May 28, 2015

Database of historic Missouri prison records now online

A new tool is online for those who want to research people who spent time in Missouri’s historic state prison.

Housing Unit 3 of the Missouri State Penitentiary.  (photo courtesy; Missouri State Archives)

Housing Unit 3 of the Missouri State Penitentiary. (photo courtesy; Missouri State Archives)

The Secretary of State’s office has added to its other online, searchable databases, records from the Missouri State Penitentiary. So far that includes the register of prisoners from the prison’s opening in 1836 through 1931.

“In addition to that there are a lot of mug shots and other kind of secondary and tertiary records that we’re going to add to this as well,” State Archivist John Dougan told Missourinet. “Right now there are just a handful of the mug shots from before 1928.”

Dougan says the search is very popular with genealogists, as well as those who just want to research some of the historic figures who did time at MSP, including Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd; John Reno, who led the gang that carried out the first train robbery in the U.S.; and famed socialist and prison reformer Kate Richards O’Hare.

Those who search for family members could learn interesting details about them.

“It will tell them the name, the age, the county, the crime that was committed, and you can also filter by when they were in the penitentiary,” said Dougan. “It lists the next of kin, so that helps you decide whether it’s your relative or someone else by the same name, it says whether they escaped and whether they were recaptured, and one of my personal favorites is it has a marks and scars column that lists all the tattoos and the scars and the broken bones and things like that.”

Historians think Charles Arthur Floyd didn't get the nickname "Pretty Boy" until after he spent more than 3 years at MSP for robbing a Kroger store in St. Louis.  (photo courtesy; Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau; missouripentours.com)

Historians think Charles Arthur Floyd didn’t get the nickname “Pretty Boy” until after he spent more than 3 years at MSP for robbing a Kroger store in St. Louis. (photo courtesy; Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau; missouripentours.com)

For example, this reporter could learn whether he is related to Fred Lear, who spent more than a year and a half at MSP starting in July, 1926, for “giving hooch, moonshine, corn whiskey away.” This was Lear’s second term at MSP. Records list the name of his father, where his father was from, that he worked as a painter, and other information that when plugged into other archives, could help determine whether there was any connection.

Some records will also tell what cell block or blocks an individual was held in, whether he or she escaped from MSP or perhaps died there, and the mug shots that exist are being added to the database.

“Sometimes if they were there for a long time period, there are actually multiple mug shots in their file where maybe they were there when they were first incarcerated, and then 15 or 20 years later there’s a mug shot of them while they’re still there, or maybe they’re back.”

When combined with other archives the Secretary of State’s office and others provide, Dougan says researchers could be led to a great deal of information.

“Prison registers will give you an inkling that you need to look in this county for a criminal court proceeding, or for newspapers about whatever may have placed the individual into the state penitentiary,” said Dougan. “It gives you clues to a lot of different record series that we have online.”

Dougan thanks the volunteers who are scanning and uploading the prison records into the database. He says it could eventually include records through the MSP’s closure in 2004.

“That’s going to be probably a long process. You have to remember that Missouri State Penitentiary was one of the largest prisons in the United States … you’re talking about a significant number of inmates,” said Dougan. “The database right now is 62,000-plus inmates but I think in the more modern period, you’re going to be talking about a database that’s two or three, maybe even four times as large as what we have for this earlier period.”

Missouri State Penitentiary has gained national and international attention in recent years as a tourist attraction. Its popularity in that regard continues to grow, in part because of some of the television shows that have filmed there in recent years including Ghost Hunters, American Pickers, Who Do You Think You Are, and Ghost Adventures.

The prison, located in Jefferson City, was the oldest in operation west of the Mississippi when it closed in September, 2004.

Try the Missouri State Penitentiary database search here.

Search resumes for possible body floating in Missouri River

A hiker on the Katy Trail reported seeing what may have been a person in a life vest floating by in the Missouri River south of Rocheport Monday night.

missouririverA 911 call was made to Cooper County around 8:15 Monday night, but Boone County authorities were contacted for the search. The Water Division of the Highway Patrol and Boone County Fire Protection District searched the waters for more than two hours, but suspended the search due to poor river conditions and a storm moving in. Captain John Hotz with the Highway Patrol told Missourinet the river waters are very high and moving swiftly.

“A person can get hung up on a tree or those types of things. There are a lot of challenges there to that, but we do have marine operations troopers who are very experienced in searching those waters,” said Hotz.

He said they take reports seriously and do everything they can to exhaust all possibilities to try and locate a victim.

“We oftentimes have reports from people about some of the things they see in the water, and so we have to do everything we can.”

Missourinet will update this developing story as more information becomes available.

Missouri Secretary of State candidate files voter photo ID petition

A Republican candidate for Missouri Secretary of State has filed an initiative petition aimed at requiring voters in Missouri to show photo ID at the polls.

Republican Secretary of State candidate Jay Ashcroft (picture from Facebook)

Republican Secretary of State candidate Jay Ashcroft (picture from Facebook)

Jay Ashcroft’s petition, if successful, would ask voters to change Missouri’s Constitution to require photo ID when voting. The state legislature would then have to develop the framework of voter photo ID.

The petition would have to get about 160,000 signatures in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to make it to a statewide ballot.

Ashcroft believes Missouri voters will support his petition.

“So we make sure that eligible voters have the opportunity to vote, and that the people that follow the law that vote are not disenfranchised by people that violate the law and either vote when they should not or vote more times than they should,” Ashcroft told Missourinet.

Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis County)

Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis County)

St. Louis Democratic state representative Stacey Newman said requiring a photo ID could disenfranchise more than 200,000 current voters who lack a photo ID, many of whom she says could have difficulty getting the documents needed for such an ID. She argues photo ID also seeks to stop a problem that doesn’t exist.

“We don’t have any documented instances, an instances in Missouri that have been prosecuted, in terms of in-person voter fraud on election day, and that’s the only kind of fraud this measure would prevent,” Newman said.

The state’s Constitution would have to be changed because the state Supreme Court found photo ID unconstitutional in 2006.

Legislative efforts to enact voter photo ID have failed. In 2011 the legislature passed both a proposed constitutional change and the statutory language of how voter photo ID would work, but the ballot language of the former was struck down in court and Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the latter.

Missouri Senator will try again to let human trafficking victims hide addresses

An effort to let victims of human trafficking hide their addresses fell short in the session that just ended, but its sponsor will bring it back next year.

State Senator Gina Walsh (Photo Courtesy of Senate Communications)

State Senator Gina Walsh (Photo Courtesy of Senate Communications)

State Senator Gina Walsh (D-St. Louis County) proposed to add human trafficking survivors to Missouri’s “Safe at Home” program, so they could have a substitute mailing address to make it harder for their assailants to find them.  Walsh said she will try to push her legislation through earlier next session.

“I want to try and get it over to the House sooner and maybe get it to the governor’s desk before we reach that point where we’re talking about nothing but the budget in the last couple weeks of session,” said Walsh.  “We need to do anything we can to assist the victims of these heinous crimes, even if it’s just as simple as giving them a safe place for their mail to go.”

Walsh said human trafficking has become a growing problem in Missouri due to its central location in the United States.

“It’s a big problem, we’re connected to major highways that run east west across the state,” said Walsh.  “A lot of the hotels right at the end of that highway 70 corridor, 270 and 70 in the St. Louis area have had issues there.”

Walsh said it’s important to remember that human trafficking affects both men and women.

“Of course it’s more prevalent with women than it is men, but men can become victims of these crimes as well, and we need to protect all our citizens,” said Walsh.

Missouri Woman Will Receive Medal of Honor for Her Father’s Heroism

A Congressional Medal of Honor will be awarded next week to Missourian Elsie Shemin-Roth’s father. The late Sgt. William Shemin will be recognized for acts of heroism during World War I when he led his entire platoon to safety.

Elsie Shemin-Roth and Sgt. William Shemin

Elsie Shemin-Roth and Sgt. William Shemin

It’s been nearly a century after his heroic efforts and Shemin-Roth told Missourinet her father was a true American hero.

“He went out on three different occasions to rescue wounded comrades. He was able to bring three back,” said Shemin-Roth.

Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer jumped through several hoops in Washington to make sure Shemin was given the nation’s highest military honor. Luetkemeyer said Shemin did the responsible thing.

“He tried to rescue his fellow soldiers and did it under extreme duress. To me, he’s an inspiration,” said Luetkemeyer.

Shemin-Roth said anti-Semitism towards American Jewish soldiers during her father’s time delayed this honor. In 2002, Shemin-Roth saw an article about a congressional review taking place for Jewish military who felt anti-Semitism played a role in the medals they did or did not receive. That’s when Shemin-Roth began her mission to make sure her father received the Medal of Honor.

“Tears come to my eyes when I hear that. I mean, look what he did. Does anti-Semitism come to that point when a kid goes above and beyond?”

Shemin-Roth and 64 of her family members will make the trip for the ceremony on June 2 in Washington D.C.