Fugitive at the Museum

October 24, 1950, started as a normal day at the Memphis Museum. Visitors explored the galleries and looked at exhibits of animal heads, glass, documents and fossils. One of those afternoon visitors was James Eddington who made a trip to the museum as part of his vacation to Memphis. Eddington lived in Kentucky and worked as the farm manager at the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange, KY. As he walked through the exhibits, he noticed another museum guest who looked familiar. He recognized the man as an escaped prisoner from the Kentucky Reformatory.

Chester Merrifield was serving prison time for robbery when he decided to make an escape. He had been in Memphis for a few days and struck up a “close friendship” with a Memphis businessman. The police elected to withhold the name of the “well known Memphian” who drove Merrifield to the museum. When Eddington recognized Merrifield, he called the police, who drove to the museum and arrested Merrifield as a fugitive. The warden of the Reformatory confirmed that he was a wanted escapee, and Eddington cut his vacation short to return Merrifield to LaGrange, KY.

Merrifield was later released from prison and resumed his life of crime. He was convicted of robbing an October 1952 Nashville society party. A witness said that Merrifield and his four accomplices robbed the sixty guests of their money and jewelry. The “Chester Merrifield Gang” got $75,000.00 in gems from the heist. Other victims of robberies in Indianapolis and Omaha testified about similar thefts. He was also convicted of killing Louisville policeman Alvin Keown in a 1953 altercation in a night club parking lot. He was executed in the electric chair on December 23, 1955.

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