The Escape From OSR that Touched America’s Heart

We have all heard stories of famous prison escapes from the Ohio State Reformatory; and the more famous they are, the more blood and bullets are spent in the narrative.

Here’s the OSR prison break story you never hear about; and yet it was, at the time, one of the most famous of all.  It didn’t survive into modern popular culture because there are no bullets or bodies; but when it was in the headlines across America during the Great Depression, it raised a rallying spirit of pride and hope that made large type on the front page.

Everybody was rooting for the guy who got away.

Risen From the Ranks

The story broke in August of 1933, when a Chicago cop strode into the headquarters office of a nationally prominent paint company, and clapped the handcuffs on a 25 year old advertising executive.

The name painted on the door of his office said J. Paul Faraday, and he was the national manager for Reardon Company’s advertising department.

His real name was Paul Maxim.  He grew up in Youngstown; got caught stealing typewriters as a 19 year old; and pulled down a sentence of 1-15 years at the Ohio State Reformatory.  That happened in 1927, and he was shipped to Mansfield in February.  He exhibited such sterling qualities of citizenship and good behavior however, that by November he was sent out to a prisoners’ Honor Farm.

In December, he quietly walked away from the farm and was never seen again…until six years later when he was arrested wearing a tie in a seersucker suit, climbing well up the ladder of Corporate America.

This is the first AP photo released to US newspapers from the Chicago Bureau dated August 5, 1933, titled, FACES RETURN TO PRISON.

Making His Way

There is a little love twist to this tale that undoubtedly gave it enough soap opera heart to catch the sympathies of the US audience on radio and newspaper.

Paul fell for a young woman in Chicago; a nurse whose upwardly mobile income paralleled his own, enough that they were seriously ready to join forces and embark into the Great American Family.  But Paul was an honest guy at heart, and in the interest of pre-nuptial full disclosure, he confessed to Margaret Ann that he had a record and he was probably still on 6-year old wanted posters.

Margaret Ann never spoke to him again.

Eight months later, Paul called her to make an attempt at reconciliation, but it was her new boyfriend who answered the phone.  Within 24 hours after that heated conversation, Paul was back in the tank; six years after he had gotten out of it.

Struggling Upward

Naturally, all the reporters kept drilling into Paul’s story.  They wanted to know where he was for six years.

The tale he told, as it was revealed incrementally in the newspapers of America, was straight out of a classic Rags-to-Riches novel.

It was his unlikely success story that resonated through the country in 1933: when a quarter of the nation’s work force was sliding dangerously, and struggling to catch a foothold.

When Paul escaped his Mansfield penal engagement, he hopped an eastbound train and found a job washing dishes in Pittsburgh.  He felt he had higher potential than that however, so he hitchhiked to Canton and started working in a Timken factory.  Timken sent him to Detroit, and after a few months he crossed the street to an automobile manufacturer, to apply for a better paying position in their advertising division.

When he reached the limit of his upward opportunities in Detroit, he hopped a train to LA and started working advertising for a paint company; attending classes at night.  His employers at The Reardon Co. could see he was serious about advancing his education, so they transferred him to St. Louis where he could take classes at Washington University.

Within five years of walking away from prison, he was promoted to Chicago to be in charge of the paint company’s national advertising office.

Facing the World

That entire 1930s generation of readers and radio listeners had grown up on the inspirational stories of determination, grit and Capitalism with titles like Bound to Rise; Strive and Succeed; Helping Himself; and Forging Ahead.

When they read about the kid in the newspapers who had actually Dared to Dash and, against all odds, Proved his Pluck; they saw him as a hero, and their hearts went out to him.

The “Luck and Pluck” inspirational books of Horatio Alger were written between 1868 and 1899, but they were perennial classics reissued in every decade.  

On August 8, Paul Maxim, AKA J. Paul Faraday, was escorted back inside the walls of the Reformatory in Mansfield.  He traded in his tie and his seersucker suit for a gray shirt, and blue denim trousers.

In the next ten days, the prison warden, the local State Representatives, the Congressmen, Senators and Governor of Ohio, were inundated with phone calls, letters, radio pleas, telegrams and postcards that all said the same thing: give the guy a break.

It is remarkable how this OSR fugitive caught the public imagination.  His story was in newspapers coast to coast, carried by the Associated Press, and they all had the Mansfield dateline.  And when the editor of the Mansfield News-Journal voiced his sentiments in an open letter to Paul Maxim in prison, newspapers all over America quoted him, “There is no “freedom” for the person haunted by a feeling of guilt.”

August 10, 1933 news clipping from Louisiana.

Sink or Swim

Life in prison is a tedious prospect under the best circumstances; and it is a subject that is never too cheery or uplifting.  Life in prison after being reformed, is utterly demoralizing.

Reporters came to Mansfield to interview Maxim inside the walls, and what he had to say was bleak and disheartening.  “When I was alone for the first time in six years behind prison walls, and heard that bugle call for lights-out; I had a feeling of my life crashing down about my ears.  There are more than 3,000 other men behind these walls marking time until they can be released, and even my friends will forget I am here.”

His words went out on the radio, and it only fueled the national distress for the kid.

According to the law, Paul had to serve a year before he was eligible for parole.  His case could not even be taken before the parole board for three months.

Reporters tried to grease the axles of justice by traveling to see Paul’s boss in Chicago; and the owner of the company offered to send his attorneys to Mansfield if it would fish Paul out of the system.  He assured the American reading public that Paul had a desk waiting for him if the penal authorities would let him come back to work.

So you can imagine that the headlines were front page news on August 15—a mere week after Paul got his new inmate number—when the Governor of Ohio summoned Paul to Columbus.

There wasn’t a lot of hope in America in 1933; but when the Governor pardoned Paul Maxim so he could go back to work, the country took it as a sign of victory for the better angels of our nature, and a harbinger of hope that the national crisis was going to work out all right.

August 16, 1933 news clipping from Colorado.

Work & Win

After having blitzed the media for ten days in August, the story was finished and there was really no afterglow because reporters went on to the next big thing, as they always do.

We know Paul went back to work and, true to his word, his boss welcomed him back.  They scraped his name, J. Paul Faraday, off the glass of the door to his office, and painted on his new/old name: Paul Maxim.

We know he had promotions in the next years by the paperwork that traces him to South America on behalf of his company; and to Washington DC where he and his wife mailed their Christmas cards.

But after that there is no more word.  The nation changed in the 1930s; it changed more in the 40s; and no one ever particularly wants to look back and remember hard times.

There is a certain poetic irony connecting this story of the Reformatory from 1933 to today when it is known as the ‘Haunted’ Reformatory.  In 1933, when the prison was in full vigor, that is exactly the word that reporters used when describing Paul Maxim in his years as a fugitive: how, in his freedom, he was haunted by the Reformatory.



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