An Infamous West African Warlord’s Bay State Jailbreak
The only prisoner to make a clean getaway from the Plymouth County House of Correction is also the first world leader convicted of international war crimes since the Nazis.
This is the untold story of Charles Taylor’s time in the Bay State, the crimes he committed, and the prison he escaped from before ransacking Liberia and Sierra Leone.
On the night of the only successful escape from the Plymouth County House of Correction and Jail, Charles Taylor began his metamorphosis from college campus radical to mass-murdering megalomaniac.
The disgraced Liberian diplomat crewed up with four common crooks in the laundry room of the minimum-security ward. The steel bars on the windows were cut open with makeshift hacksaws. The bedsheets were knotted together like ropes.
The coast was clear.
The knucklehead quartet didn’t get too far.
But Taylor was long gone.
Armed with an economics degree from Bentley College, and with Interpol arrest warrants over his head, Taylor fled across the Atlantic, bound for the killing fields of West Africa.
Much has been written about the carnage suffered throughout his conquest of Liberia, while eyes of the world watched the International Criminal Court hand down an unprecedented guilty verdict for the bloodshed on the battlefields of Sierra Leone.
But definitive details about Charles Taylor’s time in Massachusetts, and around how his small townie cabal sawed and shimmied out of the Plymouth County lockup on the night of Sept. 15, 1985, remain a mystery.
According to multiple accounts, the 37-year-old former Liberian finance minister rendezvoused with his then-wife and sister-in-law, accompanied by two other fugitives and two federal agents who waited in the weeds at the old Jordan Hospital campus, about a mile away from the prison.
The specifics of the transatlantic voyage he took after absconding from Uncle Sam’s locker are vague, but one thing is certain: his return spelled doom for West Africa.
Taylor fought and funded civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone by bartering blood diamonds for international black market armaments.
His ramshackle guerilla generals dispatched roving death squads of drugged-addled child soldiers who raped, pillaged, looted, and butchered for nearly 15 years.
Millions fled for their lives, while survivors and civilians alike were sold into slavery to work on rubber plantations and in precious metals mines.
After a bogus election in 1997, Taylor officially became the 22nd commander in chief of the Republic of Liberia.
Perched on a throne of blood, he stacked fortunes in Swiss bank accounts and broke bread with world leaders, Fortune 500 executives, mercenaries, mass murderers, gem trading jihadis, and syndicated televangelists.
Taylor officially stepped down and went into exile in 2003.
But only the dead saw the end to the West African blood diamond wars.
The decimated nations he held sway over stood no chance of rebuilding. Devoid of basic amenities and essential infrastructure, West Africa became ground zero for the largest Ebola outbreak on record roughly a decade after the conflicts ended.
At the end of his reign, Taylor became the first world leader convicted of international war crimes since the Nuremberg trials after the International Criminal Court found him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Sierra Leone Civil War.
He has yet to be charged with any crimes committed in Liberia.
For what it’s worth, Taylor hasn’t been charged with escaping from the South Shore slammer either.
Charles Taylor’s ambitions as a ruthless revolutionary were forged in Massachusetts—as an activist on a college campus in Waltham, a resident of Roxbury, a factory worker in Southie, an insurance agent in downtown Boston, a smuggler on the Seaport docks, and as an insubordinate international money launderer left to rot in lockup near Plymouth Rock.
In the Bay State, Taylor’s breakout remains a source of befuddlement, speculation, and ridicule. The official accounts and courtroom testimony are riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions, missing documents, and stacks of misinformation piled higher than the prison walls.
While on trial for war crimes, Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone his cell was left wide open: “I am calling it my release because I didn’t break out. I did not pay any money, I did not know the guys who picked me up. I was not hiding (afterwards).”
The overwhelming majority of known associates speculated the CIA shepherded Taylor out of the United States. Other law enforcement officials insinuated an organized crime connection. Meanwhile, a handful of former deputies reckon one of theirs simply let him go.
“We’ve held a lot of unusual folks at Plymouth, among them some very notorious people,” former Sheriff Peter Flynn, who ran the Plymouth County House of Correction during Taylor’s stay, told the Patriot Ledger in 1990.
“We certainly didn’t think we’d ever have anyone who would be responsible for attempting to overthrow a government.”
But long before the outlaw tyrant-in-training landed in Plymouth, Taylor was just another international student studying economics in Greater Boston.