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Finally, at the end of a bad life,
"Gypsy Bob" Harper did some good
Syracuse Journal

Tattooed Lifer Escapes
MARQUETTE, Mich., Oct. 1 – It ought to be easy to catch “Gypsy Bob” Harper, lifer, who escaped from Michigan prison, every inch of his body being covered with tattoo marks.

Auburn Citizen

Warden Seriously Injured
in Michigan Prison Riot

MARQUETTE, Mich., Dec. 12 – Michigan state policemen were standing guard in Marquette prison today following the riot among the prisoners yesterday morning that resulted in the serious stabbling of Warden T. B. Catlin, the beating of Deputy Warden Fred Menhennit, and the perhaps fatal wounding of the latter’s son, Arthur.

Three inmates of the prison who are charged with leading the riot were to be flogged in the institution’s bull pen today, the punishment having been ordered by Charles Blaney of Kalamazoo, chairman of the Michigan State Prison Commission.

Warden Catlin, who received nine knife wounds, is said to be in a serious condition. Young Menhennit was stabbed in the lung.

Batavia Daily News

Flog Rioting Prisoners
MARQUETTE, Mich., Dec. 13 – In the bull pen of the state prison here, Gypsy Bob Harper, Jasper Perry and Charles Roberts, long term inmates, were flogged yesterday for the attack they made upon Warden T. B. Catlin, Deputy Warden Fred Menhennett and the latter’s son, Arthur.

Binghamton Press 1910

Long Criminal Record
of Former Binghamton Boy

Arthur Harper, Known as “Gypsy Bob,” Left This City in 1902 and Has Had an Eventful Career Since That Time
JANUARY 15 – Many local people – the police in particular – will remember Arthur Harper, an incorrigible boy whose home was in Binghamton until his 20th birthday, in 1902. In those first 20 years of his life his one purpose seemed to be to conduct his lawbreaking so that no offense in the penal code would be slighted. He went from larceny and crimes of a minor nature to sticking a hat-pin through a policeman’s hand. He did that to former Chief Abel after he had been brought in to the police station one day. The chases and fights he gave different patrolmen were as numerous as they were exciting.

Chief Goodrich learned this morning that during the past eight years this “gent’s” novel contributions to criminological lore have not fallen off in their frequency – not even during terms of imprisonment – and that his deeds have become only the more desperate though some times more romantic.

“Gypsy Bob,” as he has become known, has gained great familiarity with the police of the Middle West, leaving his picture and Bertillon measurements in many cities. His genius for jail-breaking has kept him at large an amazing part of the time, considering the number of times he has been arrested. However, he is now tucked away under rigid guard in the Jefferson City (Mo.) Penitentiary.

“Gypsy Bob” certainly came honestly by his lawlessness. His mother who lived here with three successive husbands, named Harper, Place and Flint, slit Flint’s throat in Utica one Sunday morning about 12 years ago. Flint died, she was tried for murder and the plea of insanity saved her life. However, she was given a life sentence in Matteawan.

So young Harper’s home training, perhaps, accounts for the failure of reformatories and industrial schools to reform him. Still, he had a brother whom the local police say was a thoroughly upright, gentlemanly fellow.

There was great difficulty in proving Harper’s connection with crimes he committed as a boy, but when he was 16 he was sent to the Rochester Industrial School where his sketches were imaginative, original and exciting. Out of spoons and other utensils he made keys and knives. And he used them on doors, guards and fellow prisoners.

Sent to the Elmira Reformatory in 1902, there was no lessening of his activity. Locks and bars sufficient for the confinement of other boys were easy for him. Escaping, recaptured and escaping again, he joined the navy. His record there is one of mischief, robbery and assault, leading up to his confinement for four months in the Deer Island Military Prison, and to the spending of a month in irons on the USS Olympic.

In this city he lived for a while at 39 Park avenue. Excepting his face neck and hands, his body was entirely covered with tattoos. Just under his collar two serpents were printed around his throat. Wild animals and nude women were entwined around his limbs. More tattoo work was added after he left here. There was room for it only where it would show. A description of him taken in St Louis mentions three new five-point stars; one on his forehead and a small one on the lobe of each year.

Detective Stephenson took his Bertillon measurements here in 1902.

Last year he figured in some daring buglaries where he was known as Bob Pollick and Bob Thurston, as well as Gypsy Bob. Farther down the Mississippi he was convicted of robbery in the first degree in January, 1908, but he broke jail.

Harper began his present term in Jefferson City under the charges of assault and robbery. When it expires he is likely to be confronted with numerous other indictments.

When he was last sent up he gave his birthplace as Alabama, his residence in lodging houses and his occupation as tattoer. His tattoo work is distinctively high class. Detective Stephenson says he never saw more artistic figures on a man.

As so many imprisoned people do (or, at least, say they do), "Gypsy Bob" Harper found God. An article about this "miracle" appeared in the September, 1930, issue of The Life Boat, at magazine devoted to "charitable, philanthropic, health and soul-winning work." The magazine and its parent organization, The Life Boat Mission, were founded by William S. Sadler.

Redemption is a wonderful thing, but I'd say it comes easier to those finally incarcerated at a prison from which, finally, they cannot escape. Also, the story that follows seems to have been written by someone who remained unaware of many relevant facts regarding "Gypsy Bob" Harper's youth. Seems to me Harper was responsible for at least five deaths. Reading this piece you might think those victims met a kinder fate than what awaited the person who helped take their lives.

Much of the article in The Life Boat was a reprint of one written by Elmer Houser in the Michigan Christian Advocate. What turned "Gypsy Bob" Harper around were letters from a Christian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Carlton, who had read an article about the convict. Included in that article was this line:

"He will be put in solitary and we will forget that there was ever a man lived whose name was 'Gypsy Bob.' "

We join this article at a point the Carltons express how the that one line affected them:

The Conversion of "Gypsy Bob"
"The Holy Spirit laid him so heavily upon our hearts (wife and I) that we wept over him in prayer for days until we wrote him a spirit-filled letter telling him of our interest and assuring him that he was the very one for whom Jesus died. Our first letter (he afterward told us) was crumpled in his hand and thrown on the floor. A second brought a tender reply thanking us for our kind words and a tender thought of him.

"For nearly five years we have written him weekly and prayed without ceasing until the Lord of glory came and brought comfort and peace."

[Elmer Houser, writing about the effect the Carltons had on Harper said:]

The conversion of "Gypsy Bob" proves there are no hopeless cases, none whom Jesus cannot save, if only God's people by prayer and faith and effort make the contacts which will bring the seeking Saviour and the desperate sinner together ...

"Gypsy Bob's" real name is Arthur R. Harper. His father was a drunkard, and when his two boys were quite small he left the mother and them, and never returned. The mother struggled on, but went violently insane and was confined in an asylum many years before she died. The boys came up somehow, under handicaps which did not promise much for their lives. In time they were separated, and the brothers did not for many years know of each other's existence.

Details are lacking regarding Arthur as he came into young manhood, but it appears that while there were some good influences in his early life, he took to drink and led a hectic career. At length he participated in a bank robbery, which resulted in his being sent to Jackson state prison for a term of years.

Just when and how he came to be called "Gypsy Bob" we are not told, but that became his soubriquet, by which he was thenceforth known.

While in Jackson prison "Gypsy Bob" got into a quarrel with a fellow prisoner, and killed him. Then he was sentenced for life and transferred to Marquette prison.

Finally "Gypsy Bob" reached the climax of his criminal record. In league with two or three other prisoners he made an attack upon the warden, who was so injured that he died, though it is said a heart trouble was responsible in part. That brought things to a crisis for "Gypsy Bob." He was placed in solitary confinement in "the dungeon," a terrible place with no light except through auger holes near the ceiling. Here, secluded from human kind; where he could hear no sound from the outside world, Gypsy Bob was doomed to spend the rest of his days, dead to the world and the world dead to him. He was left to brood alone over his broken life. And nobody cared! So it seemed.

God cared, and he "stirred up" some of his children to care. Something like five years ago the newspapers carried a story about Gypsy Bob and his solitary confinement in the dungeon at Marquette prison. The story fell under the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Carlton, a dear elderly Christian couple. Mrs. Carlton says she could not get Gypsy Bob out of her mind.

Prayerfully Mr. and Mrs. Carlton wrote a letter to Gypsy Bob. When the chaplain gave it to him, he read it, then in a rage tore it up and threw the pieces on the floor.

He himself afterwards said: "One day I received a letter from two dear earthly saints, who called me their friend, and they asked me, 'Did I ever pray?' What good would it do me to pray? Who to? Me, who was so bitter against the world. I cursed God and man for my misfortune. I could not help thinking of the irony of it. Me to pray?

"Then during the night as I lay awake on my hard bed, the thought came to my mind, 'Why not? You have tried everything else.' Then I thought, 'What would I say if I did pray?' I rolled and tossed and chafed, my body was racked with pain and I was about to give up in despair when I thought, 'Why not ask God to give you a hand?' and before I realized what I had done, I was kneeling on the stone floor, just having a friendly talk with God, and I told him, 'God be merciful to me and I will put forth every effort in me to forsake my wicked way and follow you.' I got into my bunk and went right to sleep, arose in the morning and thanked God for his mercy and the rest I had."

Mr. and Mrs. Carlton, not discouraged by Bob's reception of their first letter, continued to pray, and to write him, sending him tracts to read. Having "come to himself," he now appreciated the friendly interest, and wrote this grateful letter:

"Dear Friends: Your letter to our chaplain has been delivered to me, along with the tracts. God only knows how much I appreciate your kindness in remembering me in your prayers. I certainly need divine, spiritual help. I value a friend who wishes me well.

"I derived a great deal of consolation from the contents of your letter, I have read the tracts once, but intend to re-read them over again very carefully. God will surely reward your generous efforts. The chaplain had a long talk with me, and he seemed impressed with the sincerity of your letter, and advised me to write you acknowledging receipt of the tracts.

"Ycu can rest assured I will make an honest effort to profit by your good advice and message of good will. Thanking you for your kindness, I am, very gratefully yours, God bless and keep you."

This man, now a "prisoner of hope" and not of despair, has been removed from the dungeon and placed in a cell where he can look out on God's green earth, hear the birds sing and have contacts again with life.

Gypsy Bob is a man of some ability. He uses good English. He plays almost any instrument, is a good singer and was formerly a leader in prison choirs. Given a right start, his life would have been a success, instead of a ghastly failure. But Gypsy Bob, redeemed and saved, is a miracle of divine grace.

Finally I came across an interesting item about the history of the Fortune Lake Lutheran Bible Camp near Crystal Falls in Michigan's northern peninsula. The camp was the dream of a Bishop Page (no first name given) who perhaps had been a prison chaplain. In any event, he befriended "Gypsy Bob" Harper, who contributed money to build a cabin at the bible camp. This was in 1952, when Harper was about 70 years old. The camp history said Harper told Page that he wanted "to do something to help keep youngsters from the kind of life he had led."

Amen to that.

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