Most Creative Use of a Canary


Abe Buzzard was rarely free as a bird. Long before the Birdman of Alcatraz there was the Buzzard Gang. Notorious in the Welsh Mountains and throughout Lancaster County for their extensive crime sprees, the gang – comprised of the six Buzzard brothers – spent an inordinate amount of time in jail. On October 10, 1883, three of the brothers – Abe, Ike, and Joe – performed one of, if not the most, creative jailbreaks in the history of Lancaster County Prison. And it involved a canary!

It was a routine evening at the county prison. Ike and Joe Buzzard were sharing a cell across the way from their older brother Abe. All three were serving various amounts of time for various charges of thievery. Only two guards were on duty that night – Amos Lutz and Edward Sample. Sample was busy getting a haircut from inmate Billy Weider, a known Buzzard associate. Lutz was making the rounds.

When Lutz came upon the cell of Ike and Joe Buzzard, Ike asked if he would pass one of his caged canaries over to his brother Abe. Lutz unlocked the cell and took the cage, then unlocked Abe’s cell to hand off the canary. Before he know what was happening, Ike rushed Lutz, stole his keys and locked him in Abe’s cell. Ike then proceeded to free several other prisoners who helped themselves to various weapons and clothing stored by guards in cell number 9. The other watchman, Edward Sample, was locked in with inmate Weider.

Ike then went back to Abe’s cell, “they called for Abe to come out and when Lutz came forward, the muzzles of several guns and revolvers were thrust in his face and he was threatened with death in case he attempted to get out,” according to the Daily Intelligencer newspaper on October 14, 1883. Joe Buzzard, oddly enough, opted to stay behind because he only had a few more months left on his sentence.

Bruno the dog in front of the bell in the prison yard.
Image of Bruno posing in front of the bell at the prison.

When the band of prisoners made it to the prison yard, they were met by Bruno, Prisonkeeper Burkholder’s dog. Sadly, little Bruno was beaten and left behind as the group made their escape through the Orange Street gate. Though he put up a brave fight, Bruno died two weeks later, the only casualty of the escape.

In total, 12 men escaped that night including Abe and Ike Buzzard and notorious one-eyed horse thief John Frankfort. Seven of the men were eventually recaptured, including Ike and Abe. Ike made it all the way to Davenport, Iowa before he was arrested in July of 1884. Abe became the star fugitive, with a reward of $1,000 posted for his return. He turned himself in on June 3, 1885, probably so no one could collect the reward.

Abe and Ike were transferred to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary in December of 1885 where they served out their sentences. It wouldn’t be their last stay in the pokey, but they never tried to break out again. No word on the canary’s whereabouts, though.

From PhotoBlog