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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: ‘Tiger’ Johnson back in prison stripes after failed escape attempt

The notorious criminal and escape artist Fred “Tiger” Johnson was back in custody after a botched escape attempt. (Spokesman-Review archives)
The notorious criminal and escape artist Fred “Tiger” Johnson was back in custody after a botched escape attempt. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Fred “Tiger” Johnson, notorious Spokane criminal and escape artist, attempted another daring prison getaway.

This time, however, he didn’t get far.

For months, Johnson had been locked in solitary confinement at the State Penitentiary in Walla Walla after he helped foment a prison riot. He was regarded, said the Spokane Daily Chronicle, as “an all-around bad man.”

Unbeknownst to the guards, Tiger managed to create a crude saw from broken pieces of his steel bed springs. He methodically sawed his way through the bars. When guard Martin Radcliffe made his rounds, he saw Tiger’s cell empty. He looked around and saw “the prisoner crouching in the corridor.”

“They came together and battled for 10 or 15 minutes,” said the Chronicle, surely an exaggeration.

Yet they certainly battled long enough for both men to sustain nasty injuries. Tiger used a piece of bed spring to inflict painful injuries around the guard’s scalp and neck.

The guard, however, had the best of the fight. He managed to subdue Tiger until more guards could arrive.

Radcliffe was taken to the Walla Walla hospital to be treated for his scalp wounds, and was in satisfactory condition.

Tiger was in the prison hospital, with unspecified injuries. His condition was not released.

Tiger was notorious for several other escape attempts, including one several years earlier when he overpowered a guard at the Spokane County Courthouse, raced into the streets, jumped in the Spokane River, and was shot as he tried to swim away.

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