Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, April 8, 1960

April 8, 1960, Mirror

Two Women Tell of Some Frantic Hours

Paul Coates

    For Gwendolyn Tarpy and Pauline Rose, the day of danger is over. It's two weeks buried in old headlines.  

    But to them its immensity remains undiminished.

    It began on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 23, when they walked into the Tennessee State Prison at Nashville.  Mrs. Rose handled the scrip accounts of the prisoners.  Mrs. Tarpy was her assistant.  It was their biweekly routine to visit the penitentiary to permit the prisoners to draw against their accounts.

    But that day, routine met violent interruption.

    Raymond Farra, 25, a life-termer and ex-mental patient, and Robert Rivera, 22, doing 40 years for armed robbery, overpowered two guards, got their guns and held the two women, plus 17 other prison employees, guards, inmates and visitors, captive for 25 hours.

 April 8, 1960, Caryl Chessman

    Yesterday, in my office, Mrs. Rose and Mrs. Tarpy recalled the strange, sometimes terrifying, sometimes almost comical experience.

    "After the first few hours," Mrs. rose explained, "the fear wasn't so much of the two men.  It was of the situation."

    The two felons and their hostages were packed into the deputy warden's office.  Farra did most of his negotiating with State Corrections Commissioner Keith Hampton on one of the four phones in the room.

    His initial demand was for a car and a "fighting chance" to escape.

    "He told us," Mrs. Rose said, "that he was going to take us with him.  That's what scared me most.  There'd be shooting or a chase.  A crash."

    On the phone with officials the prisoners repeatedly threatened "wholesale murder" of their hostages unless their demands were met.

    "But they never threatened us personally,"  Mrs. Rose continued.  "They told us they were sorry we had to be in there."

    "They were boys," inserted Mrs. Tarpy, "There was some good in them.  They never used vile language.  When a few sandwiches were slipped in, they gave them to us first and said they were sorry they couldn't offer us more."

    The hostages were given free use of an adjoining washroom.

    "Once," Mrs. Tarpy pointed out, "a guard went in to use it and left the door ajar, Farra shouted at him, 'Close it.  There are women in here.' "

    But the two convicts' conversations with their hostages and the officials were violently contradictory.

    On the phone, and occasionally when one of the pair would go out for peace parleys, they repeated their wholesale murder threats.  When one would go out for a conference, he'd hand his gun to the other and say, "If I don't come back, you know what to do."

    Of the two men, Rivera was the most communicative, they agreed.

    "When I was looking out the window at the birds one time," Mrs. Tarpy recalled, "Rivera came up behind me.  'I like birds, too.' he told me."

    No one slept for the full 25 hours, but near the end of the siege, the convicts seem to slacken their guard slightly.

    "They'd even let us listen in on an extension phone to their negotiations," Mrs. Rose said.

A Job Well Done

    "I wish," she added, "that somebody would give Commissioner Hampton credit for the wonderful job he did in talking to them.  If anyone deserves credit for saving our lives, it's him."

    In a compromise rare in prison riot history, Hampton finally promised not to punish the two men, not to take away their good behavior time, and gave his written word that he would transfer them to another prison.  It was prompted by the fact that the women were among the hostages — but he has lived up to it.

    When the compromise came and Farra and Rivera turned in their guns, the two women shook hands with their ex-captors, thanking them for the "kind treatment." 

    "Then both the boys apologized to us," Mrs. Rose said.

    From the experience, they have one strange regret.

    "Now," Mrs. Tarpy said, "We're not allowed to go into the prison to issue the scrip anymore.  It's too bad.  There are some nice boys in there."

    Mrs. Rose nodded in agreement as her assistant spoke.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Caryl Chessman, Columnists, Paul Coates. Bookmark the permalink.

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