In A Nutshell
The Huntsville Unit is Texas’s most infamous prison, but its reputation didn’t scare Federico Carrasco. In 1974, the incarcerated drug lord and two cronies took 15 hostages and demanded an armored car. After 11 days, the convicts improvised a bizarre escape attempt with rolling chalkboards armored with hundreds of law books. As one would expect, the whole fiasco ended in a deadly gunfight.
The Whole Bushel
Nicknamed “El Viejo” (the Old Man), Federico Carrasco ran a massive drug empire that dealt coke and heroin across Mexico, Texas, and California. And when he wasn’t selling narcotics, he was busy killing people. Local legend says Carrasco murdered over 40 people, and in 1972, he was arrested for shooting at San Antonio police officers. The gangster was sentenced to life inside of Texas’s notorious Huntsville prison. But the drug lord had no intention of staying behind bars.
Huntsville is best known for its red brick walls and its infamous execution chamber, but Carrasco wasn’t intimidated. He wasted no time hooking up with two convicts named Ignacio Cuevas and Rudolfo Domingues, and the three began plotting their escape. Carrasco knew they’d need guns so he had his gang members smuggle in several pistols hidden in a ham and bullets inside a can of peaches. On July 24, 1974, the prisoners armed themselves and stormed the third-floor library, kicking off one of the longest prison hostage standoffs in American history.
When they broke into the room, Carrasco fired a warning shot and took 15 hostages, 11 of whom were civilian employees. He forced his prisoners to barricade the doors with their bodies, and as there weren’t any windows, he didn’t have to worry about snipers. Now, he just needed to negotiate with the FBI agents and Texas Rangers amassing outside. On the second day of the siege, Carrasco took a new hostage, Father Joseph O’Brien, who’d been acting as a go-between. He then told authorities he wanted more weapons. When his demand was turned down, he asked for handcuffs, and the negotiators complied—a decision they’d later regret.
But despite Carrasco’s planning, the situation spun out of control. One of the hostages had a heart attack and had to be released. Inspired, a second hostage actually faked a heart attack. Carrasco fell for it and released her, too. Finally, a third hostage made a run for it. He was a prison stoolie and thought Carrasco might’ve discovered his backstabbing ways. Fearing for his life, the prisoner bolted through the library and dove through the glass doors. Topping everything off, 10 days into the stand-off, a storm knocked out the air conditioning. The room got very hot and very tense.
On the eleventh day, Carrasco said he’d free the hostages in exchange for an armored car. The authorities agreed, but really, they had no intentions of letting Carrasco drive away. Expecting a fight, Carrasco ordered his hostages to build a mobile shield, taping together rolling chalkboards covered in 325 kilograms (700 lbs) of legal textbooks. Carrasco, Cuevas, and Domingues each handcuffed themselves to a hostage and, along with Father O’Brien, took refuge inside the media-dubbed “Trojan Taco.”
While the convicts hunkered down, the remaining hostages rolled the shield outside down a series of ramps. That’s when authorities struck, spraying everyone with a high-powered fire hose. They nearly toppled the Trojan Taco, but then the hose malfunctioned. Furious, the gangsters began firing through holes they’d drilled through the blackboards. The officers fired back, and 22 minutes later, two hostages were wounded, and two were dead, both murdered by the crooks. Authorities had killed Domingues, and Carrasco had taken his own life. Only Cuevas remained, and he paid the price for all three when he was executed on May 23, 1991.
Show Me The Proof
Huntsville Penitentiary, by Theresa Jach
Houston Chronicle: Survivors recall terror of 1974 prison siege