At Oregon state pen, safecrackers proved especially prone to escape

Oregon State Prison postcard

By Finn J.D. John

  Escapes from Oregon’s state prisons are very rare events today, and have been for years. But there was a time, not that long ago, when an average of one prisoner every month made a break for freedom, and one or two of them actually succeeded in staying gone for a good long time.

From safecracker to war hero

The criminal population in Oregon’s prisons has changed in several ways in the past 100 years, and one of the most noticeable ways is the type of criminal housed there. In 1912, there were a lot more of a particular sort of criminal professional who specialized in breaking into vaults — safecrackers, or in the terminology of the time, “yeggs.” Possibly because they made a living solving puzzles of this sort, yeggs seemed to make up a disproportionately high percentage of escapees.

One such professional was Charles Drocker, who was sent up the river in May 1915 to serve a 10-year term for burglary. After he’d served a year of this sentence, Drocker vanished one morning. He was there at breakfast, but at the noon count, he was gone.

Prison officials searched for him for two days, and found not a sign. Meanwhile, among the inmates the rumor grew that Drocker had crawled under a truck and pulled himself up into its chassis someplace, riding out through the front gates of the prison under the very noses of a half-dozen armed guards before dropping to the ground and slipping away.

And perhaps that’s what he did — but to this day, nobody knows for sure.

Nothing was heard until the following year, 1917, when word came back to the Beaver State that the intrepid Mr. Drocker was now a war hero.

 

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McKenzie River Reflections is the weekly newspaper serving Oregon's McKenzie River Valley. Available by mail for $23/yr in Lane County, $29/yr outside Lane. Digital subscriptions are $23/yr. Subscribe at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/subscriptions-0. Purchase copies online at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/back-issues-0. Read about area communities including Cedar Flat, Walterville, Camp Creek, Leaburg, Vida, Nimrod, Finn Rock, Blue River, Rainbow and McKenzie Bridge.