Quartzsite is not just the burial place of a historical figure, Hi Jolly lays at rest there with a favorite camel to keep him company in the “Hereafter,” it is also a spot where Snowbirds flock every winter to keep warm while the rest of the country shivers in the blustery cold. This small quiet burg also has a horrific dark side. In 1978 Gary Tison, escaped from an Arizona prison and his route of meandering escape, that ran over three states, took him right through Hi Jolly territory.
Living up to his reputation as being a cold-blooded killer, Tison’s trip through the quiet Arizona town was marked with murder. In James W. Clarke’s book “Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison (Houghton Mifflin Company 1988) the second chapter of the book is devoted to the Lyon’s family murders. This wholesale slaughter took place just outside Quartzsite off I 95 on the Yuma side of town.
After Tison Sr. and Randy Greenawalt shotgunned the 24 year-old Marine Sergeant John Lyons, his wife Donnelda and their son Christopher to death, along with John’s niece Teresa Tyson, who died after the attack from her injuries, they took the family’s car and continued their wandering path to Mexico.
James W. Clark writes about the escape and his novel follows the journey and interactions of this small group of men. The author reveals that he and his young family were very near the fugitives as they fled authorities. In Colorado where Tison and his group murdered a honeymooning couple for their van, the writer and his wife spent a sleepless night. They were convinced that some unspeakable evil was watching their temporary campsite and only later did they learn that Gary Tison, Randy Greenawalt and Tison’s three sons were literally yards away.
Clarke does a good job documenting the flight of Tison and co. He lists all the various players and does a good job with backstory on each. He also remembers to pay attention to the victims of Tison and Greenawalt. At no time does the author forget to show the cost to surviving family members of the blood-soaked journey of the fugitives.
The book also looks at the power Tison had over his family and others who came into contact with him. A picture is drawn of a charismatic and manipulative man who appears to be pure evil. Tison’s end, dying of dehydration and exposure in the Arizona desert yards away from water, is one of poetic justice and not for the faint hearted. The man suffered an incredibly painful death and one that many would feel is still inadequate for the crimes he committed.
While telling Tison’s story, Clarke also reveals the corruption that was prevalent in 1970s Arizona penal system. He touches briefly the Don Bolles murder and the connection with Tison. While the newsman’s death was the direct result of his investigating the mafia, the corruption pointed out by Clarke had to do with the correction system and its apparent policy of hiring inept individuals to run their prisons.
Consider this: The governor of the prison where Tison escaped was given multiple warnings that Tison was planning to illegally leave the institution and did nothing. It is amazing that the Lyons’ and Judge’s families did not take the man to court as being an accessory to the murders committed by the fleeing criminals.
This is a chilling and disturbing account of one of the most horrific murders committed in the Southwestern desert. Prepare to be upset and frightened. In a short “review” of the book, I mentioned that reading this would reveal monsters scarier than anything made-up. Gary Tison, and his accomplice Randy Greenawalt, are terrifying.
James W. Clarke has written a book that should be read in the daylight while surrounded by others. Avoid reading at night, in the desert, alone. This true tale, despite the criminals being gone now, proves that truth is stranger than fiction and much more disturbing. Just as disturbing perhaps as the made for TV film in 1983 starring Robert Mitchum and James Spader which purports to tell the story of Tison and his sons, Killer in the Family. A movie that one can be forgiven for missing considering the real facts of Tison and his bid for freedom.