When security staff got to the truck being used by 10 inmates attempting to escape from Stateville on November 24, 1944, they found Correctional Officer Zoeth Skaggs, a 14 year veteran at the prison, was taken hostage by the "desperadoes," and an inmate, both lying in a pool of blood in the cab. Skaggs died about one and one-half hours after the daring 9:00 AM try for freedom. Edward Rabbis, found in the cab with Skaggs, died around 10:35 PM that evening.
The escape attempt started in the furniture factory or the coal division when the escaping inmates overpowered guards. They made a makeshift ladder, which may have been too short for the 32 foot high fence surrounding the prison, and stole the truck. They raced the truck to tower 12 at the southeast corner of the prison and laid the ladder on the wall. Guard John Albert, who manned the tower that day, challenged the inmates. "We are coming up to fix the searchlight," they replied. Albert said the light was never repaired from the inside and ordered them to stop. The inmates did not and Albert opened fire as the inmates threw bottles of burning gasoline at the gun tower. About that time, other tower guards were alerted that an escape attempt was under way and they also fired on the inmates.
Approsimately 25 rounds ere fired during the five minutes of the attempted escape. Two of the inmates involved in the escape attempt - William Steward and Mathew Nelson - had previously participated in an escape at Stateville with Roger "The Terrible" Touhy
Approximately 25 rounds were fired during the five minutes of the attempted escape. Two of the inmates involved in the escape attempt——William Stewart and Mathew Nelson——had previously participated in an escape at Stateville with Roger “The Terrible” Touhy and members of his gang on October 9, 1942. Their freedom ended with capture in December. They had 199 years added to their sentences as a result of that escape. Inmates Chester Seborowski Major Price and Tony Falbo were also shot during the escape attempt. The other four inmates named by officers as participants in the escape were Walter Ferguson, Paul Jenkot, Herman Copples and James McDonald. The bullets that killed Skaggs were fired by the tower officers. As a result, the inmates could not be charged with killing him. However they were all convicted of attempted escape. Skaggs, 53, was survived by his wife and four sons. According to the Joliet paper, “Warden (Joe) Ragen described Skaggs as one of the most loyal and courageous men. The warden was overcome by grief and wept before calling Governor Dwight Green to report the tragedy. Prior to his employment as a guard, Skaggs was a school teacher in Marion.”