McVey routinely applied for mitigation of his sentence, and was routinely denied. In August 1918, while one such application was under consideration, McVey escaped from prison. McVey and another prisoner, Abdula Ali, walked away from work outside the prison walls. Both men were at large from Wednesday until Friday August 16, 1918, when they were caught separately. Ali was spotted in a “canyon near Hoytsville, south of Coalville…. [he] was soon overtaken and surrendered without a word.” McVey was also taken peacefully several hours later. He was found “in Silver Creek canyon, three miles west of Wanship, thirteen miles southwest of Coalville.” Though McVey surrendered without protest he, as colorful as always, later declared “that had he been armed he would not have been taken alive.” On a side note, Ali was also serving a life sentence for murder. In 1919, Ali applied for release after another man confessed to the crime Ali was doing time for.
You might think after the escape attempt that prison officials would never consider McVey’s release, but you would be wrong: not only did they consider it – they released him just two years later. McVey claimed to be reformed by a surgery to his brain he underwent while in prison. According to the Salt Lake Telegram, McVey was consistently in a bad mood and suffered headaches. This could be explained by the fact that he was in prison, but doctors thought there might be another explanation and while examining his skull found a depression. According to one report, the dent in McVey’s head was the result of an altercation with a prison guard in Nevada. The doctors operated on his skull and his personality seemed to shift noticeably; he became amiable and obedient. The doctors, Dr. Beatty and Dr. L.F. Hummer, watched McVey closely for the next two years and believed the changes were genuine and that McVey had been “cured of his evil tendencies.” Therefore the Board of Pardons commuted his sentence and he headed to Texas to visit his mother.
While prison doctors had high hopes for McVey’s rehabilitation, he proved how ineffective the operation was just one year later. In December of 1921, California police contacted Utah authorities with the information that McVey, aka Bakersfield Slim, was wanted there for blowing a bank safe.
The last word on McVey appeared in a California paper in 1924. According to the moralizing reporter, McVey was an example of what happened to people who choose a life a crime. McVey is described as “One of the finest safe crackers the west has ever known…. The touch of his fingers can yet send a thrill of anticipation through the combination of any safe. And yet, Bakersfield Slim is a broken man. Two-thirds of the years he has been on this earth have been spent behind prison bars in cities throughout western United States and they have left their mark. Doctors say he will not live long. Prison life ruined his lungs…. There is no home for indigent safe crackers but during the Spanish-American War Slim ‘did his bit’ and fought like a man. So his last days are being made comfortable in a soldiers’ home.” He was 45 years old.
Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith, Archivist, Salt Lake County Archives.
Ogden Standard, 1918-8-17, Convicts Caught near Coalville
Salt Lake Herald, 1919-2-14, Absolved of Crime Ali Seeks Freedom It is unclear if Ali was released, though it is likely.
The Deseret News, 1920-5-18, M’Vey is Liberated by Board of Pardons, Story also covered in the Salt Lake Telegram. Another article in the Salt Lake Herald claimed McVey was “demented” and was being released into the care of his mother and sister.
Salt Lake Telegram, 1921-12-16, Utah Convict Wanted in California for Blowing Bank Safe
Second Edition Bakersfield, California, 1924-8-16, Local News