Anamosa Penitentiary: Facts from the past

Iowa News

ANAMOSA, Iowa — The murders of Robert McFarland and Lorena Schulte Tuesday have brought the Anamosa State Penitentiary under the spotlight.

First approved in 1872 by the Iowa Legislature because the prison in Fort Madison was full, the Anamosa State Penitentiary has a long and not always positive history.

It was first known as the Additional Penitentiary, then the Anamosa Penitentiary before it was a Reformatory and it then became a Penitentiary once again. Inmates did much of the labor on the stone walls and buildings.

Included in the history are tales of escape attempts and efforts to reform offenders. Working while an inmate has been part of the institution, starting with butter tubs in 1900 and continuing today with programs intended to make offenders employable when they’re released.

One notable inmate was Wesley Elkins, who began his life sentence for murder in 1890, at the age of 11. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy served time in Anamosa, 18 months, and was released in 1970.

There have been inmates killed during escape attempts at Anamosa but Tuesday’s incident is the first time staff members working at the prison have been killed by prisoners.

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