On Friday evening, May 29, 2009, at the 10:00 p.m. bed check at the Cummins Unit prison in Grady, Arkansas, it was discovered that two prisoners convicted of capital murder were missing. Prison officials learned immediately that the two missing Cummins Unit inmates were Jeffrey Grinder and Calvin Adams.
Dina Tyler, corrections department spokeswoman, said that the prisoners were missing approximately three hours before their absence was discovered. Upon viewing the security video surveillance tape officials were shocked to discover that Grinder and Adams had casually walked into the prison library in their prison garb sometime after 6:00 p.m. and quickly changed into prison guard uniforms. Less than twenty minutes later, without being noticed or recognized, they were able to walk out of prison during a shift change, get into a maroon colored 4-door sedan and drive away.
Prison guard uniforms are made at the Cummins Unit. It is believed that Grinder and Adams had inside help to obtain the uniforms and someone on the outside left the maroon automobile they used to drive away from the prison.
In April of 1994 Adams kidnapped Richard Austin, a 25 year old vice president of the Leachville State Bank and his pregnant wife, Cassandra. He planned to force Austin to open the bank. For some unknown reason Adams changed his mind, took them to a levee just east of Leachville, Arkansas and shot them both. Richard died instantly of three gunshot wounds. Cassandra was seriously injured with a gunshot wound to the arm and a fractured skull. She was able to walk approximately one mile to a farmhouse to report the shooting. Adams was sentenced in 1995 to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the Cummins Unit. Grinder was convicted in 2004 on a capital murder charge for robbing and beating to death 77 year old Pat Gardner in Springdale, Arkansas. Grinder was also sentenced to life in prison without parole in the Cummins Unit at Grady.
The Cummins Unit, formerly known as Cummins State Farm, is a state prison in Arkansas. The prison farm, a 16,000 acre correctional facility, is located off Highway 65 in Lincoln County near the town of Grady. Cummins State Farm first housed Arkansas’ death row until 1986 when it was transferred to the Varner Super Maximum Security Unit. Even though death row inmates are kept in the Varner Unit, executions are carried out by lethal injection in the Cummins Unit.
The infamous Cummins State Farm has a history it may never overcome. One such incident happened in the late sixties when Governor Rockefeller’s newly hired warden, Thomas Murton, discovered human skeletons buried on the the prison grounds. Murton was 39 years old at the time and was the first professional penologist ever hired as warden by the State of Arkansas.
At the time the bodies were discovered, Govenor Rockefeller had hopes of putting an end to the reported torture of inmates at Cummins. It was never proven that the bodies found buried at Cummins were those of inmates but that more than likely the bodies were from a nearby “potters field.” In 1968 it was reported by Time Magazine that one of the bodies was identified as that of prisoner Joe Jackson and that Reuben Johnson, another inmate, buried Jackon in 1946 on Christmas Eve.
While Murton was attempting to bring reform to Arkansas prisons he was fired shortly after the bodies were found. Even though these crimes took place long before Winthrop Rockefeller was elected governor of Arkansas, the disruption to the Arkansas prison system and the Rockefeller administration was too much. Governor Rockefeller fired Murton and he was given 24 hours to leave the state. Murton was threatened with “grave robbing” if he did not leave immediately. At the time, Arkansas law carried a 21-year sentence for grave robbing. Murton immediately left Arkansas.
Murton wrote a book about the corruption and torturous conditions at Cummins, “Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal” which was released in 1969. In 1980 Robert Redford’s movie, “Brubaker,” a fictional account of life at Cummins was released. Murton died in 1990 of cancer.
Dina Tyler does not believe that Grinder and Adams are still in the state. Corrections officials are attempting to develop leads to the whereabouts of the two men. It was reported that Adams has relatives in Thayer, Missouri and that Grinder has family living in Baxter County, Arkansas. The corrections officials are asking that anyone that has information regarding the two men call the Arkansas State Police or their local police department.