By: Carl Hallberg, Wyoming State Archives
William Brown was an inmate at the Wyoming State Penitentiary from 1917 to 1920. He has a unique standing in the annals of the Penitentiary in that he escaped and was never apprehended.
Born in 1896, Brown was raised on a farm in rural Michigan, received an eighth grade education, and married a local girl. At just shy of six feet tall, he was of slight build, pleasant looking young man. He apparently left his wife to seek his fortune in the West, probably with the intent of sending for her later. According to Penitentiary records, Brown listed his occupation as a ranch hand though there is no evidence he did such labor. Another account described him as a “would be” cowboy. At the time of his arrest, he was working as a clerk at the Normandie Hotel in Cheyenne.
On December 7, 1917, Brown and two unscrupulous acquaintances kidnapped Gust Kondaks, a Greek taxi cab driver and ordered Kondaks to drive them to Texas. About 10 miles south of Cheyenne, for reasons that are not clear, Brown decided Kondaks was no longer needed and shot Kondaks twice, killing him. Kondaks’ body was discovered a couple of days later in a snowbank. About 10 days later, Kondaks’ kidnappers were arrested in El Paso, Texas. They were brought back to Cheyenne and were summarily tried and convicted. Because he killed Kondaks, Brown was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced on April 3, 1918 to 25 to 30 years.
Within a couple years, Brown conducted himself accordingly. Through the influential persuasion of his parents before the state parole board, Brown’s sentence was commuted to 6 to 8 years. Because he was a model inmate, he was transferred to a state road camp in Hot Springs County on April 11, 1920.
Brown’s family members tried to bolster his spirits by writing to him often. To their dismay, he wrote infrequently. His mother begged him to do otherwise. A brother, probably looking for something to say, wrote awkwardly with standard pat questions, “How are you anyway and what are you doing? . . . Have you any idea when you will be home? Am glad you are doing so nicely now.” His wife inquired about his work and condition, and let him know that their little boy, Martin, was doing fine and wanted to write his daddy. Little did anyone know that Brown had decided to take his fate into his own hands.
On August 15, 1920, Brown escaped from the road camp. Concerned after receiving this news, Warden Frank Hadsell held Sheriff H.E. Holdrege responsible for Brown’s escape. “Will you kindly inform what effort you made to apprehend Brown” Hadsell wrote. “I don’t want to get into your game but I want this man.” Hadsell believed Brown would go north and cross into Canada. To make matters worse, both men learned that Brown had stolen a saddle and a horse and killed a sheepherder, Frank Belcher, in Park County.
After learning about Brown’s escape, Sheriff Holdredge immediately started a search. He later personally posted a $100 reward for his arrest, and circulated a wanted poster in the northwest and Canada. Holdrege also enlisted the cooperation of the US Postal Service. By intercepting the mail of Brown’s family members, officials hoped to locate and apprehend him.
But it was all for naught. A year passed and Brown was still at loose. Moreover, his family had no idea where he was. Believing he would only create trouble for her if he should return, his wife divorced him in September 1921.
Brown was never apprehended and his whereabouts were never discovered.
On February 1, 1936, Warden Alex McPherson finally gave up the search and reluctantly notified Governor Leslie A. Miller that, for administrative purposes, Brown was officially discharged from the Penitentiary.
Casper Daily Tribune, September 1, 1920, page 5
Laramie County District Court CR 5-386, State of Wyoming vs. William Brown, et al.
Warren Brown, criminal case files, Hot Springs County Sheriff Records