Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles on the Oscar Sommerer family of the Honey Creek area.
An afternoon in late May 1960 on his parents’ farm near Honey Creek should have been an opportunity for 10-year-old George Sommerer to quietly flip through the worn pages of his Lone Ranger comics, dreaming of the thrill of the Old West. . As he lay down for a nap, he never could have imagined waking up to an event that landed his family in the pages of dozens of newspapers and a renowned national magazine.
David Parrish and Cecil Lillibridge were inmates being held at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, both for armed robbery. On May 22, 1960, they overpowered a guard and tied him up, then used his uniform and a prison vehicle to get out the front door and reach the promise of freedom.
“They tried to stay off the main roads, but they got onto Highway 54,” George Sommerer said. “They turned onto our road (now Cassidy Road south of Jefferson City), not realizing it was a dead end with our house at the end of the road.”
Bluntly, he added: “Back then, it seemed like someone escaped from the penitentiary every month or so.”
Sommerer’s 22-year-old brother, Floyd, had been out squirrel hunting earlier that day and returned home leaving his rifles behind. Shortly after, there was a knock at the front door.
“When my brother opened the door, one of the convicts pulled a knife on him and they struggled a little bit,” Sommerer said, “my grandmother started screaming and then the other convict ran out of the car and threw my brother upside down on his head, which stunned him, and they were able to tie him up.”
Quickly grabbing the rifles his brother had placed in plain view, the convicts now had the upper hand. Soon, they moved the prison car into one of the farm’s garages because they believed they would continue their escape under cover of darkness and didn’t want to be seen by planes.
“When my dad got home, they tied him up too,” Sommerer said. “My mother worked at a nearby truck stop, and when she came home to help my father milk, she was tied up too.”
The escapees were told that Sommerer’s older sister was also working at the truck stop. When they found out that her mother was scheduled to return to work a little later, they realized someone might come looking for her if she didn’t show up for her shift. The escapees made the abrupt decision to leave Sommerer Farm earlier than initially planned.
“I was in my room and they finally woke me up and asked if I had been playing possum,” Sommerer said. “I told them that she had been keeping her eyes closed but that she was listening to what was going on.”
He continued: “I remember one of the convicts being nice and the other a bit mean. Also, I can remember them saying they were treated like dogs in the penitentiary.
“One of them only had about six months left on this sentence and the other about a year, I was later told.”
Preparing to embark on the next part of their escape, the convicts, after spending about three hours in the house, made sure the adults were safe. They then took 10-year-old Sommerer into one of the rooms, sat him on the edge of the bed and bound his hands and feet with strips of cloth.
They removed parts from the engines of the vehicles at Sommerer’s home to prevent anyone from chasing them, then prepared to leave. That’s when a couple of unexpected guests arrived.
“Elbert and Mary Strobel lived in Jefferson City but had a farm across the street,” Sommerer said. “They were visiting the farm on weekends and decided to drop by our house for a visit, which is when the convicts kidnapped them.”
Sommerer continued, “They asked Elbert (Strobel) if he had any money, and he said he only had a few dollars. They took his wallet and found a $100 bill hidden behind some stuff and that angered one of the inmates.”
Pausing, she added: “He said, ‘You lied to us!’ Then he put a gun to his (Elbert’s) head and I didn’t know if he was going to shoot him.”
The situation calmed down and the Strobels, along with the Sommerer family, were also taken to a room and bound with strips of cloth. One of the escapees was concerned that tying the hands of Sommerer’s 72-year-old grandmother might cut off her circulation, so they placed her on a pillow in the latrine and secured her door to prevent her from escaping from it. .
They then stole the 1954 Chevy owned by Sommerer’s brother, Floyd, as it was less likely to be noticed by police. Before leaving, they changed into some of Sommerer’s father’s clothes and decided to take her neighbor, Mrs. Mary Strobel, hostage.
“They left around 6 in the afternoon, after being in the house for about three hours,” he said. “In their haste, they forgot to cut the phone line, but since we were all tied up and tied down, there was no way we could call for help anyway.”
“But while I was sitting on the bed, tied up, I noticed a coat hanger and my mom’s sewing box… and that gave me an idea to let go,” he added with a smile.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.