#2 of 7: Bill Reel column about an accomplice in the 1941 Sing Sing escape by 3 inmates.
One of the 3 inmates, a prison guard and a village policeman were killed during the escape.

This Nov. 5, 2005 column by Bill Reel is reproduced from The Tablet with its and his permission.


“CRASH OUT,” a book by David Goewey about the bloody 1941 prison break at Sing Sing, comes out Monday. I’ve ordered a copy. I wonder how the book will treat Eddie Kiernan, who was convicted of smuggling guns into the prison for the escape.

Columnist Bill Reel photo and byline from The Tablet. The weekly's web site can be accessed by clicking the image.
A Sing Sing guard and an Ossining police officer were killed, and Eddie was sentenced to life in prison. After serving 20 years, he won release in 1961 when a judge ruled his confession had been coerced.

Years later Eddie and I became friends. In old age he was desperately sorry for his part in the crime.

Tears came to his eyes when he recalled it, and because he’d disgraced his family he was estranged from his sisters, Margaret and Helen.

Both in their 80s, like Eddie, they refused to have anything to do with him. His one wish was to reconcile with them.

A tough-as-nails old-timer, Eddie worked as a building super in Greenpoint. Down the block was St. Anthony’s Church. I suggested that he tell his story to the pastor, Msgr. John McCullagh.

This wasn’t easy for Eddie, who was deeply ashamed of what he had done decades before. He poured out his soul to the monsignor.


Image of Bill Reel's
column in The Tablet. The weekly's web site can be accessed by clicking the image.
Compassionate priest that he was, Msgr. McCullagh wrote to Margaret, who lived in Washington.

Image above of Msgr. John McCullagh derives from a photo provided to NYCHS by St. Anthony St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church, Greenpoint.
He pleaded Eddie’s case.

His letter softened Margaret’s heart. Soon thereafter Eddie reconciled with her and, subsequently, with Helen. They had many happy times together in the 1990s.

The selfless monsignor used to drive Eddie to visit Margaret in Washington and Helen in Connecticut.

Eddie, Margaret, Helen and Msgr. McCullagh all have passed away. Publication of the book on the 64-year- old prison break got me thinking about them.

So I went through some old papers to find a copy of the monsignor’s letter, dated June 6, 1989, that brought the Lord’s love and mercy into three elderly lives.

Dear Margaret:

Allow me to introduce myself. I am currently pastor of St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus Church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and also Chaplain of the New York City Police Department.

St. Anthony -
St. Alphonsus
Roman Catholic Church,
Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Its GS Communications-sponsored web site can be accessed by clicking the above image.
I am writing in regard to your brother Ed, whom I have gotten to know since becoming pastor here.

Ed attends Mass each week and I see him frequently in the parish, where he is employed as an apartment maintenance manager.

He recently told me of his sorrow resulting from his alienation from you and humbly shared his past life experiences, of which he is not proud.

At 81 years of age, he knows there are not many more days ahead in his life and his one burning desire is to make his peace with you.

I sincerely ask you to consider giving Ed the opportunity to visit you. He is prepared to come to Washington. In fact I plan to visit friends in Virginia in early July and perhaps we could arrange to meet together at that time.

A circa 1899 map section showing the then Greenpoint locations of St. Anthony's (#19) and of St. Alphonsus (#43).The latter closed and merged with St. Anthony's in 1975. The full map from which the above section was extracted can be found on Tim Desmond's web site and accessed by clicking the above image.

A list of churches corresponding to the numbers on the full map can be found on another page of Desmond's site and accessed by clicking the Diocese of Brooklyn shield from that page (right).

I believe Ed represents so well the figure of the Prodigal Son, so familiar to all of us as described by Our Lord in the Gospel. Ed is truly repentant and wants so sincerely to “come home” again.

I pray you forgive him as I am sure God has forgiven him and all of us many times.

I would like to talk to you on the telephone if you would allow me by sending me your telephone number.

I will await your reply and believing in the advice of my late Irish-born mother to ‘say a little prayer’ I know mine will be answered by your favorable reply.

Sincerely yours,

Msgr. John P. McCullagh


I believe the letter is a spiritual classic.

Bill Reel's e-mail address: reeltablet@tds.net
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Previous -
Page 1:
Overview, image links to 5 other 1941 escape pages
Current -
Page 2:
Bill Reel's Tablet column on escape 'accomplice' Kiernan
Next -
Page 3:
Ralph Blumenthal book excerpts on 1941 escape
2d U.S. Circuit overturning 'accomplice' Wade conviction
NYS Court of Appeals affirming Kiernan conviction
Federal District Court overturning Kiernan conviction
Page 7:
Excerpts from David Goewey's
Crash Out: The True Tale of a Hell's Kitchen Kid & the Bloodiest Escape in Sing Sing History

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Click for audio
WNYC Leonard Lopate Feb. 05, 2004 interview of Guy Cheli about his Images of America: Sing Sing Prison.
PBS News Hour Feb. 04, 2004 interview of James McGrath Morris about his The Rose Man of Sing Sing.