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Jailbreak in Dallas Jolts Ruby Trial

Mar. 6, 1964 - Seven prisoners today broke out of the Dallas County Jail that holds Jack Ruby and made a dash for freedom. They overpowered guards and used a razor blade and a fake pistol on hostages. Television cameramen covering the Ruby murder trial recorded the drama, giving Dallas the additional distinction of having the first filmed jailbreak in history.

Ruby was in court just a few yards away as the prisoners swarmed out of a jail elevator into a second-floor corridor packed with witnesses, court officials, and newsmen. Two escapees were recaptured almost immediately and two more an hour later, but three were still at large when the court session ended for the day and Ruby returned to his top-security cell.

One of the defense’s key witnesses, stripper Karen Lynn Bennett, known as “Little Lynn,” who was about to be called to the stand, collapsed, screaming: “Oh my God, they’re going to get me,” when she saw the jailbreakers in the corridor. Lynn, 19, who is about to have a baby, soon recovered and was able to take the stand.

Red-faced officials, still smarting over worldwide criticism of their failure to protect Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged assassin of President Kennedy, admitted that a breakdown in security had permitted the escape.

A guard in the jail, which is on the fifth floor of the county courthouse, failed to lock up the prisoners while “soaping out” a corridor (handing out soap to the prisoners). They jumped him and held a razor blade to his throat until he gave up his keys. The prisoners, all sentenced to heavy terms for robbery, overpowered another guard and raced to the jail elevator. They forced the elevator operator to take them down to the second floor.

One prisoner, Clarence Gregory, grabbed Edna Biggs, a clerk in the probations department, and held a bogus pistol in her ribs. A sheriff later said the pistol had been realistically carved in soap, painted with black shoe polish, and held together with syrup. Its barrel was a black pencil.

When Mrs. Biggs wriggled free, she ran into the offices of Judge John Mead with Gregory in hot pursuit. Judge Mead’s clerk was seated at her desk.

“This man came rushing in and said, ‘Show me a way out of here.’ I told him, ‘There’s no way out but the window.’ He said, ‘No, I’m walking out of here, and you’re walking with me.’”

Pressing the soap pistol into her back, Gregory forced the clerk to walk through the corridor, past photographers and T.V. cameramen who were outside the Ruby courtroom. It was this portion of the jailbreak that was shown later on television. At the parking lot, Gregory and the clerk were surrounded by sheriff’s deputies. The convict was disarmed of his soap pistol by Deputy Charles Player.

The police are still searching for Billy Ray Brock, Randolph Hudnall, and Lennard F. Driggers.


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