Jess Fulton Dunn, Warden
Oklahoma State Penitentiary
End of Watch: August 10, 1941
On August 10, 1941, four prisoners armed with homemade knives attempted to break out of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. About the same time that morning, Warden Jess F. Dunn, 49, was planning a new communication system and was touring the prison with J. H. Fentriss, an electrical engineer, R.W. Murray, a contractor and Murray’s 10 year-old son.
The prisoners took the warden and Fentriss hostage and told Murray and his son to leave. The prisoners then marched their two hostages into the yard, using them as shields. The east gate tower guards threw down their weapons and opened the gate. Warden Dunn had already been stabbed once at this point. The prisoners, now armed with guns, forced their hostages out the gate and into a car.
The Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Office had been advised of the prison break. Deputies Bill Alexander and William A “Tab” Ford, former prison guards, quickly used their car as a roadblock three blocks north of the prison. As the car containing the prisoners and their hostages came to a stop at the roadblock, the prisoners ordered the warden to order the deputies to let them pass, which the warden did. Deputy Alexander told the warden he could pass but the other men would not be allowed to leave.
One prisoner shot Deputy Ford in the head. Another prisoner then shot Warden Dunn twice in the back of the head. Deputy Alexander returned fire. When the shooting was over, two inmates and the warden were dead at the scene. Deputy Ford died a few hours later and a third inmate died two days later. Fentriss was found in the floorboard of the car uninjured.