Henri Young

Blood of the Lamb

The euphoria which Young felt after his trial dissipated as the months passed. He'd been on the front page of every San Francisco newspaper and he knew that people in Washington also read the stories. But the press lost interest in him and his struggles. Ever since Al Capone had been transferred to Terminal Island Prison and then discharged, the public was less interested in what happened behind the mock granite facade of the Cell House. The war in Europe and Joe DiMaggio's homerun streak looked so much more interesting than the sufferings of a convict who reportedly duped a jury and the press into thinking that he'd been mistreated. Henri Young became worse than a liar. He became a forgotten man.

He tried to rectify this in July, 1941. Floyd Barkdoll (423-AZ) and Earl Cox (494-AZ) joined Henri in a night of loud shrieks and howlings. The cacophony first brought Officer Winegar, who Henri addressed flatuently. Winegar wrote him up for the pungent report. When Mr. Jepson came on duty at midnight, he found Henri and his comrades throwing their personal belongings out of their cells. When Jepson sought a reason for this odd behavior, Young told him that he might as well make a good job of it because he'd already been written up.

Deputy Warden Miller interrogated Young the next day. As Miller read the disciplinary reports to Miller, Young sneered. "I have nothing to say to you." Miller sent Young to solitary. Young came out of solitary on August 11. Fifteen days later, he started rioting again, leading the cell house in haranguing the guards. When he set fire to his cell, Mr. Quesnell came running up with a fire extinguisher and put the flames out. Young then screamed that Quesnell had ordered the fire extinguishers put on him and, according to Quesnell, threatened to beat the guard at the first opportunity. It was a difficult night. Young cursed at the guards, threw garbage out of his cell, set more fires, and called upon his fellow inmates to join him. Mr. Prindle, who came on at midnight, reported that Young filled a cup of water and threw it on a guard. Though Young claimed that he'd joined in after other inmates had started the riot, Miller ruled that he'd helped incite it. Once more Miller placed Young in solitary on a restricted diet.

Young's confinement did not sweeten his humor. Three days into his punishment, Mr. Prindle and Mr. Jones were making the rounds of the cells, distibuting medicine to the inmates. When they opened the door of The Hole, Young shouted "Here's that cocksucker, let's put it on him!" Not one of his fellow convicts did a thing to lend support to his one man riot. Prindle closed the door. When Miller asked Young about this, Young claimed that he knew nothing.(1)

The members of the press never heard about Young's rows with the guards or, if they did, they ignored it. Prison officials gave Frank Clarvoe a relaxed tour of the new D-Block about the time they had Young stuffed in The Hole. They pointed out a few famous prisoners and the solid doors to cells where they stuck unnamed "fellows who started yelling". Clarvoe described the Rock as "formidable", but also "light and airy":

The authorities have even experimented with various pastel shades of paint on some of the cells and railings, but it doesn't disguise the hard tool steel, of which the bars are fashioned. They're so hard they can not be cut except with special tools, and are notched in the cross-braces so they can not be turned.(2)

The method which Young and his comrades had used to break those bars had been a matter of public record since the 1941 Examiner published an interview. Bennett and Johnston were nonetheless shocked when Inside Detective advertised that its November issue would feature a story recounting the tales of abuse from Young's trial. Director Bennett tried to get the Post Office to stop the magazine from printing the story, but learned there was nothing he could do. He asked Johnston to read the article:

If....you think it is too bad, we might file a protest with the Post Office Department for them to consider at the time this company's next application for admission to second-class mail comes up for consideration.(3)

World War Two granted the penitentiary relief from bad publicity. The press forgot about public enemies and turned to Fascist ones across the oceans. Henri Young turned quiet after his September, 1941 release from solitary confinement. In February, he complained of "Dizzy spells" to Dr. Ritchey.(4) He did not return until May 14, 1942 when he complained to Dr. Ritchey that the other inmates were annoying him and asked to be placed in Isolation. Doctor Ritchey gave the order and it was done. Two days later, guards opened the door of the Hole to see how Henri was and found him sitting in a pool of blood. Young had broken the lens of his eyeglasses and used one of the shards to slice open a vein on the outer surface of his forearm. He lost enough blood to become nauseated and require hospitalization.

For several days, Young would not speak to anyone. When he broke his silence, he complained that he had not been allowed to end it all. Ritchey wrote:

He has been nervous since that time but has expressed no delusional ideas or other psychotic manifestations. He declares that he will eventually "do a better job", as he is sure that is the only solution for his troubles. He does not appear particularly depressed in mood and is certainly not retarded. He lacks proper insight and is unable to adjust himself to the difficult situation in which he finds himself and cannot personal blame for it. [sic] On the other hand he is entirely capable of adopting his present attitude for the purpose of establishing the presence of a mental abnormality which might, in the future, be expected to soften the effect of his previous bad conduct and bring about some form of clemency. In either event, his transfer to another Institution is suggested, as he would be a special hazard in time of disaster or confusion.(5)

Johnston did not allow Young's transfer.

During the latter part of 1942, Young was twice cited for destroying government property. On one occasion, he ripped open his mattress, spread the contents on the floor, and slept on them. On the other, he flooded his cell with water from his toilet and his sink, tore up his mattress again, and threw his clothes out of his cell. Miller wrote: "Young stated that he did not know what he was doing. We took the mattress out of his cell and stripped cell. He offered no resistance."(6)

Henri's desparation was matched by Johnston's obstinance. For Johnston, Henri's behavior was all an act contrived to get him off of Alcatraz. For the remainder of Johnston's tenure as Warden of Alcatraz, there was nothing Young or any member of the staff could do to convince him that Young should be transferred. The Warden was determined to keep Young in his control. Young and his lawyers had revealed that Alcatraz was not a clean, well-lighted place where prisoners were treated humanely. The trial, however, had not diluted Johnston's power. The Warden could keep Young under his thumb as long as he wished. And he could characterize any action Young negatively so as to undermine Henri's credibility with outsiders with whom he dealt.

In 1943, Young professed to have undergone a religious conversion. He'd been raised a Mormon, but his Aunt Amelia was a Catholic. Perhaps because the Catholic chaplin, Father Lyons, was more inclined to keep prisoner confidences than the Protestant ministers, Henri undertook instruction in the Catholic faith.

In becoming a Catholic, Henri felt moved to confess his sins. Part of his penance was seeking to make amends for his past wrongs and to accept worldly punishment for them. Young wrote a letter to Warden Johnston, informing him of the murder he'd committed in Everett, Washington in 1935. Though Johnston suspected that this was but another ruse by Young to get out before the press in another public trial, he sent a copy of Young's letter to the prosecutor in Snohomish County, Washington. Leslie Cooper wrote back to Johnston, saying that Young was a likely suspect in the still unsolved murder of the baker. He asked permission to interview Young at Alcatraz.(7)

This was granted. Cooper and George Nelson came to the Rock on December 31, 1943. Their interview with Young and subsequent investigations satisfied them that they had their man. Cooper sought out Young's partner Sherman Baxter, who was very eager to identify Young as the leader of their criminal cabal. Witnesses at the scene of the crime reported seeing the car described by Young in his confession. Other parties named by Young corroborated his story. Cooper told James V. Bennett that he believed he had "an air-tight case from circumstancial evidence alone". He needed to procure the gun which Young had used in the Lind, Washington trial for ballistics tests and he needed the testimony of Sherman Baxter. Both were given to him.(8)

Johnston confirmed that no officer had compelled Young to make the confession to Director Bennett. As arrangements were begun to send Young to Washington State for trial, the warden expressed his doubts about Young's sincerity. Young, Johnston wrote to Bennett, had a history of "scheming and plotting" which made Johnston feel that he had no real intention of standing by his confession should it put him in a worse position, such as getting him sentenced to death. He suspected that Young's real intention in confessing was to provide him with "a pleasant break in the monotony and firmness of control that he regards as rigid and irksome."

The 1941 murder trial figured into Johnston's assessment of Young's motives. The warden figured that Young was a vain man, particularly after his successful defense in the McCain trial. Wrote Johnston:

I have no doubt he would enjoy being in the limelight of a trial and probably figures that the outcome would be to his advantage. He probably figures that even if he got a life sentence in Walla Walla and began serving it...he would have an eaiser time there than here, and that by escape or parole he would get out of there before he would be released from here. Of course...if he were surrendered to Washington authorities and sentenced to Walla Walla the Federal Government would have a detainer lodged against him, but the way he figures it time would take care of that....(9)

Warden Johnston admitted he had not talked to Young about his conversion or his understanding of what might happen. Bennett, who did not hold the bitterness against Young that Johnston did, ordered the warden to have Dr. Ritchey interview Henri to see if he was sincere in his confession or just seeking the limelight again. Ritchey found that Young was entirely rational and sincere when discussing his embracing the Catholic faith. He wanted to confess to all of sins and crimes. Ritchey also found that Young evinced a willingness to "to accept any penalty, even death". This, Ritchey explained to Johnston, was what one could expect from someone undergoing a new religious experience. The suspicious Johnston wrote that Young was either "a sincere man trying to tell others of his conversion, or an insincere man trying to use his profession of religion to his own advantage."

The shrewd Young informed Doctor Ritchey that under the law, Prosecutor Cooper could not use the confession in the trial if Young resisted it. Young was willing to let them use the confession if the charge was manslaughter, but promised to resist if Cooper sought the death penalty against him.(10)

Eventually Henri was allowed to go to Everett to stand trial. When he returned, with a life sentence to be served upon his release in 1957, Young was ebullient. In a letter to his Aunt Amelia , he professed again his conviction and desire to join the Catholic Church. She had taken his cause to St. Jude, the patron saint of the hopeless, and he expressed his thanks to her. He had not, however, been baptized because Father Lyons had not been allowed to take him into church to conduct the ceremony.

Young informed his aunt that he was going to be a priest in five years. This was because he was a "true conversionist" who

is a person who re-lives every one of his sins. He is made to do this by God so that he will be clean-souled enough to work for God on some specific task that God has in mind for that person to do. It is a miracle, a miracle of a human being going through Purgatory here on earth. Even your priest will tell you that I am the only human being on earth who will know that I am a true conversionist until God chooses to reveal it to His Church. And I know that I am a true conversionist who will be free and with you and a priest in five years.(11)

At the beginning of 1945, Young felt hopeful about his future. Whether he was working a con or truly sincere at this point cannot be gauged. Johnston's resentment of Young's courtroom success could have affected his judgement of the convict and led him to place obstacles to his redemption in his path. These would not turn Young's head from the apparent path of righteousness which he had started to follow: instead, he would become a zealot.


(1)Conduct Record for 244-AZ, p. 5. [Return]

(2)Frank A. Clarvoe, "De-Bunking Alcatraz", The San Francisco News, August 26, 1941. Though Young was never named, the seires contained many rebukes and sly attacks on him, not the least of which was the use of defense photographs from the trial to show how sanity the Rock was. [Return]

(3)James V. Bennett, Letter to Warden Johnston, September 11, 1941. [Return]

(4)Romney M. Ritchey, Special Progress Report for Henri Young 244-AZ, February 2, 1942. All tests proved normal and Dr. Ritchey was at a loss to explain the spells. [Return]

(5)Romney M. Ritchey, Special Progress Report for Henri Young 244-AZ, June 2, 1942. [Return]

(6)Conduct Report for #244-AZ, back of page 6. [Return]

(7)Leslie R. Cooper, Letter to Warden, November 29, 1943. [Return]

(8)Leslie R. Cooper, Letter to James V. Bennett, April 17, 1944. [Return]

(9)James A. Johnston, Letter to James V. Bennett, May 6, 1944. [Return]

(10)James A. Johnston, Letter to James V. Bennett, May 13, 1944. [Return]

(11)Henri Young, Letter to Amelia Young, January 21, 1945. [Return]

The True Conversionist