Gary Tison

This month I have blogged more in one month than I have in the first few years I had this blog.  I took on a new strategy aside from spending much more time working on it.  I have been working through my enormous list of cases that literally gets longer every day but, except for a few that have not concluded or I just truly was not "feeling it" I have done them one by one in the list.  While I am researching a few cases to sit down and compose I spend my time watching docudramas on more cases.  The new cases just end up on another list that will be added at some point to the bottom of the big one.  

Last night however I was watching a television show about the Gary Tison case. At first I was sure I knew the name and checked all my lists only to discover I did not have this name.  As I often do, even while researching other cases, I will throw a quick search in on the cases I am watching.  Generally I just look to see who the perpetrator was so I can note it on my list to give me an idea of what sort of case I am looking into prior to research.  This case however led me into a rabbit hole that I had difficultly coming out of.  In fact, in general I have no issue stopping an episode in the middle and going back it later.  Last night I was still finishing this one up as I was laying in bed preparing to go to sleep.  I just simply could not get enough of it.  This morning I woke up wanting to know even more and was compelled to come here just after despite the fact that I have a few other cases ready to be put together.

A few days ago I wrote about the phrase "but for" in the legal system.  That phrase played fairly prominent in this case. "But for" Gary Tison's three sons helping him and another inmate, Randy Greenwalt escape from prison at least six people would have not lost their lives.  Had those boys not aided in helping their father escape a two year old boy would have likely grown up, gotten married, had children and lived a good life.  Had those boys not aided in helping their father escape a young teenage girl would not have died in the desert heat from a gunshot wound apparently trying to crawl to safety.  Had those boys not aided in helping their father escape a young newlywed couple killed on their honeymoon would have likely had children of their own.  And yet, most of society believe the two boys that managed to survive the whole ordeal should probably be released from prison after spending almost 40 years behind bars. 

We all know the argument that Charlie Manson gives us.... he never killed anyone, so of course he should be released from prison.  Most people highly disagree with that idea.  But, he is right.  He never physically pulled a trigger and murdered anyone, at least as far as can be proven. Most argue that it was Manson who encouraged those called his "followers" to commit the murders attributed to him.  In this case neither Ricky or Raymond Tison pulled the triggers that murdered six people after they helped their father and his friend escape prison and most argue they not only had no idea that it would happen but were assured and promised that it would not.  But, then we are still stuck with that nagging "but for."  

Gary Tison was already in prison (for maybe the first time) when he met Dorothy.  He was in there for armed robbery.  In 1957, shortly after his parole the twenty-one year old Gary and seventeen year old Dorothy were married in Casa Grande Arizona. Their first son, Donny was born the next year and ten months after that came Raymond, and ten months after that came Ricky.  By 1961 Gary was back in prison to serve a thirty year sentence.  Some say it was Dorothy's persistence, while others say it was Gary's mothers', that got him out just five years later. Regardless it did not matter because it seems Gary just did not know how to stay straight.  But that surely did not deter Dorothy.  She would trout those boys up the the prison nearly every weekend to visit their father.  It would appear that absent the fact he was not living in the home obviously he was still king of the home.  He called often and family issues were discussed then and on visits.  Dorothy did whatever Gary wanted and raised her boys to believe Gary had been wronged by the system. 

Dorothy would continue this attitude when in 1967 he was back in prison on a parole violation for passing a bad check.  In April of that year prison guard, Jim Stiner was transporting Tison to a court hearing when Tison got a hold of Stiner's weapon, then his handcuffs.  He handcuffed Stiner and then shot him with his gun.  Some say that Tison did it simply to escape, others say he did it because at a recent visit Stiner had pushed Dorothy back when she had gotten closer than she was allowed.  Personally I go with the escape theory because in my opinion Gary truly only cared about Gary.  So Gary takes off back into town in Casa Grande and had a shootout with the police.  He was captured in the local movie theater and promptly taken back to prison.  He was later convicted for Stiner's murder and was given two consecutive life sentences.

Still, every weekend Dorothy touted up to the prison, dragging the boys along with her to visit her husband so he could tell them what was what and how to behave.  Amazingly it was said that he even dished out punishments through his phone calls and the ever dutiful Dorothy obligated.  And, while Gary is in jail, this time with two life sentences she is at home telling her boys how he had been screwed by the system and had only killed that man in self defense and if he had not done so they would not have a father at all because Stiner was going to kill him.  None of that was true.

In 1977, as his boys are getting older and hanging on every word he had to say Gary was moved to a prison in Florence Arizona to a facility of lower security because, well those at the top first said, he was a model prisoner.  Later it would be revealed that the warden liked being sucked up to and Gary had a knack at that and getting what he wanted.  At Florence his family could have picnics and visit in a yard as opposed to behind glass.  People that knew Dorothy said she acted like she had won the lottery.  

Around, or at, the same time that Gary was transferred so was a man named Randy Greenwalt.  He, like Gary, was serving his own life sentence for killing a truck driving as he was resting in his cab.  It appears that he admitted to committing the same crime against at least one other truck driver and was suspected in at least two more.  Gary and Randy hit it off and devised a plan

In 1978 it appears that Gary decided he had been in prison just about long enough.  His oldest son, Donny was twenty now.  He had joined the U.S. Marine Corp at seventeen (Dorothy did not want him to but Gary convinced her it was okay) and it was said that when he returned home three years later one of the first things he did was go to the prison in his uniform to show his father all the medals he had gotten.  Raymond was nineteen now and Ricky was eighteen.  Up to this point the only trouble any of the three had gotten into with the law was when Raymond and Ricky were caught for a petty theft of beer.  It was said that their punishment by the county sheriff was to pick trash up on the side of the road.  They were very diligent in their job and it was rumored that they were even offered jobs elsewhere after being observed.  It seems that everyone around town thought they were very smart, well behaved boys.  The biggest issue they had was their father.  One article I read said that Donny had no trouble getting girlfriends, he only had trouble keeping them once word of his father got to the girls' parents.  

By all accounts, although some seemed to be shaded, Gary shared with Dorothy his plan to escape because of course he needed her help and they had to have a plan.  The plan would include somehow getting a plane and getting to Mexico. Gary was hoping his brother would come through with the plane but he talked to authorities, only it was too late.  To be fair here, it is unclear if Gary's brother even knew about the plan to escape until literally it had already happened so the fact that he was too late to help stop it may not have been completely his fault.  There were however apparently officers waiting at the landing strip that after the escape they believed the "gang" would show up at.  Most agree that Dorothy helped with getting a large range of weapons for the escape.  Some argue that she had informed her son Raymond early and he had helped also where other reports state that none of the boys knew about the plan until the day before they were expected to carry it out.

The television show that I watched last night indicated that only Donny had reservations about this.  But to be fair I saw little else in my research that indicated this to be a fact and I know all documentary stories are slanted in one way or another.  In the end, even in the show it did not matter because even if he did have reservations and not think it was a smart idea he ended up doing it anyway. Some say he did so to protect his brothers, which would be ironic in the end.

So on July 30, 1978 while one of the boys (some reports say it was Ricky, others say it was Raymond) were already inside visiting with their dad the other two went in carrying what has sometimes been described as an ice chest, other times a picnic basket and in even other reports was stated to simply be a cardboard box.  As they began to enter the second stage of entrance, where they would be searched, the boys pulled guns out of whatever it was they were carrying and aimed it at the guards.  Greenwalt was close by and they were able to slide a weapon to him.  They ordered the guards and the visitors into a storage closet.  Greenwalt had already temporarily disabled the alarm and telephone system.  The boys retrieved their dad and the five men just strolled right out of the prison.  There was a guard in the tower who saw them leaving but since he had not been warned of anything happening and the five men seemed to be so casual he did not pay a lot of attention to them.  He did know what kind of car they got into (although to be fair what their first car was seems to change depending on the article you read).  

It was over fifteen minutes before anyone outside knew what had happened.  It had taken a guard that long to break through the ceiling of the closet, crawl to the control room and set off the alarm and give notification.  What would be referred to later as the "Tison Gang" would be long gone by then. 

The five men would be on the run for a total of twelve days and leave six dead in their path.  The first murders would be those of John and Donelda Lyons, their two year old son, Christopher and John's teenage niece Teresa Tyson (yes, I know, but no).  The exact day that this happened seems to differ as well as the events leading up to it.  What is known is that within a few days the car they were driving got a flat tire.  This may have actually been their second flat in as many days.  The television show in which I watched indicated that there was only one and that Gary Tison showed a side of himself that his son's had never seen when he was angry that they had not secured a spare tire for the vehicle. Some reports state that the boys likely did have a spare with the car but that they had a second flat and then had no spare.  One of the boys stayed up on the road while the others hid, waiting for a car to come by.  Raymond and Ricky would later say they just assumed that they were going to steal someone's car and they still believed no one was going to get hurt.  In their minds they were freeing their father and they were all going to go live in Mexico and be the family they were meant to be.  I know this sounds absolutely crazy but these boys were not only visiting prisons as they were learning to walk, they had been fed this idea from both of their parents their ENTIRE lives.

At any rate, up drives the car of John Lyons.  He was described as a helpful and nice person who would not have wanted to see someone stranded in the desert so that is likely why he stopped.  Eventually the Lyons car was backed up to the back end of the car the group had been driving and the Lyons family was forced into that car while their belongings were moved into the Lyons' car.  The car with the flat was then driven down a dark country road a bit before it was stopped.  Most reports say that at this point Gary sent his sons back up to the road to retrieve some water.  It was reported that the boys believed that they were retrieving this water for the family since they believed they were going to be left there.  Some reports say that once the boys were out of sight the shooting began, while others say that after the boys returned with the water, that their father drank himself, the Lyons family was murdered by Gary Tison and Randy Greenwalt.  

While the state was still on the lookout for the five men it took another five days until the bodies of the Lyons family, minus Teresa, were found.  Two year old Christopher was found in his mother's arms.  It immediately became apparently or believed that they were victims of the Tison Gang because the car they had been left in had been connected to them.  It was believed that the "gang" had kidnapped Teresa Tyson because her body was not found with her family. Teresa would eventually be found, with the family dog, several days later and about a mile and a half away.  She had suffered a gunshot wound to her hip and either the loss of blood or the Arizona heat had claimed her life.  It appeared as if she had attempted to crawl toward the road for help.

So now the five men are riding around in the Lyons' vehicle but they could not keep that long because authorities were quick to figure that out.  Since their plane had fallen through it seems they were running around a little aimlessly and ended up in the northern part of Colorado where they encountered James and Margene Judge who were on their honeymoon.  Some reports state that the five men were all together when the Judge's were taken while others say that the boys were in hiding, away from their father and that Tison and Greenwalt had gone looking for a vehicle, encountered the Judges' and killed them for their vehicle.  No matter which story is told there seems that there was a period of time in which the three boys could have possibly gotten away from their father and his murdering friend.  Some say they did not because they were still devoted to him, others say it it was because they feared him by now.  It was said that Gary had mentioned several times that he would kill anyone who crossed him and by what they had already seen they knew this was true. It is believed that by this point the boys' idea of their father was at least starting to tarnish severely.  There are some that would argue that they had no excuse not to leave him and that they were as guilty as their father.  To an extent I have to agree. But, I am always sent back to their raising and what had been ingrained in them. In fact, years later Ricky would be quoted as saying, "I saw a side of my father I had never seen before. But I believed most of that side came from being in prison for so long."  The kind of conditioning and what some call brainwashing they suffered their entire life does not simply go away in the blink of an eye.

At any rate, now the men have the van owned by the Judge's and seemingly Gary and Randy had buried the bodies in the middle of no where.  They had learned a lesson with the Lyons'.  t this point the group decides that they are just going to drive to Mexico and the best way to get there is through Casa Grande because they know the roads so well, at least that is the story told.  

On August 10, 1978, while headed to Casa Grande the group ran into a roadblock.... well, literally.  Now, whether that road block was there waiting because they expected them to come that way, or as reported elsewhere because a robbery had occurred in town is up for debate.  Regardless there was a road block and Gary instructed Donny, who was driving to continue to drive while he shot at the officers and they barreled through.  A few miles down the road they encountered another one and these guys were apparently prepared. Once again Gary instructed Donny to drive right through and gunfire was exchanged from both sides.  As they went through the road block though, this time Donny was hit in the head with a bullet.

As the van ran off the road the occupants began to emerge.  It was said later that none of the officers present ever saw Gary Tison, but they assumed, rightfully so that he had been there.  It has also been reported that upon exiting the vehicle Gary was quoted as saying "Every man for himself" and ran off into the woods.  Greenwalt and Ricky and Raymond Tison were quickly, and without incident taken into custody.

A posse was formed to be on the search for Gary Tison.  It was said to have been (and maybe still is) the biggest manhunt in Arizona history.  They were in planes and helicopters, they were on foot and on horse and Gary could not be found.  On August 22nd, thirteen days after he left one son dead and two others to surrender the bloated body of Gary Tison was found about a half a mile from the original spot.  It was believed that since the area had been searched, more than once in that time period that he had survived, at least the days that he did, likely hiding in caverns and weeds.  The medical examiner would state that he believed he had been dead for seven to ten days before he was found and that his cause of death was due to dehydration in the Arizona desert.  A death caused by dehydration is a long, slow and painful death.  I think there were likely few people who did not rejoice in the fact this is how this man died.

So now authorities have Greenwalt and the two youngest Tison brothers in custody.  Greenwalt was a no brainer.  He was probably hoping to escape the death penalty so he told them a few months later where the bodies of James and Margene could be found.  Authorities knew they had to be involved because the van they were driving when captured was registered to the couple.  It did not help him though because there had been calls for the death penalty ever since the Lyons family had been found and everyone knew they were responsible.  There was a lot of hate for that crime, not just because four innocent people were murdered but because two of them were children, and one of them only a toddler.  For the most part, the community and the country did not care what role people played they wanted everyone associated to the crime to receive the "ultimate" justice.

Each of the three would have separate trials and each of the three would be convicted and sentenced to death.  That was after the two Tison brothers would receive sentences of 34 years to life for their role in the escape and Greenwalt just added another life sentence to his resume. 

Initially the convictions and sentences of the Tison brothers would be affirmed on appeal but a debate came into play and it came right back to that "but for" I mentioned.  Everyone knew, had the Tison brothers not carried out the escape of their father and Randy Greenwalt the Lyons, the Judge's and even their own brother would have not lost their lives.  But, most argued that not only did the boys not plan the escape, they had no intention of committing murder and had not done so.  It was even said that they never so much as fired a gun.  The most that could be said is that two of them had held guns to the guards and visitors during the escape but everyone got away without anyone being harmed. No matter what position anyone, including judges, took on the activities of the boys there was debate.  Ultimately however a judge decided to take into account many of those things and add to the fact that they were both under the age of twenty, as well as the factors of their childhood and vacated their death sentences, giving them life sentences.

Today Raymond and Ricky Tison are still in prison.  Some say it is ironic that they are housed in the same prison in Florence that they freed their father nearly forty years ago.  Dorothy, who would receive only one year for her part (this I think angers me the most), kept up her ritual of visiting prison every weekend until she died in 2006.  Randy Greenwalt was executed in 1997.

Reports are that even prison officials have advocated for the release of the Tison brothers.  One works in the prison library and helps educating other prisoners (think Andy Dufresne from Shawshank Redemption), while the other works as a cook.  They have been described as the most model prisoners in which the guards have ever seen.  It has been said that even when they disagree with things they are constructive and polite.  A few years ago the warden made some changes in the library rules and while he did not agree with them it was said Ricky wrote a concise, well written letter, explaining his issues.  In turn the warden took them into account and made some other changes.  One article I read had interviewed Raymond a few years ago and I have to say that it tugged at my heart a bit.  He talked about how he was glad that he had not married or had children prior to this happening because he fears they would have had the life he did growing up.  He stated that while we are taught to love our parents he was taught to love an evil man, but he never knew it.  He also made statements that indicate that he does not want to ever be released from prison. He is what I call Shawshanked, although in the movie they called it institutionalized.  He has spent his entire adult life in prison, some say paying for his father's sins, and he admits that he honestly would not know how to function in a free society.

As I watched the documentary on this case last night I found myself angry at Gary Tison, but even more angry at Dorothy Tison.  She had a duty to her children and she failed, miserably.  Her actions ruined the lives of her surviving children and got one of them killed.  Yes, yes, I know... she was not there... yada yada yada.  But she was, maybe not physically but she molded those children into worshiping their father who had proved multiple times to be "evil." 
She had a duty as their mother when Gary approached her about the escape to put her foot down and say "No more!" and tell him that their children were not going to do this.  And yet, she took it to them and in turn guilted them into carrying it out, while she sat at home and "awaited" their call.  And yet for this she got a measly year in prison?  As a mother her behavior outrages me most of all.


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