Henri Theodore Young (born June 20, 1911 – missing since 1972) was a convicted bank robber and murderer who, while serving one of a series of prison terms, attempted a 1939 escape from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary with four other inmates. During the escape attempt two inmates were shot, and one died of his wounds. All surviving were quickly recaptured. Two, Young and Rufus McCain, received sentences of solitary confinement and served them at Alcatraz for a period of three years (until autumn of 1942). 11 days after re-entering the Alcatraz general prison population, Young murdered fellow escapee McCain. No apparent motive was ever disclosed. Young's defense put Alcatraz and the penal system on trial, leading to questions about how the prison was run. In 1948, Young was transferred from Alcatraz to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, Springfield, Missouri. He was later transferred to Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla upon completion of his federal sentence to begin a life sentence for the 1933 murder conviction.
Young "jumped parole" in 1972 after release from Walla Walla, with his stated whereabouts reported as "unknown". Were he still alive in 2019, he would be 108 years old. Young is perhaps best known in relation to the fictionalized character of the same name appearing in the 1995 film Murder in the First, in which he was portrayed by Kevin Bacon. The story of Henri Young is also the subject of the song "Behind the Eyes of Henri Young" featured on the 2017 album "Dragonfly", by Australian singer Kasey Chambers.
Young was born in Kansas City, Missouri on June 20, 1911. He became a bank robber and was known for aggressively taking hostages. In 1933, he was convicted of murder. After spending time in prisons in Washington state and Montana, he was sent to the federal prison on Alcatraz Island. On the night of January 13, 1939, Young, with prisoners Rufus McCain, Arthur Barker, Dale Stamphill, and William Martin, attempted to escape. Martin, Young, and McCain surrendered, while Barker and Stamphill refused to surrender and were subsequently shot. Barker eventually died from his injuries.
At his trial for McCain's murder, Young and his attorney argued that the harsh system at Alcatraz had brutalized and dehumanized him. According to the San Francisco Examiner, "Emphasis which [the defense] repeatedly laid on the fact that Young was in isolation or solitary confinement for more than three years—and that he drove his knife into McCain's abdomen just eleven days after release from such confinement, made it clear that the defense hopes to show not only that Young was 'punch drunk' but that the punches were administered by the Alcatraz 'system'", where both of the historical assertions were inaccurate.
Describing conditions in solitary confinement, Young stated:
Its size was approximately that of a regular cell-9 feet by 5 feet by about 7 feet high. I could just touch the ceiling by stretching out my arm ... You are stripped nude and pushed into the cell. Guards take your clothes and go over them minutely for what few grains of tobacco may have fallen into the cuffs or pockets. There is no soap. No tobacco. No toothbrush, The smell - well you can describe it only by the word 'stink.' It is like stepping into a sewer. It is nauseating. After they have searched your clothing, they throw it at you. For bedding, you get two blankets, around 5 in the evening. You have no shoes, no bed, no mattress-nothing but the four damp walls and two blankets. The walls are painted black. Once a day I got three slices of bread-no-that is an error. Some days I got four slices. I got one meal in five days, and nothing but bread in between. In the entire thirteen days I was there, I got two meals ... I have seen but one man get a bath in solitary confinement, in all the time that I have been there. That man had a bucket of cold water thrown over him.— Young testifying as to his experiences in "The Hole" at Alcatraz during his 1941 trial.
In 1954 Young was transferred to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla to begin a life sentence for the murder conviction in 1933. He was released from Washington State Penitentiary in 1972, at age 61; he "jumped parole and, according to Washington State authorities, his whereabouts are unknown." Thus, there are no further records from Young.
Historicity of film adaptation
The film Murder in the First (1995) presents Young as being arrested for stealing $5 in order to feed himself and his younger sister. It depicts that he was tortured after his escape attempt, that he killed McCain in the cafeteria immediately after his return to the general population, and that he was found dead in his prison cell in 1942 just before his appeal with the word "victory" on the wall. As noted above, Young had a prior murder conviction before arriving at Alcatraz (and indeed went on to leave Alcatraz, to serve the remainder of that murder sentence later in life).