Rutherford County Correctional Work Center Director Bill Cope has an interesting hobby.
He collects rare books, signed art, ephemera, coffee mugs and other unique artifacts. Occasionally he passes those items on to new owners.
"I also photograph old prisons. I’ve shot Alcatraz in California, Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, Mansfield Reformatory in Ohio, and many more." Though he’s never gained access Sing Sing in New York, Cope says, "I do have some items that would look nice in their museum, so maybe we can work something out."
On Oct. 17, Cope donated a unique item from his personal collection to Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge. For over 20 years, Cope had a handwritten capias warrant dated April 10, 1868, addressed to the sheriff of Sevier County, Tennessee.
The warrant was for William H. Thomas for the crime of robbery. Interestingly, a note on the front of the warrant from Sevier Sheriff J.H. Merritt, Thomas could not be found in the county to stand trial.
The warrant reads:
The State vs. W.H. Thomas
Issued 10 April 1868
Came to hand April 14th 1868
July the 10th 1868
Search made and the defendant not to be found in my county
Signed: JH Merritt, Sheriff
State of Tennessee
To the Sheriff of Sevier County Greeting you are hereby commanded to the the body of William H. Thomas and have him before the judge of the circuit County at a court to be held for the county of Sevier at the courthouse in Sevierville on the third Monday of July next to answer a change of the state exhibited against him by indictment for robbery and have you then and there this writ.
Witness A.E. Murphy by clerk of our said court at office in Sevierville the third Monday of March 1868.
Signed: A.E. Murphy, Clerk
"It was time it found its way back home to Sevier County. Alcatraz East has the means and resources to preserve and display the document for others to see and learn from," Cope said.
Alcatraz East is 24,000 square feet, two stories, and is themed as a 19th-century prison, inspired by the infamous Alcatraz island prison in San Francisco. Alcatraz East includes interactive displays and artifacts that cover criminal intent, criminal profiles, the penal system, victims' stories, law enforcement, crime prevention, forensic science, and the United States justice system.
Cope has served the county for nearly two decades, overseeing the educational, evidenced based and rehabilitation programs for inmates at both the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center and the Correctional Work Center.