|Saturday, April 29, 1976 was when it all really began. Police received a call to a mobile home in the Letart community in
rural Mason County. Bruce and Harriet Sisk reported that their two month old daughter had been abducted.
After a five hour search the infant’s body was found in a freshly dug grave near the Sisk home.
A pathologist determined that the baby had been strangled and her head beaten. Harriet Sisk told investigators that
one of her socks got caught in a piece of furniture and she fell on her baby. The eighteen year old mother was charged
with the murder of her daughter and placed in the Mason County Jail.
The jail was like most smaller jails at that time. It was pretty secure as far as the inside was concerned. But they were
often accessible from the outside. Three days later this design flaw would become fatal.
Jailer Keith Anson was sitting at his desk on this Tuesday evening. He had 14 inmates in his custody and there was no
reason to expect anything other than a quiet night.
That all changed at about 10:50 P.M. when Robert Sisk walked into the jail carrying a short shotgun in his right hand
and a suitcase in his left. Sisk said, “Ok fat man, no funny stuff. I’m here to spend the night with my wife.” He then
motioned with the shotgun toward the cell block downstairs.
Robert Sisk was a 19 year old dairy farmer who worked on his father-in-law’s farm. The events of the past few days, the
death of his daughter, the arrest of his wife, obviously weighed very heavy on this young man. His emotional distress
had now taken a very dark turn.
Sisk followed the jailer down to the cell with his shotgun in his back. Anson unlocked the cell door and Sisk backed in,
still covering Anson with the shotgun. Once Sisk was inside the cell with his wife and her cell mate, Anson slammed the
door shut and locked it.
He then ran upstairs to begin calling for help. He called in the deputies who were on duty, the State Police, and he
called Sheriff Pete Wedge. Sheriff Wedge told Anson to keep calm, that he would be right down.
Soon the place started filling up with law enforcement officers ready to help. There were West Virginia State Police,
Mason County Deputies, Point Pleasant City Police and even an off-duty Ohio State Highway Patrolman who was
stationed across the river in Gallia County. When Sheriff Wedge arrived he took all the officers downstairs with him. As
he was being briefed by Anson, Harriet Sisk’s cell mate was yelling out to the officers, warning them not to open the door.
I don’t know whether or not Sheriff Wedge had ever received training in hostage negotiations but he certainly knew how
it was done. He shouted in to Bruce Sisk and told him he could stay overnight with his wife but that he wanted to get her
cell mate out of there so Sisk and his wife could have some privacy. Sisk let her out.
Moments later a terrible explosion rocked the jail and everything else in the area. It was not clothes for his overnight
stay in the suit case. It was dynamite, apparently about 30 sticks of it.
A quick examination of the building proved that this was a powerful blast. From the outside you could see that it had
separated the corner of the concrete structure by about 8 inches. Standing in the cell where the explosion occurred
and looking up you could see clearly into the cell directly above it on the next floor. The ceiling/floor was gone. The
commode from the upper cell was still attached to the wall but there was no floor there to support it. The steel bed that
was attached to the wall was still there but the blast had folded it upward and it was flat against the wall.
Sheriff Elvin “Pete” Wedge died the next day from injuries received in the explosion. But in his last act as sheriff his
quick and calm thinking had saved the life of the female inmate. He was 48 years old.
Deputy Kenneth Dale Love, age 38, died in the explosion. Jailer Ernest R. “Ernie” Hesson, age 71, would die a week
later from injuries he received. Several other law enforcement officers were injured, some seriously.
Bruce and Harriet Sisk also died instantly in the blast. That seems to have been what Bruce had in mind all along.
|Tragedy at the Mason
Written by Brady Stephens from personal memory and published accounts at the time.