Gary Gene Tison, 42, of Casa Grande and Randy Greenawalt, 28, were convicted murderers at the Florence prison in the summer of 1978, and Tison was known for escaping. Yet they were only being held in medium security when Tison’s three sons arrived with sawed-off shotguns and a pistol in a cardboard box on a Sunday morning, July 30.
“After locking the eight guards and six visitors in a broom closet, the five men casually walked out of the prison, climbed into a late model green car and drove away. Although a tower guard noticed them, he thought it was nothing unusual. Road blocks and aerial surveillance failed to catch the men,” the Florence newspaper reported.
Shortly afterward, the gang would kill a Yuma Marine and three members of his family, including a toddler and a teenage girl, and steal their car south of Quartzsite. The gang ditched the Marine’s car in Flagstaff and fled in a pickup bought by a female friend of Greenawalt’s.
They tried to acquire a plane in eastern New Mexico to fly south to Mexico. When that plan failed, they drove north into the mountains of southwest Colorado, where the escapees murdered a Texas couple on their honeymoon and stole their van.
During the three weeks the gang was at-large, almost the entire Southwest region was fearful about where it would turn up or strike next. Families kept their children close and their firearms handy.