Robert Elliot Burns was born on May 10, 1892 and died on June 5, 1955. He served as an Army Medic in World War I but upon his discharge he was unable to find a good job so he became a drifter. He was from New Jersey but ended up in Atlanta Georgia in 1922. Burns fell in with the wrong crowd and with two other men robbed a grocery store. They netted five dollars and eighty one cents but he was sentenced six to ten years hard labor on the Georgia chain gang. He escaped after another prisoner used a sledgehammer to break his chains. He was able to escape while taking a two minute bathroom break. Burns made his way to Chicago. While living in Chicago he eventually became editor and publisher of the Greater Chicago Magazine. He became involved with a Spanish woman who learned of his past. He married her because she threatened to turn him into the police if he didn't. Seven years later he asked for a divorce because he had fallen in love with Lillian Salo and he wanted to marry her. The same day that he asked for a divorce his wife, Del Phino Pacheo turned him in to the police. Because of the reputation that he had established in Chicago many people tried to fight his extradition to Georgia. However he surprised them by agreeing to return to the chain gang because he had agreed to accept a deal that he had been offered. He had a verbal promise by Georgia officials that he would only have to serve a 90 day sentence of easy time and he would be released.
Upon his return in July 1929 he was tortured and treated worse than before. He soon realized that he had been lied to and he would be there a lot longer than 90 days. On September 4, 1930 he escaped again and with his brothers financial help he made it to New Jersey. Because of the depression he was unable to repeat his earlier success in Illinois and took odd jobs to survive. He wrote his autobiography but was arrested again in 1932. Because his book had been turned into a movie public opinion had turned in his favor and the governor of New Jersey intervened on his behalf by refusing to return him to Georgia. In 1945 he was pardoned by the governor of Georgia and because of his book and movie the chain gang system was largely abolished in the South. He died of cancer in 1955.
|Robert Burns with fans|
|A chain gang in Greenville South Carolina in 1956|
|A girl watching a chain gang in Greenville South Carolina in 1956|