While the country was fascinated by the exploits of Bonnie and Clyde and other gangsters of the era, North Carolina had its share of outlaws and sensational crimes. In the summer of 1937, the state was on alert after eight convicts tunneled out of Central Prison.
Commandeering a motorist's car half a mile from the prison, the convicts sped away and had nearly 3 hours' start before a general alarm was sent out by prison authorities.
After a long search of the prison yard, officials late last night said they had located a tunnel under a wall at the rear of the prison building. Apparently, it had taken the men weeks to dig the tunnel, Warden H. H. Honeycutt said.
A tri-State search was started for the felons, Oscar Pitts, acting director of the penal division announced last night.
A message from C. V. Faulkner, Sheriff of Nash county, said that an automobile, answering the description of the one stolen here, had hit another car at Rocky Mount about 8 o'clock, but did not stop. The car was headed for Elm City, home of Eddie Cobb, one of the fugitives.
The felons took the machine from R. C. Jones and Miss Lucille Woodlief, both State Hospital attendants, as they sat in the parked car in front of a building on the institution's grounds.
Jones said he recognized the men as escaped convicts by their rough clothing, although they were not wearing stripes. How the convicts procured Grade A clothes for their escape had not been determined last night.
All the men were long-termers and most of them regarded as dangerous.
Proctor has a criminal record of many years' standing and was serving terms totaling more than 30 years. He was an associate of the late Coley Cain, slain last year in a gun battle with a South Carolina officer who sought to recapture him after his escape from Caledonia.
Cobb, who is from Nash county was a member of the same ring of burglars and safe crackers. He was serving 30 years for possession of burglary tools, being sentenced from Wake County two years ago.
Other felons escaping with them were: James Everett, 21, alias James (Snake) Eberts, given seven to 10 years in Wake last year for assault and larceny; Carl McNinght, 24, sentenced from Forsyth County in 134 to 12 to 16 years for robbery; John H. Lowder, 29, of Mecklenburg county, serving five to seven years for robbery; Normal Hart, alias William Ralte, 29, sent up from Davidson for 15 to 20 years for robbery.
Upon receiving Jones' message, Raleigh police searched the Dix Hill section for the car, a 1934 black Ford coach, bearing North Carolina licenses 313-886. No trace of it was found.
It was Proctor's second escape from prison. Two years ago this month he made a successful break at Caledonia and remained at large for four months before being recaptured in Greensboro by Guilford County deputies.
The year before, he had been arrested at Rocky Mount, along with several members of his ring, when a posse of officials raided a hide-out there. Raleigh police joined officers from several counties and Federal agents in making arrests.
Above, NC Central prison in 1967. N&O File photo.
The break was the largest from Central Prison since April 22, 1933, when nine prisoners, headed by the notorious Dud Travis of Wake county, made their way to freedom through a tunnel while a ball game was in progress in the prison yard. All were recaptured.
On September 3, 1933, and March 20, 1934, two prisoners escaped by scaling walls after the manner of Dr. J. W. Peacock, the Thomasville murderer, who escaped while serving a life sentence in 1922 and made his way to California, where several years later he was killed in an automobile accident.
Next largest escape here in recent years was on August 28, 1934, when seven criminally insane men fled from the State Hospital. -- The News & Observer, 8/13/1937
NC Central Prison in the 1920s: "White Cell Block N.C. State Prison Raleigh NC." N&O File photo.