Prison Escape

1892 photo of the front gate at the oregon state penitentiary. Two story brick building with clock tower.
Oregon State Penitentiary, 1890. Photo from the Oregon Historic Photograph Collections.
Opened in 1851, the Oregon State Penitentiary has been the site of many escapes and attempted escapes. One of the more dramatic escapes occurred shortly after 6 p.m., Aug. 12, 1925. Detailed newspaper accounts describe a hail of bullets that left an inmate and two guards dead, one guard seriously wounded and another badly beaten.

Backgrounds of the Escapees

The convicts involved in the escape were Bert "Oregon" Jones, Thomas Murray, James Willos, and Ellsworth Kelley. Each had a long history of run-ins with the law.

Jones had previously served time in the Oregon State Reform School and the Oklahoma State Reformatory. He had been sent to the penitentiary to serve a twenty-year term for assault and armed robbery. Jones had escaped from the penitentiary in March of 1924 and had been at large for more than a year before he was identified in custody in Sacramento and was returned in April 1925.

Thomas Murray had previously served time at San Quentin. He was serving a ten-year sentence for larceny and assault with a deadly weapon.

Bert Jones mug shot

Mug shot of Bert Jones: Department of Corrections Records, inmate case file #8665. 

Tom Murray mug shot

Mug shot of Tom Murray: Department of Corrections Records, inmate case file #8871. Text of Murray mug shot in .txt file >


Ellsworth Kelley had previously served a two-year sentence at the penitentiary from 1915 to 1917, as well as time in various county jails. A partner of Bert Jones, Kelley was serving a twenty-year sentence for aiding prisoners to escape. He had escaped from the penitentiary and been recaptured twice before his 1925 escape.

James Willos had served time in San Quentin and the Oklahoma State Reformatory before being sent to the penitentiary from Umatilla County. He was serving a seven-year term for burglary.
Ellsworth Kelley mug shot

Mug shot of Ellsworth Kelley: Department of Corrections Records, inmate case file #8663. Text of Kelley mug shot in .txt file >

James Willos, alias Walter Burns, mug shot

Mug shot of James Willos: Department of Corrections Records, inmate case file #8956. Text of Willos mug shot in .txt file >​