Did you know New York once held the record for having the longest-serving prison inmate in American history?

Since 1980 until recently, an Upstate New York man was famous for serving the longest prison sentence in America. His fame was only recently eclipsed by a Connecticut man, who was released in 2020 after serving 70 years and 31 days behind bars.

Despite no longer holding the record for the longest-surviving inmate, the story of Paul Geidel Jr. is one for the history books and earned him a Guinness World Record.

Imprisoned at 17 for Robbery and Murder

Hammersmith Broadway
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Geidel's upbringing was a tragic one, as reported by NY Daily News. His father, a German immigrant, was an alcoholic that worked as a saloon keeper until his death.

Geidel Jr. was only five when his father died. His mother, a German immigrant named  Annie Prumbaum, passed away when he was 7.

Because of his unstable childhood, he spent the majority of his early years in an orphanage. He gave up on school by the time he was 14 and tried finding work.

Geidel was unfit for manual labor, being only 5-foot-5 and weighing just 120 pounds, so he began soliciting jobs in New York City hotels. It's said he had trouble holding down jobs and was regularly fired.

In July 1911, a 73-year-old wealthy broker named William H. Jackson checked into the Iroquois Hotel, of which Geidel had worked as a bellhop before being fired just days prior.

Police say Geidel broke into Jackson's room on the night of the 26th and used a rag soaked with chloroform to suffocate the elderly man to death. Geidel recalled that Jackson, a hearing-impaired widower, "put up a fight," and beat the elderly man until he died.

Geidel said he was attracted to Jackson's room because rumors from other bellhops claimed it was stacked in cash.  He rummaged through the place and only managed to run off with only a $7 dollars in cash and a stickpin. He pawned the latter for $18.

Fortunately for Jackson, he was swiftly avenged because his hotel neighbor was the Manhattan district attorney and future governor of New York, Charles Whitman. It apparently became Whitman's mission to catch Jackson's killer.

The case would have been impossible to solve, accounts claim, had Geidel not left behind a crucial piece of evidence - the bottle of chloroform. Police was able to track down their murderer using that sole piece of evidence.

Geidel was picked up by police 15 hours after Jackson's death on July 26, 1911. Following trial, he was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for robbery and second-degree murder.

Over 60 Years Behind Bars

Sing Sing Prison
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Geidel was transported to the Sing Sing prison in Ossining, NY. By 1926, he was approaching parole and was close to being released on good behavior, but his tragic tale continued when doctors declared him legally insane.

Instead of being released, he was declared legally insane and confined at Dannemora State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, per an article from the New York Times.

That is where he remained until 1972. He was then moved to the Fishkill Correctional Facility, which was more hospitable for elderly prisoners.

He was granted parole in 1974, but he chose to stay in prison because it was the only life he knew.  According to another report by the Times, he said he had no family and spent his entire adult life in prison, so he was unsure he'd be able to survive on his own.

In fact, he came to like being incarcerated and said he became friends with some of the prison staff, who agreed to take him out on several outings, like to baseball games.

Released after 63 Years

prisoner in jail
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Geidel remained in prison until May 7, 1980, which is when he was awarded the title of America's longest-serving inmate. It is said he told the press, "No publicity, please," as he exited the facility.

Geidel died in 1987, believed to be at a nursing home in Beacon. He was 93.

He held onto the title of being America's longest-serving inmate until July 8 2020, when Francis Clifford Smith, of Connecticut, was released from prison after spending 70 years and 31 days behind bars.

Smith was sentenced to death after a robbery of a yacht club went wrong in July 1949, which resulted in the death of a nightwatchman. Smith was sentenced to death on June 7, 1950. His sentence was commuted four years later to life in prison, roughly 2 hours before he was set to be executed.

His sentence ended with him earning parole to spend his final days at a nursing home.

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Despite no longer holding the title of America's longest-serving prisoner, Giedel still holds the title for serving one of the longest prison sentences in the world.

Following Smith, who is in second place, Australian criminal Charles Foussard holds the world record for serving a prison sentence of 70 years and 303 days for murdering an elderly man in 1903 and stealing his boots.

Foussard died in prison in 1974, at age 92.

12 Of New York State's Most Wanted Criminals- April 2024

Below are individuals wanted by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision's (DOCCS) Office of Special Investigations who have been designated as its Most Wanted Fugitives. They should be considered armed and dangerous. This list is current as of 4/01/2024:

NEVER attempt to apprehend a fugitive yourself. If you have information on the location of any of these fugitives, you can contact OSI 24 hours a day / 7 days a week to report it. All leads and tips are treated as confidential information.

If an immediate response is necessary, such as you see the wanted person at a location, please call “911” and report it to the police.

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