prison

Lt. O.W. Larsen talks with his wife shortly after his release. (Photo Credit: Ken Heinen, Reprinted with permission of the DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post.)

Christmas Escape at Lorton, 1974

It was Christmas night 1974 in Lorton Reformatory’s Maximum Security wing. Correctional Officer Lt. O.W. Larsen was keeping watch over the mess hall where around 100 inmates were finishing dinner and sitting down for a showing of “The Hong Kong Connection,” a Kung Fu movie. Suddenly Larsen felt the muzzle of a handgun pressed into his neck. Earl Coleman, serving 5 to 15 years for robbery and nicknamed “Killer”, had his finger on the trigger. As Coleman overpowered Larsen, other inmates did the same to the other guards in the hall. Within moments they had control of the room.

Hostage Standoff at the D.C. Jail, October 11, 1972

Inmates shouting through D.C. Jail window during the hostage standoff on October 11, 1972. (Photo Credit: Unknown, Courtesy DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post, All Rights Reserved.)

In the wee hours of the morning on October 11, 1972 William Claiborne was doing what most other Washingtonians were doing: sleeping. When the phone rang at 4:15am, he answered groggily. A panicked voice on the other end of the line said that inmates at the D.C. Jail were holding guards hostage and had requested his presence.

A few minutes later, Corrections Director Kenneth L. Hardy called with a personal plea. “Mr. Claiborne, they have taken Cellblock 1 and they are holding nine of my men as hostages. They want to talk to you. Can you come down here?”