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Eleven Days in Hell

The 1974 Carrasco Prison Siege at Huntsville, Texas

William T. Harper

Publication Year: 2004

From one o’clock on the afternoon of July 24, 1974, until shortly before ten o’clock the night of August 3, eleven days later, one of the longest hostage-taking sieges in the history of the United States took place in Texas’s Huntsville State Prison. The ringleader, Federico (Fred) Gomez Carrasco, the former boss of the largest drug-running operation in south Texas, was serving life for assault with intent to commit murder on a police officer. Using his connections to smuggle guns and ammunition into the prison, and employing the aid of two other inmates, he took eleven prison workers and four inmates hostage in the prison library. Demanding bulletproof helmets and vests, he planned to use the hostages as shields for his escape. Negotiations began immediately with prison warden H. H. Husbands and W. J. Estelle, Jr., Director of the Texas Department of Corrections. The Texas Rangers, the Department of Public Safety, and the FBI arrived to assist as the media descended on Huntsville. When one of the hostages suggested a moving structure of chalkboards padded with law books to absorb bullets, Carrasco agreed to the plan. The captors entered their escape pod with four hostages and secured eight others to the moving barricade. While the target was en route to an armored car, Estelle had his team blast it with fire hoses. In a violent end to the standoff, Carrasco committed suicide, one of his two accomplices was killed (the other later executed), and two hostages were killed by their captors.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Contents

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pp. vii-

Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiii

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Introduction

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pp. 1-2

"From one o’clock on the white-hot afternoon of July 24, 1974, until shortly before ten o’clock on the balmy, moonlit night of August 3, 1974, it was—without a doubt—eleven days in hell inside the Walls Unit of the Huntsville State Prison in east Texas. It was hell for the eleven civilians held captive and subjected to..."

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One—“Stop right there or I’ll kill you!”

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pp. 3-13

"Ronald (Ron) Wayne Robinson kept looking at his watch, anxious to get home for his daughter Sheryle’s eleventh birthday party that night. Aline V. House was kicking herself for forgetting to bring her bloodpressure medication to work. Bobby G. Heard kept..."

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Two—“Let’s get the hell out of here.”

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pp. 14-24

"The Texas Legislature created the Windham School District in the Texas Department of Corrections in 1968. It was subject to the certification requirements and regulations of the Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education. Its purpose was to..."

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Three—“There’s a man up here with a gun.”

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pp. 25-33

"Joseph John O’Brien was born June 20, 1928, behind Chicago’s famous stockyards. The youngest of three children, with a brother and a sister, he was the first of the Irish family to be born in the United States. Their mother emigrated from Donegal and their father from..."

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Four—“Fred, what the hell are you doing?”

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pp. 34-42

"After ordering all but the most essential civilian employees out of the Walls and clearing the yards and inside compound of all inmates by returning them..."

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Five—“I’m scared and sick, just sick.”

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pp. 43-50

"In the first hour of the takeover, Carrasco instructed the hostage inmates to build a barricade inside the educational complex doorway. File cabinets, tables, and portable shelves were moved in front of the glass..."

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Six—“Put down your arms and surrender safely.”

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pp. 51-59

"Montemayor’s contact with Carrasco seemed to bring progress. Carrasco assured him that if the authorities did not “charge me, the hostages will be safe.”1 A hand-written message from Estelle was sent to the..."

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Seven—“He will kill those people.”

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pp. 60-71

"Somewhere around one o’clock on Thursday morning, Father O’Brien made his last trip to the prison library. Fred Carrasco offered to let him sleep at home, “Or, if he wants to sleep here, it’s up to him.”1 O’Brien..."

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Eight—“My God! They’ve shot Mr. Robinson.”

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pp. 72-84

"It was somewhere around seven o’clock on Thursday morning when Warden Husbands received the next telephone call from the library. “Some of the hostages,” he recalled, “said Carrasco was going to kill them if..."

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Nine—“We die a million deaths.”

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pp. 85-100

"At one point on Thursdau, things started looking up-somewhat. Tables were set up in the center of the library forming a dining area and the hostages ate the food the TDC sent up in short-lived comfort. They..."

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Ten—“You play the cards you’re dealt.”

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pp. 101-114

"Meanwhile, Fred Carrasco had a new reason to get nervous. Jim Estelle recalls the arrival of some unexpected guests. “Here comes a whole half-dozen of these big Hueys, an Army convoy of helicopters going on..."

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Eleven—“We have more time.”

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pp. 115-121

"That meal must have totally satiated Fred Carrasco and induced some sort of temporary amnesia. Amazingly and inexplicably, there was neither further conversation nor demands for weapons nor..."

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Twelve—“If you want to come, just come ahead.”

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pp. 137-130

"The morning sun bolted out of the swamps of western Louisiana, its rays slid across the Sabina River and spiked through the Piney Woods or East Texas. Another scorcher was on its way. The sun's..."

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Thirteen—“We will assassinate everyone!”

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pp. 131-142

"With their intelligence-gathering system in place, the Command POst returned to the task of formulating a plan for entering the library with an attack team, if necessary. No thought, scheme, nor concept, was rejected out of hand, no matter how far out of the box it might seem to be. Some ideas..."

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Fourteen—“We will kill as many people as possible.”

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pp. 143-156

"Federico Gomez Carrasco’s moods were hard for those in the Command Post to predict. On several occasions, TDC Director Estelle made, or authorized lawyer Ruben Montemayor to make, offers to Carrasco that..."

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Fifteen—“You don’t treat women that way.”

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pp. 157-170

"In the early morning hours of Saturday, Aline House— awake because of a painful back ache from sleeping on the library floor—saw some strange goings on in the room. Even at that hour, it was not dark in the..."

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Sixteen—“I have the four aces and the joker.”

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pp. 171-187

Fred Carrasco's two-day media scheme met with Estelle's approval, in spite of the many things the frantic and misguided hostages told the reporters, some highly critical of him and the Texas Department..."

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Seventeen—“I’m going out of here, whether it’s alive or dead.”

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pp. 188-206

"On Sunday, July 28, 1974, the NBC-TV Sunday Evening News broadcast with Floyd Kalber anchoring from New York City, the President Nixon impeachment story got prominent billing. Four of the..."

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Eighteen—“Get ready because we’re going to start killing!”

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pp. 207-220

"Henry Escamilla, less than two weeks away from his forty-first birthday, was a San Antonian serving five years on a shoplifting conviction. As a volunteer hostage, he sat almost completely silent throughout..."

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Nineteen—“I could have grabbed his gun.”

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pp. 221-231

"Once again, Carrasco demanded to talk to Estelle. 'Yes or No. Are you going to send me the bulletproof vests?'1 Firmly, Estelle answered, 'No. There will be no body armor. You’ve got all the firepower you need to..."

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Twenty—“Meet my demands or prepare for war.”

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pp. 232-243

"In Huntsville, Texas, the morning sun rose at 5:38 a.m. on Tuesday, July 30, 1974—the Seventh Day in Hell for the hostages inside the Walls Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections. Satan himself was..."

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Twenty-one—“I’m the executioner.”

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pp. 244-253

"Week One of the Eleven Days in Hell would end at one o’clock as this eighth day and second week of horror began for the hostages. Federico Carrasco was contacted on Wednesday morning five minutes after his eight o’clock deadline..."

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Twenty-two—“I demand that an armored truck be waiting.”

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pp. 254-263

"In eight days, newly-installed President Gerald R. Ford would say, 'The long nightmare is over.' That may have been true for many of the people of the United States of America following the resignation of..."

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Twenty-three—“If he’d only send out Linda Woodman.”

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pp. 264-275

"During the preceding days of the siege, there were innumerable moments of panic for the hostages, but for Linda Woodman, the start of the tenth day was far more terrifying than anything she had been subjected..."

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Twenty-four—“I’ll see y’all soon.”

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pp. 276-286

"Of the original fifteen civilian and inmate hostages, twelve remained on Saturday, the third day of August. After Glennon Johnson’s departure following a medical emergency, Father Joseph O’Brien had..."

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Twenty-five—“It’s Over.”

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pp. 287-296

"Other than the horrible, deafening screech of the cart’s overburdened plastic wheels, everything went well through the first three right-angle turns, except for some confusion when Quiroz gave steering directions..."

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Epilogue

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pp. 297-302

"On August 3, 1999, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the final day of the siege, the educational complex at the Walls Unit was renamed the Beseda-Standley Building. It had been extensively remodeled, with exits from both the north and south ends, and fire escapes added. Fitting commemorative ceremonies were held along with some tearful reunions..."

Citations and Notes

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pp. 303-330

Bibliography

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pp. 331-333

Index

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pp. 335-346


E-ISBN-13: 9781574414097
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574411805

Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 40 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Crime and Criminal Justice Series

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Carrasco, Fred, d. 1974.
  • Prison riots -- Texas -- Huntsville.
  • Hostage negotiations -- Texas -- Huntsville.
  • Texas. State Penitentiary at Huntsville.
  • Prison violence -- Texas -- Huntsville.
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