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100 years ago in Coeur d’Alene: 15-year-old thief makes brief escape from Kootenai County Jail

Elliot Michener, later known as the “Gardener of Alcatraz,” made a brief escape from the Kootenai County Jail on this day 100 years ago.  (S-R archives)
Elliot Michener, later known as the “Gardener of Alcatraz,” made a brief escape from the Kootenai County Jail on this day 100 years ago. (S-R archives)
By Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

The remarkable criminal career of 15-year-old Elliot Michener (sometimes spelled Elliott Mitchener) continued when he and another lad escaped from the Kootenai County Jail in Coeur d’Alene.

He was being held in jail while preparations were made to send him to the Idaho Industrial School, a reform school, for stealing thousands from his Philadelphia employer and his father in Coeur d’Alene.

Somehow, Michener obtained use of a pole, which he used to “fish” a set of keys through the cell door. He unlocked the door, grabbed a pair of handcuffs and a razor from the sheriff’s office, and fled with the other boy.

Soon after, deputies discovered the boys missing. They found them “lurking behind barrels in an alley.”

When officers confronted them, he responded with his characteristic chutzpah, brandishing the razor and crying, “Halt! Throw up your hands!”

The officers responded by pinioning his arms. They took both boys back to jail. Michener claimed to have lost the key in the alley, which caused the deputies to search for it in the dark. This was an exercise in futility, because Michener later pulled the key from his sleeve and said, “Here it is.”

This was by no means the end of Michener’s criminal career. He was arrested many more times in ensuing decades for crimes ranging from robbery to forgery to prison escapes. He was suspected (although never arrested or indicted) in the 1935 George Weyerhaeuser kidnapping in Tacoma.

He eventually ended up in prison at Alcatraz, where he became known as the Gardener of Alcatraz, because of the lush flowers he planted on the grounds. He was, said the New York Times, “a convicted counterfeiter who couldn’t resist a geranium.”

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