Upshur County will demolish murderer’s cell

Upshur County Commissioners Court, faced with a protest over plans to preserve the onetime jail cell from which the notorious convicted murderer Jerry (Animal) McFadden escaped in 1986, voted 5-0 Friday to demolish it instead.
McFadden’s July 9, 1986 escape and his abduction of a female dispatcher from the jail, then located on the county courthouse’s fifth floor in Gilmer, triggered what was reportedly the largest manhunt in Texas history before his recapture two days later. The incident made national news.
Upshur County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy David Hazel, who participated in the manhunt while working for another agency, and County Judge Todd Tefteller acknowledged they had proposed preserving the cell for historic purposes, an idea that drew protests at Friday’s emotion-charged meeting from the families of two of McFadden’s three murder victims.
The plan called for retaining the cell in the jail’s former locale as a memorial to the three. However, relatives of the 18-year-old Hawkins woman McFadden received the death penalty for murdering, Suzanne Harrison, had sent a letter to area newspapers protesting the plan.
They, and the husband of one of Harrison’s cousins, contended the idea would glamorize McFadden (who was executed in 1999), and bind his victims to him. Among those speaking to the court were the elderly parents of one of the victims, Gena Turner.
Tefteller told attendees at Friday’s meeting, “We were thinking this (preservation of the cell) would make (McFadden) infamous.
“I didn’t think about it from your standpoint,” the judge told the family members, adding “I got carried away with the history end of it… I’m wrong, and I’m sorry.”
The audience applauded when the court unaninimously voted to demolish the one-time cell. Turner’s mother, Helen, said after the meeting she was “glad they came to their senses.”
The 87-year-old county courthouse where the old cell is located is currently undergoing a nearly $13 million renovation. The county jail was moved to its nearby current location months after McFadden’s escape, and plans call for converting the jail’s former fifth-floor location into office space.

– By Phillip Williams


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