Leavenworth Train: A Fugitive's Search for Justice in the Vanishing West

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9780786710607: Leavenworth Train: A Fugitive's Search for Justice in the Vanishing West

For twenty-four years Frank Grigware ran from the law. Convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced in 1909 to life in Leavenworth, America’s first federal penitentiary, Grigware joined five other inmates in a daring escape. The six men hijacked a supply train and rammed it through the prison’s west gate. Investigative journalist Joe Jackson, four-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and 2002 Edgar Award nominee for Best Fact Crime book, follows a young, guileless Grigware in a journey not to fabulous adventure in America’s legendary West but rather to an ill-fated association with train robbers—and to his arrest and soon, imprisonment. Five months later, Grigware would be journeying again, this time in desperate flight across the Canadian border to a new life as a husband, father, and mayor. Grigware’s story is also the story of the Pinkerton detective agency and of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which sought Grigware through the 1920s and ’30s. It culminates in a meticulously documented, revealing examination of criminal justice in two nations, when Grigware is apprehended by Canadian Mounties and the Canadian government refuses to extradite to the United States “the sort of man we want settling our land”—with results more surprising than fiction. Eight pages of photographs complete this tale of America's most elusive fugitive. “A journalistic meditation on frustrated fantasies, crime, punishment, justice and absolution.... Absorbing.... Meticulously documented.”—Washington Post “Gripping.”—The Economist

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Review:

Renowned for violence and lawlessness, the American frontier was in reality a safe and orderly region, at least by 19th-century standards. Alcoholism and suicide were persistent troubles, and, to be sure, the occasional murder or crime against property troubled the populace. Still, such things did not happen often, and when they did, justice was swift and punishment severe.

Frank Grigware, the protagonist of Joe Jackson's swift-moving Leavenworth Train, learned all this the hard way. Not particularly bright, plagued by hard luck, the young man devoted himself to petty thievery, scratching out a dishonest living in the rough mining towns of the Northwest. His fortunes turned still worse when he fell into the company of a gang of suspected train robbers. Charged as an accomplice to their crimes on what Jackson considers to be less than solid evidence, he was packed off to the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary to serve a long sentence. He didn't remain behind bars for long, however. He and three fellow convicts escaped by hijacking a supply train, and Grigware kept running until he reached Canada, where he took up residence and lived out a long life. His identity was eventually revealed, and American officials--among them J. Edgar Hoover--demanded to have him returned.

To reveal who won would spoil Jackson's story. In telling it, Jackson relies heavily on imagined dialogue, and his prose is sometimes overly mannered ("instead of a cave of gold, they found a grimy cell," "everyone danced Death's crazy reel"). Still, his tale is full of unlikely twists that keep it moving along nicely, and fans of Western history and true crime alike will enjoy reading it. --Gregory McNamee

From the Publisher:

LEAVENWORTH TRAIN has been nominated for the 2002 Edgar Awards in the category of Best Fact Crime.

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