Stick Up Your Hands

June 1921. Roy Gardner and Norris H. Pyron (pictured) were not associates. Gardner was arrested for train robbing. He was apparently very good at it, this was not his first arrest, nor his first escape. Pyron was a counterfeiter, a quiet man, non-violent. Their connection was that they were being transported to McNeil Island at the same time under the supervision of US Marshal Thomas F. Mulhall and Federal Guard D. W. Rinckle. In the berth, on the train, Pyron was shackled. Gardner asked to wash his face, and as he came up from the basin he pulled a gun and demanded

“Stick up your hands.”

The officials felt they had no choice but to surrender their guns and Pyron and Gardner hand-cuffed and shackled their guards. Gardener took their money.

“What are we going to get breakfast with?”

was the concern of Mulhall, so Gardner left them $5 before he and Pyron bailed out the window in Castle Rock, Washington.

Back in Custody

The following day Pyron was back in custody.

“I didn’t want to escape,”

he was quoted as saying. Gardner was still at large.

Call Out the Posse

Roy Gardner (pictured), notorious train robber, had determination not to be caught or kept captive. After his escape with Pyron he was spotted in Castle Rock:

“A stranger with large gold teeth entered a restaurant at Castle Rock and ordered food. While the meal was being prepared a man walked past the restaurant on the sidewalk looked in and passed on. A moment later he came by again and once more glanced in. The stranger with the gold teeth left the food, which had been brought to him, untouched and hurriedly left the restaurant. Sheriff Hoggett and a posse were notified and at once set out in pursuit.”


A few weeks later in Tacoma, Washington, a trial was taking place in the case of Lawardius Borgart (pictured) and Evert Impyn, Camp Lewis recruits. Both were found guilty of the rape of Elinor Schauer a base hospital nurse. Soon their paths and fate were about to cross with Gardner’s.

Another Escape

Roy Gardner did not elude the police for long. He was captured in Tacoma when the hotel owner, where he was about to check in, found him suspiciously bandaged up and called the authorities. Imprisoned at McNeil Island, Gardner vowed he could escape again. Whether he had planned it out in advance with his fellow inmates Lawardius Borgart and Evert Impyn is not sure, but on Labor Day, 1921, during the fifth inning of a prison baseball game someone hit a “Babe Ruth” and all eyes were on the field.

Broad Side of a Barn

Gardner along with Borgart and Impyn (pictured), who were in for life, made a run for it. Gardner had wire cutters and ripped open the fence. Rifle fire from the prison guards began, Borgart and Impyn were shot. Chaos followed as more prisoners tried to escape and guards tried to prevent them.

“Gardner told us those fellows couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,”

were Impyn’s last words. Borgart was dead too.

One-Horse Town

Having escaped from jail and the fate of Evert Impyn and Lawardius G. Borgart, Roy Gardner eluded the police for a while. Gardner continued his crime spree, moved to Mexico and eventually wound up in Phoenix, Arizona. An attempt to rob a mail clerk there was thwarted by the clerk himself. Gardner’s sentiments about Phoenix,

“I’d just as soon be caught in a one-horse town.”

Final Escape

While in prison he was the subject of much debate on the tendencies of criminals and their mental states. Gardner was studied by alienists and doctors alike. He was shipped to Atlanta and then Alcatraz, then back to Leavenworth where he was released in 1938. He tried to make a life for himself after prison.

“All men who serve more than five years in prison are doomed, but they don’t realize it. They kid themselves into a belief that they can come back, but they can’t.”

Those words were written in Gardner’s last note before he concocted a mixture of poison gas and killed himself in the bathroom of a San Francisco hotel.

Starting Backwards

Did you ever think you discovered something only later to find that your “original” idea is not original at all? It happens all the time: I call it “independent thinking shared”.

I started researching these prison photos and was looking for a story, maybe something no one had heard of before. I found Roy Gardner. I looked in and found he was a notorious train robber from the early 1900s and a tricky escape artist. I started reading and downloading articles. There was a connection between him and some of the other photos that I had seen. Hmmmm, a very interesting thread was forming.

Little did I know that if I had only googled him in the first place that I would have come up with a lot of information, all condensed, without having to have spent hours reading old papers. Oh, I am not complaining, mind you, I really love doing all that research. Also, it gave me a chance to see how the American press was covering other stories, like Irish Independence in the 1920s.

I decided that some of the info I found was worth repeating. So here is my Escape Artist web story, through a montage of film stills, book pages and their actual portraits painted by me, of the connection between a counterfeiter, a train robber and two rapists: Norris H. Pyron, Roy Gardner, Lawardius Borgart and Evert Impyn, respectively, McNeil Island prisoners numbered 3800, 3806, 3824 and 3825.

The Ogden Standard Examiner
The Joplin Globe
The Oakland Tribune
Monitor Index & Democrat
The Great Train Robbery
Gene Autry
Prison Mutiny
Amateur Film: San Francisco
History of Arizona
original source for McNeil Island prisoner photos