Riot – 3/20/1973


DISCLAIMER: These articles are copies of the original articles that are reprinted in their entirety, any omissions or corrections are not the responsibility of the WVPenTours group.

Wheeling News-Register
March 20, 1973
At least two convicts were hospitalized and five guards at the West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville were being held hostage during a full-scale riot that broke out at the prison this morning.

There was a report from the prison shortly after noon that the rioting convicts threatened to shoot the five hostages if State Police or prison guards fired gunshots or tear gas at them.

A fire in the basement of the prison was reported to be burning out of control at 12:30 pm.

State Police armed with gas masks entered the Penitentiary and were stationed around the outside to block off streets to pedestrian and car traffic.

“They’re tearing hell out the place,” said Howard Riggs of 2 Kermit Ct., who lives at the southern tip of the Penitentiary.

At 10:30 am the convicts apparently set fire to the Penitentiary as Riggs reported he could see smoke coming from inside the walls. Moundsville City fire trucks were still inside the prison walls at noon but Riggs reported the smoke had subsided by that time.

Two of the three inmates taken to the Reynolds Memorial Hospital were reported suffering from stab wounds. There was no immediate report on their condition.

Penitentiary Warden William O. Wallace confirmed that five guards were being held hostage by the convicts but declined to reveal their identity until their families are notified.

Riggs said the rioting could easily be heard from outside the prison walls. “There was glass breaking and a lot of cussing and hollering. The convicts were hollering obscenities to people outside,” Riggs stated.

The first report of what triggered the riot was that a group of convicts overpowered a guard and took his keys to the solitary confinement section of the prison. There they released Bobby Gene Jarvis, the convict who has been indicted and is awaiting trial for the murder last October of prison guard, William Quilliams.

Another report was that a convict identified as Paul Ellis Davis, who has killed two inmates while confined to the Penitentiary, then released 17 other prisoners from confinement and these inmates then triggered the riot and eventually took five guards hostage.

A member of the construction crew, which was ordered away from the Penitentiary when the riot broke out, identified Davis. The construction crew was working on improvements at the prison. Prisoners from the maximum-security section of the prison were demanding to talk with a representative of Gov. Arch A. Moore, Jr.

Wallace said that Moore’s special assistant Norman Yost had left Charleston by helicopter at 11:30 am and was expected in Moundsville shortly after noon.

Wallace said that the men have not revealed their grievance but according to one report the riot began early this morning when a guard was taking a group of prisoners to the bath area and a prisoner identified only as Davis reportedly jumped a guard, and grabbed his keys.

The prisoners barricaded themselves in the maximum-security section of the prison and have threatened to kill the five hostages if any shots or tear-gas are fired into the area.

Tension mounted around the prison as Wallace, the State Police, guards and Marshall County Sheriff’s deputies wearing shields and hard hats brandished shotguns and rifles.

Traffic has been cordoned off around the prison, and smoke still poured from a south entrance on Jefferson Avenue at noon.

Spectators outside could see the smashed windows inside the prison.

It was estimated by officials that about 35 “hard-core” convicts were involved in the rioting and taking of the five hostages.

Approximately 170 law enforcement officers – state and local – were on the scene.

Wallace said the inmates in the prison had volunteered to try to extinguish the fire burning out of control in the prison basement, if guards would put a hose inside.

However, one guard said that only old clothing was stored in the burning section, but that it was impossible to determine how bad the fire was getting. At 12:30 pm prisoners began again to break windows in the prison.