...but he said only a fool shoots those that come to a hole in the end--but he said when you lard those shot the shot will stay together better than any other kind of shot.(2)
Amelia Young, Henri's paternal aunt, told Medical Center for Federal Prisoner authorities that Mr. Young had also taught his son how to steal. She thought her brother a shifty sort. He and Mrs. Young, Amelia believed, were too busy waging marital war to teach the children much of value. Henri, however, recollected learning the importance of cleanliness from his mother (she used to physically force Mr. Young to take a bath before dinner) and he was proud that he kept as clean as it pleased her. He had some bad habits (aside from the petty theft alledged to be a family value) such as playing in the creek, climbing in the stalls to pet and feed the stud bulls, and chasing chickens. He did well in school until he was in Junior High. When he was 14, his parents divorced. He also suffered from polio that year. In September, 1926, his High School guidance counselor learned that Henri had flunked all subjects the previous semester except for physical education. Henri applied for and received a work permit the following term, ostensibly to help out his family. He left school to work as a counter clerk for the Postal Telegraph and studied telegraphy at a local business college.
His mother remarried when he was 17 to Ammie Payne. The boy faced the dilemna of many children of divorce whose parents remarry: Is it disloyal to love the step-parent when the real parent remains alive and worthy of love? Henri and Ammie did not get on. The pretense of a pacific home life eroded and, after two years, Henri left his home and job to become a hobo.(3)
When he was 21, Henri was caught taking a flashlight from another, transient ("a degenerate" is how he described the victim) in Miles City, Montana. In return for a guilty plea, Young said, the district attorney agreed to ask for only a 30 day sentence. At the trial, the D.A. went back on his bargain and persuaded the judge to send Henri to Montana's Deer Lodge State Penitentiary for fifteen months. Years later, at his trial for the stabbing of Rufus McCain, Young would characterize this setback as a "severe shock" which made him feel "self-conscious".(4) He freely admitted his bitterness about the Montana sentence to Federal prison officials and confessed that his resentment moved him to learn "many a social trick" in prison.(5)
Upon his release in 1933, Henri drifted to Washington State. He was first arrested for inebriation, under the assumed name of Eugene Taylor in Wenatchee, Washington. Police took him to the edge of town and told him not to come back. He then stole a suit in Spokane and received his second prison term, for burglary; the court sent him to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla where he learned more tricks of the criminal trade and made some acquaintances, two of who, Jack Baker and Sherman Baxter, would join him on the outside in a crime spree that cost one man his life.
The State of Washington granted him parole in 1935. The once again free Henri paid a visit to the Chelan, Washington home of another prison friend, and got the man's wife to buy him a .32 automatic in a Centralia hardware store. He rendeavoused with his old friend Jack Baker and the two of them found Sherman Baxter in a Yakima, Washington pool hall. The trio moved to Spokane where they decided to steal a car for a trip to Lind, Washington where they planned to hold up a bank. Young flagged down a taxi, then forced the driver at gunpoint to drive to the outskirts of town where he picked up his Baker and Baxter. They made the cabbie drive them a little further into the night, before they abandoned him beneath a pouring cloud somewhere out in the countryside.
Baker drove them to Chelan by way of Waterville where they stole some license plates, which they put on their prize, a black 1934 Chevrolet with a white stripe running around it. In Chelan, they painted out the white stripe, then made their way over the Cascade crest and then by backroads to Everett, where Young remembered seeing some guns displayed in a hardware store window. The guns were gone when they got there, however, and they decided not to attempt a hold up. Instead, Young directed Baker to take them to the house of another prison friend, to whose mother Henri had promised financial aid so that she could get her son freed. Tonight, Young told her that he had no money, but he and his friends gave a lift to her daughter and the daughter's boyfriend. After they dropped the couple off in downtown Everett, Young's little gang went searching for a place to rob. They found a street corner with a bakery and a filling station. Young made the decision to go for the bakery.
While Jack Baker kept the motor running, Baxter and Young walked up to the bakery. A small boy came by just then, so the two men waited until he'd crossed the street and disappeared into the darkness and the rain. They went inside. Baxter went for the till and Young, who had the gang's only firearm (the .32 automatic he'd had purchased for him in Yakima), went into the back:
I walked the full length of the counter, turned into a narrow passageway, then turned left and I stood into a doorway that led into an office. A short, chunky man confronted me. Through a door to my right I saw a white coated baker removing pans from an oven. This man before me told me that he had no money when I demanded that he get back into the room. I had a gun trained on him. Again he told me that he had no money, then he slapped my gun-hand down. I shot into the floor once, raised my gun and shot into his chest. He said, "Oh, Oh", and fell towards me. I turned and fled.(6)
Young lost his cap as he and Baxter ran for the car. Frantically, he asked Baker what he'd heard. Baker told him that the gunshots sounded like some pans falling. They drove to Seattle and stayed in a Japanese hotel where Young registered himself as George Barksdale. The next morning, Baxter went out to buy a newspaper and came back to show his partners that Young had killed the baker. It was time to leave town. They crossed the state, by way of Portland, Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge to Lind. On November 3, Baker waited in the car while Young and Baxter went inside the First National Bank of Lind. The pair in the bank forced the cashier into the vault. They bagged $406. Their escape was foiled by the miles of wear they'd put onto the cab during their wanderings: as they started to move away, a tire blew out. Sheriff deputies were quick to converge on the vehicle and disarm the occupants.
While the deputies took them to nearby Ritzville and thence to Spokane, the trio agreed not to mention the Everett killing. Judge Stanley Webster gave each of the three defendants a twenty year sentence. All three were delivered to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary. Despite the recommendation of his classification committee, Henri was marked by the Bureau of Prisons as suitable for Alcatraz.
Proceed to Part Two: Mutiny and Escape