The twenty-two-year-old Cobb was arrested in Anniston in May 1925 for the "strong-arm" robbery of T. T. Bagley, a local grocer. On the night of May 8, while awaiting trial in the Calhoun County jail, Cobb and four other inmates sawed through the bars of their cell window, scaled the tall fence surrounding the jail, and crawled through a large drain pipe to the rear of the Manhattan Hotel where they stole an automobile and made good their escape. The Anniston Star reported that "the minutest details of the escape had been carefully worked out. Care was taken to cut the telephone cord leading to the jail before their departure." Authorities later discovered that a second car had been stolen and determined that the men had separated, some headed for Birmingham and the others toward Atlanta.
The fugitive managed to avoid recapture for nearly a year, although military authorities at Camp McClellan in Calhoun County, Alabama, were also searching for Cobb in connection with the shooting death of a civilian employee on that installation. In the early part of May 1926, police in nearby Piedmont arrested Cobb and turned him over to the military police at McClellan, who returned him to the Calhoun County jail. In circuit court on May 14, 1926, Cobb pled guilty to the Bagley robbery and was sentenced to fifteen years. According to the Anniston Star, he was also charged with deserting the army.
Cobb was sent to Kilby Prison near Montgomery and assigned to work in the shirt factory. He had not been there long, however, when he was disciplined for attacking an employee of the East Coast Manufacturing Company. On August 17, Warden George P. Walls requested and received authorization from state prison officials to administer fourteen lashes to Cobb.
Two months later, Warden Walls reported that Cobb had escaped. Apparently in collusion with truck driver B. C. Lynn, a trustee, Cobb cut a hole in the floor of a state vehicle and installed a false bottom. Lynn then drove into Montgomery without authorization, returned late, and could not explain the hole in the floor of his vehicle. "While no one saw Lynn take Cobb out," Warden Walls explained to Prison Director Hamp Draper, "the evidence shows that he did," adding that Cobb reportedly had "a large sum of money on his person this particular afternoon." Two months later, on January 11, 1927, lawmen again captured Cobb, this time in Greensboro, North Carolina.
On the night of March 13, 1927, Cobb played a significant part in a prison "mutiny" which easily could have turned into a large-scale riot had it not been for the swift action of Kilby's new warden, T. J. Shirley. Concerned about the amount of narcotics being smuggled into the prison, Shirley limited Sunday afternoon visits to immediate family members and ordered inmates be searched after each visit. As the warden later explained, "the order immediately aroused resentment" and prisoners made threats of "retaliation," forcing him to lock them "in the large cell houses" where they "began whooping and cursing and finally started ganging different men whom they accused of being informers."
Shirley attempted to quiet the uprising by negotiating with an inmate spokesman, but fighting broke out later that night. Using tear gas, fire hoses, and finally riot guns, he succeeded in quelling the disturbance with only a few prisoners wounded. After interviewing several inmates, Shirley determined that the "Ring Leaders," Guy Cobb among them, had incited the riot to retaliate against drug-operations informers and to create a diversion which would make escape possible. Cobb, identified not only as one of twenty-seven ringleaders but also as one of five who attempted escape during the riot, received twenty-one lashes.
The following seventeen months were perhaps the longest period of Cobb's incarceration in which he did not attempt to escape. His declining health may have accounted for his seeming passivity, for on August 29, 1928, he was transferred from Kilby to the Tuberculosis Prison Hospital in Wetumpka, with a warning to the warden that Cobb would "likely make an effort to escape at the first opportunity."
The warning proved apt indeed. On the night of November 18, Cobb slipped over the fence of the prison yard. Bloodhounds trailed him until they lost his scent on the road to Tallassee, where a passing motorist presumably picked him up. A week later, Cobb was arrested in Shreveport, Louisiana, and returned to Alabama. A Shreveport newspaper account prompted Mrs. Allie Cobb of Pelican, Louisiana, to write to Prison Director Hamp Draper and identify Guy Cobb as the same man she had married and was abandoned by in 1926.
Safely confined at the prison hospital by January 1929, Cobb was one of several dozen inmates who petitioned Draper to reinstate Deputy Warden L.A. Nail, who had been dismissed for gross neglect of duty resulting in a disproportionate number of escapes by tubercular inmates. Though Nail was not reinstated, Cobb again escaped on March 9, 1930, but voluntarily returned to the prison hospital three days later.
By the fall of 1930, Hamp Draper had grown accustomed to receiving reports about the activities of Guy Cobb, but he was probably surprised to learn that Cobb had enrolled in a radio-repair correspondence course and had recently completed several electronics and math courses "with good grades," according to E. P. Gage, the prison's director of educational services. Gage noted that "Mr. Cobb has proved that he possesses a strong desire to succeed" and that "such efforts deserve recognition."
Interest in radio electronics, however, did not supplant Guy Cobb's primary interest–escape. Sometime between one and two A.M., on January 1, 1931, Cobb and two others left the prison compound and headed for downtown Wetumpka. Their absence went unnoticed for nearly two hours, and by the time the guards gathered the bloodhounds, Cobb telephoned the prison from a warehouse on the Coosa River, where he had surrendered himself to a startled night watchman. Cobb later explained that the escapees had panicked after stealing a car, argued, and finally agreed to separate. He led officials to the abandoned vehicle, and the dogs trailed one of the prisoners some seven miles up the river.
Despite his rapidly deteriorating health, Guy Cobb continued to pursue his chief prison hobby. Around midnight on September 28, 1931, Cobb and two others again scaled the fence, but were arrested in Wetumpka a few hours later while trying to steal a car. This was to be Cobb's last escape attempt. His health continued to decline, and on March 26, 1932, at the age of twenty-nine, he died of tuberculosis. Failure to locate his mother, brother, or estranged wife compelled prison officials to bury him in the prison cemetery.
The remarkable story of Guy Cobb was culled from Alabama Department of Corrections and Institutions administrative correspondence, 1909-1947. The papers cover many aspects of convict life, such as work performed by inmates; the escape, recapture, and transfer of inmates; corporal punishment; accident reports, and so on. Also included are telegrams, escape notices, fingerprint cards, photographs, newspaper clippings, and drawings by inmates. The collection, organized in three subseries–by inmate's surname, 1920-1947; by road camp, 1925-1947; and by prison, 1909-1947--provides a wealth of information for historical and genealogical researchers interested in Alabama prisons.