Probasco-Sowers gives presentation on Tommy Young

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Juli Probasco-Sowers, longtime local journalist, gave a presentation on the life of Perry's Tommy Young at the Carnegie Library and Museum Sunday.

Describing the late Tommy Young as a “colorful character” longtime local journalist Juli Probasco-Sowers gave

The lower meeting room of the Carnegie Library and Museum was nearly filled to capacity Sunday as relatives, former friends and associates and a smattering of the curious gathered to hear tales of the adventurous life of the late Tommy Young of Perry.

Longtime local journalist Juli Probasco-Sowers offered a nearly hour-long presentation, in which she described Young as a “colorful character” and as a man of “truly many talents, not all of which kept him out of trouble with the law.”

Young was born in Colfax, Iowa on April 22, 1918, the second child among seven brothers and a sister. His parents, Annis and Anna, eventually moved the family to the coal-camp settlement of Moran, southeast of Woodward.

Described as a man with little formal education but a very high IQ, Young was a businessman who was known to wrestle a pet bear. He a self-taught pilot, he was a petty criminal believed to have associations with Chicago gangsters, especially after small-time thievery became repetitive larceny on a grand scale.

Probasco-Sowers discussed Young’s rough-and-tumble childhood, which included a stint at the Eldora Boys Training School, where he had been sent for “delinquency.”

Members of the Tommy Young family present at Sunday's presentation at the Carnegie Library and Museum included, from left, daughter Maggie Ann and grandson Eli Thomas Young, his widow, Jean, niece Elly May and granddaughter Mikayla Mash.
Members of the Tommy Young family present at Sunday’s presentation at the Carnegie Library and Museum included, from left, daughter Maggie Ann and grandson Eli Thomas Young, his widow, Jean, niece Elly May and granddaughter Mikayla Mash.

Well-known among law enforcement circles for his safe-cracking abilities and his penchant to escape, Young was eventually placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list after a crime spree that lasted much of 1951 and 1952.

While Young was know to have a temper, none of his crimes included physically injuring others even though he was almost always armed and was known to have possessed numerous firearms.

One of the more infamous stories involving Young revolves around his attempt to smuggle a hacksaw blade and hand-crafted key (with which to unlock handcuffs and shackles) inside his person while being transferred to a jail in Colorado.

He was sent to Leavenworth penitentiary on November 30, 1952 and in October of 1954 was transferred to Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. When the prison closed on 1963, Young was one of the last group of 27 prisoners to be moved from the infamous site.

Young eventually returned to Perry as a free man, and once here operated a junk yard.

“There are large gaps in his story,” Probasco-Sowers said. “I had to file several Freedom of Information briefs with the FBI to learn what I now know, but even though those files are quite old, there are whole sections that are still blacked-out.”

Probasco-Sowers said she was at first interested in possibly writing a biography of Young, but “there are just too many holes, and that is why I will probably go the route of writing a historical novel” she explained.

Much more information will need to be gathered, she said, before she can begin work in earnest.

The annals of Perry's criminal history and the lawbreakers who peopled it are on display now through May 23 at the Carnegie Library Museum in Perry.
The annals of Perry’s criminal history and the lawbreakers who peopled it are on display now through May 23 at the Carnegie Library Museum in Perry.

“I am still in the process of collecting anecdotes and memories from those who knew him well once he returned to Perry,” she told the crowd. “I want to encourage anyone who has any information to feel free about stepping forward and sharing it.”

The seedy side of Perry’s history is currently on display in the Carnegie Library Museum in Perry. The exhibition, “Nefarious Perry” will be available for public viewing through May 23 and includes newspaper clippings and other artifacts detailing a sometimes sordid portion of Perry’s history.

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