• Today in History: Seven prisoners escape King County Jail in 1979

    By: Daryl McClary, Historylink.org

    Updated:

    SEATTLE - Monday marks 40 years since seven prisoners escaped from the tenth floor of the King County Courthouse. 

    The following is a recap of the event in a Historylink.org article written by Daryl McClary

    On Sunday evening, October 14, 1979, seven inmates escape from the high security jail on the 10th floor of the King County Courthouse in the county's bloodiest jailbreak. Using a gun smuggled into the jail, the inmates capture the guards, lock them in a holding tank, and take over the jail's central control room. Within 20 minutes, the escapees are on the street, heading for their getaway cars. In the ensuing melee, one police officer is severely wounded, one prisoner is shot dead, five prisoners and two accomplices are captured, and one escapes.

    A Routine Evening at King County Jail

    At 8:30 p.m. everything seemed routine on C Deck of the King County Jail, a holding area for some of the more notorious prisoners. Gary Van Pilon, a prisoner, asked permission to use the telephone near the jail unit's control room. Eight other prisoners were locked in a day room tank near the telephone. While being escorted by Corrections Officer Terence Duffy, Pilon stopped to get a drink of water from a sink. When Pilon turned around, he was in possession of an automatic pistol, which he pointed at Officer Duffy, taking him hostage. Pilon captured two more guards, locking all three in an empty holding cell. With Officer Duffy's keys, Pilon opened the door to the day room tank; six of the prisoners emerged and two stayed behind. Three of the escapees were considered to be among the most dangerous men housed in the jail.

    The mastermind of the jailbreak was Artie Ray Baker, 26, convicted in federal court on September 17, 1979, of the murder of U. S. Customs Inspector Kenneth G. Ward in Lynden, Washington, on April 24, 1979. Baker was also an escapee from the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California, in 1977, where he had been serving a life sentence for the robbery and murder of an elderly couple in Fresno, California, in 1972.

    The other six prisoners involved in the jailbreak were David Edward Warriner, 26, with convictions for burglary, shoplifting, drug trafficking, and manslaughter, recently sentenced to life in prison for being a habitual criminal; Donald J. Martin, 25, charged with two murders and 20 additional felonies including rapes, robberies, and assaults, in jail awaiting trial; Pierre Adair Parent, 26, convicted on July 30, 1979, of robbery and 1st degree murder, awaiting transfer to a state correctional facility; Roger Dale Raynor, 29, serving a six-year term for burglary; Randy Joe Williams, 29, a convicted burglar, being held on a parole violation; Gary Van Pilon, 26, in jail awaiting further court action on charges of escape, assault, and robbery.

    How They Got Out

    Immediately after being released, Artie Ray Baker assumed his role as leader of the jailbreak. Baker took the pistol from Pilon, and retrieved Officer Duffy from the holding cell to use as a hostage. Together, they moved down the ramp toward the jail's central control room. Finding the door to the control room standing open, a major security lapse, Baker took another three guards prisoner and seized control of the jail. After locking all six guards in a holding cell, the prisoners took $2,500 from a locked drawer in the jail's booking area. Baker then opened the main gates, allowing the group access to the 10th floor public elevators and freedom.

    At about 8:50 p.m., Baker and his cohorts rode the elevators to the first floor, emerging from the 3rd Avenue entrance of courthouse. Two getaway cars were waiting for the group, but parked on 4th Avenue, the wrong side of the building. It was cold, dark, and raining as the group, dressed only in King County Jail overalls, walked north on 3rd Avenue, then up (east) James Street between the Courthouse and Public Safety Building, looking for the getaway cars.

    Unbeknown to the escapees, the Seattle Police Department, housed in the Public Safety Building, was changing patrol shifts. Officer Glenn Gilbert, making a mail run from the north precinct, saw this group, dressed in prison togs, walking up James Street, glancing around nervously. As he circled his patrol car to investigate, the police dispatcher broadcast the first alert of the jailbreak. The escapees, reaching the intersection at 4th and James Street, started to split up. Two getaway cars, both stolen Ford Mustangs, converged on the intersection.

    Hot in Pursuit

    David Warriner, Pierre Parent, and Roger Raynor clambered into a red Mustang driven by a white male, later identified as William Dennis Dunne. The getaway car sped up James Street with Officer Gilbert in hot pursuit. Pulling along side, Officer Gilbert signaled the Mustang to stop. When Dunne failed to obey, Officer Gilbert opened fire with his service revolver. Dunne sideswiped the patrol car, slowing it down, and sped east on James Street. Broadcasting an alert, Officer Gilbert pursued the Mustang but lost sight of it at the top of the steep hill. By this time, police units, responding to the emergency, located the Mustang at E Union Street and Harvard Avenue where it crashed into a cement retaining wall. Officer Gilbert's gunfire had wounded Dunne in the left shoulder and killed Roger Raynor.

    Warriner and Parent ran from the crash scene, hijacked a Farwest Taxi at gunpoint, and sped away. At 19th Avenue near E Fir Street, they skidded on the wet pavement and crashed the cab into a utility pole. Parent was captured nearby by Officer Miller after being subdued by police K-9 "Mitch." Warriner vanished into the night.

    Meanwhile, Officer John Mattox, who was just off duty, was getting into his vehicle at 5th Avenue and Cherry Street when he saw two men running up the street, Artie Ray Baker, carrying a gun, and Donald J. Martin. When Mattox gave chase, the men split up. Mattox pursued the man with the gun (Baker) and found him hiding in nearby bushes. Baker had thrown his pistol away, and gave up without resistance. Martin ran down 5th Avenue and disappeared.

    Officers Frankie Alexander and Randy Benson stopped Randy Joe Williams and Gary Van Pilon on Cherry Street between 4th and 5th avenues. While Officers Benson and Alexander were arresting and handcuffing Williams and Pilon, the second getaway car, a dark brown Mustang, pulled along side Officer Alexander. The driver, later identified as Lawrence Charles Bailey, stuck a gun out the window and shot Officer Alexander twice. Pilon escaped into the vehicle as Bailey tried frantically to drive away. While Bailey's Mustang sat on the hill spinning its wheels on the rain-slicked pavement, Officer Benson drew his service revolver and opened fire, wounding Bailey in the chest. The car finally gained traction and pulled away, but collided with two patrol cars at the intersection of 5th Avenue and Cherry Street. Bailey, regaining control of the Mustang, sped north on 5th Avenue, the wrong way on a one-way street. Pursuing police units forced the Mustang to the curb at 5th Avenue and Pike Street, where they took Bailey and Pilon, still wearing Officer Alexander's handcuffs, into custody.

    Canine Action

    The wounded prisoners and Officer Alexander were taken to the trauma center at Harborview Hospital. A Harborview employee, learning about the jailbreak, told police at the hospital that he had just gotten off an eastbound Metro bus that carried a suspicious looking man who might be an escapee. A Seattle Police K-9 unit located the bus and stopped it at 14th Avenue and E Jefferson Street. Officer Hanson recognized escapee Donald J. Martin and arrested him with the assistance of police K-9 "Satan." When the scramble began, Martin and Baker were together. Martin apparently ran south on 5th Avenue to Jefferson Street and hid until he was able to board a bus leaving the area.

    Within 45 minutes of the escape, all the prisoners except one, David Warriner, had been captured. Police learned that the two Ford Mustangs had been stolen, one in Albany, California, on May 5th and the other in Seattle on October 10th. When police searched the vehicles, they found an arsenal of weapons, including a fully automatic .30 caliber M-2 carbine plus thousands of rounds of ammunition. They also recovered the $2,500 stolen from the jail and a bag containing an additional $4,000 still in bank wrappers.

    Capturing the Last Escapee

    On Tuesday, October 16, 1979, just before midnight, Washington State Game Department Agent Robert Ford arrested David Warriner six miles east of Blaine, Washington, about a quarter of a mile south of the Canadian border. Agent Ford was looking for poachers when he saw Warriner walking on a road paralleling the border, shining a flashlight into the woods. He was apparently looking for a trail that would take him into Canada. Warriner, wearing a 10-inch hunting knife, attempted to flee, but Agent Ford caught him without a struggle.

    Warriner said he was a Canadian citizen illegally in the United States so Agent Ford radioed the U. S. Border Patrol for an officer to investigate. Border Patrol Agent Keith Miller, aware of the recent jailbreak in Seattle, took Warriner to the Border Patrol Station in Blaine for further questioning. In addition to the knife, Warriner had a sleeping bag, ground cover, and a backpack containing new clothing, dried foods, a camp stove, and other survival gear including a U.S. Army manual titled Survival, Escape and Evasion. Many of the items were new with store tags still affixed. He also had $101 in U.S. currency.

    The Border Patrol notified the Seattle Police Department, which immediately dispatched two detectives with an arrest warrant, fingerprints, and photographs of the suspect. After positively identifying Warriner as an escapee, the Seattle detectives returned him to the King County Jail.

    The Getaway Cars

    The drivers of the getaway cars were positively identified as William Dennis Dunne, 26, a convicted murderer, wanted in California for violating parole, and Lawrence Charles Bailey, 30, a convicted armed robber. Dunne was charged with possession of an automatic weapon, the M-2 carbine. Bailey was charged with the attempted murder of Officer Frankie Alexander. Both men were charged with auto theft and with aiding and abetting the escape.

    Law enforcement officials concluded that Artie Ray Baker planned the jailbreak. Baker, Dunne, and Bailey had served time together in the Deuel Vocational Institute near Tracy, California, designed for young violent offenders. And, they were members of a small, heavily armed group of revolutionaries in Humboldt County, called the Wellspring Communion, an offshoot of the Symbionese Liberation Army. This was an organized attempt to free a member of their militant group by any means necessary. As one police officer observed, "They had enough ammunition to kill every cop in the city."

    It was obvious to investigators that Baker had other accomplices in Seattle to help them escape into Canada, evidenced by Warriner's capture near the northern border with new clothes and survival gear. Who those accomplices were remains unknown. Information surfaced later that there had been a third getaway vehicle lurking in the area.

    Perhaps the biggest mystery is how prisoners obtained a gun in a high security jail. Some officials speculated the pistol might have come into the jail piece-by-piece on a fishing line lowered from a 10th floor window, and then assembled inside. Jail supervisor Jim Coughlin told reporters, "There are a number of ways a gun can be brought into the jail but I'm not about to tell you what they are. We haven't ruled out any possibilities."

    On October 19, 1979, under extremely tight security, U.S. Marshals flew Artie Ray Baker to the federal maximum security penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, to begin serving a life sentence for the murder of Customs Inspector Kenneth G. Ward. The federal prison system has a security classification for prisoners with 36 being the highest rating. Baker was classified a 34.

    Officer Frankie Alexander recovered from his bullet wounds and eventually was able to return to duty with the Seattle Police Department.

    Sources:
    John O'Ryan, Laura Parker, and Jack Hopkins, "Escapee Slain in Jail Break," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 15, 1979, p. A-1; Art Gorlick and Paul O'Connor, "$2,500 in Car Was From Jail," Ibid., October 16, 1979, p. A-7; Art Gorlick and Marcia Friedman, "The Night All Hell Broke Loose From the Jail," Ibid., October 17, 1979, p. A-6; Art Gorlick and Jack Hopkins, "Escapee Baker Gets Life; Mystery Man Named," Ibid., October 18, 1979, p. A-7; Don Tewkesbury, "Fluke Aided Break at County Jail, Official Says" Ibid., October 21, 1979, P. A-10. Paul Henderson, Dave Birkland, and Peter Lewis, "One Prisoner Still At Large After Daring Jail Escape," The Seattle Times, October 15, 1979, p. A-1; Suki Dardarian and Dee Norton, "Seizure Of Control Room Key To Escape," Ibid., October 15, 1979, p. A-14; Dave Birkland, "Off-duty Rookie Captures Notorious Escapee," Ibid., October 15, 1979, October 15, 1979, p.A-14; Peter Lewis, "Escapees Show New Cab Driver Hazards Of Taxi Work," Ibid., October 15, 1979, p. A-14; Jack Broom, "King County Jail Escapees Have Long Criminal Records," Ibid., October 15, 1979, p. A-14; Dave Birkland and Jack Broom, "Last Jail Escapee Arrested," Ibid., October 17, 1979, p. A-1; Suki Dardarian, "Escape Accomplice Linked To Manson," Ibid., October 17, 1979, p. A-14; Jack Broom and Suki Dardarian, "California Revolutionaries: Jailbreak Group Linked to Symbionese Liberation Army," Ibid., October 17, 1979, p. A-14; Larry Brown, "Four Men Are Arraigned on Jailbreak Charges," Ibid., October 18, 1979, p. A-14; Steve Johnston, "Baker, Escape Accomplices Were Together in Calif. Jail," Ibid., October 18, 1979, p. A-14; "Jail Escape Leaves a $4,000 Question," Ibid., October 19, 1979, p. A-10; Janet Horn, "Baker Taken to Illinois Prison Under Heavy Guard," Ibid., October 20, 1979, p. A-10; Dee Norton, "Jail Policy not Followed Before Escape, Says Director," Ibid., October 20, 1979, p. A-10; Suki Dardarian, "Policeman Shot in Jailbreak 'Doing Great'," Ibid., October 20, 1979, p. A-10; "Luck, Timing, Police Action Foiled Escape," Ibid., October 21, 1979, p. B-4.

    Next Up: