The Puzzle Master


 (Jeffrey Bell was a good friend of Paddy’s and a fellow writer at the Butner Medical Centre.)

We still – Paddy’s friends – share stories and anecdotes about him. The other day, I was walking the track with Mike, a buddy of Paddy’s from his days in Leavenworth. Back in the day, Mike was a bank robber in San Diego, where Paddy’s Stop Watch Gang operated for awhile.

Mike’s an easy going guy, very mild-mannered; much like Paddy. One would never take him for a bank robber. Though, like Paddy, Mike has told me that you had to be very threatening and downright mean while robbing a bank, just to ensure things progressed as you planned. You had to be in total control.

Paddy had told me of Mike’s exploits; he robbed thirteen banks before being nabbed. On several of his bank jobs, mike wore shorts, and the newspaper accounts of the robberies included bank employees’ and customers’ descriptions of his ‘skinny, white legs’. Well, the description stuck and Mike became known as ‘Bird Legs’, which prompted, upon his capture, a newspaper headline along the lines of ‘Bird Legs Caged’.

When the two met up in Leavenworth several years later, they became instant friends. Both were avid word puzzlers, and thus began a friendly rivalry. They would listen to NPR on Sunday mornings and compete to see who could solve Will Shortz’s (the New York Times crossword puzzle editor) weekly puzzle challenge first. This went on for years – each week the one to solve the puzzle first could claim to be ‘Puzzle Master’ for the week, while the loser was relegated to ‘Puzzle Student’ status.

The two were eventually reunited here at the Medical Center last year and the competition began again. As Paddy went through his chemo treatments, he lost some of his concentration and puzzle solving abilities, though he was still very sharp playing Jeopardy with me in the evenings. Mike was soon winning the ‘Puzzle Master’ title each week.

One Sunday afternoon, when I went up to see Paddy, he asked me to look at the puzzle to see if I could solve it. After much thought, I was able to come up with the solution – Paddy smiled. “Now if you see Mike, don’t tell him you got this,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. “I’ll tell him someday.”

Paddy was ‘Puzzle Master’ that week, and for the next few weeks, I’d help Paddy with the puzzle and he was once more challenging Mike each week for the title.

As Mike and I walked the track the other day, the subject of puzzles came up, and I reminded him about how I helped Paddy solve those weekly puzzle challenges. That’s the first Mike had heard about my assistance, and he got a good laugh out of the story, we both did. Then we walked in silence for awhile, each of us thinking of Paddy. “He was a good guy,” Mike said. “Yeah,” I agreed, “he was.”

4 thoughts on “The Puzzle Master

  1. Meet Paddy at USP Leavenworth back in the ’80’s. Just found out about his passing & sadden that such a character is gone. Even in a Level 5 Pen Paddy always wore a smile & up-beat attitude (IN A MAX U>S> PEN!?) & kept numerous of us out of the “prison blues”. Sorry for the lost – but sure hope St. Peter is ready for a live wire!

  2. my name is anna oneal almy oneal is my brother and a love friend of paddy my brother almy i have not seen in 8 years my husband mr horvath passed away my comment of paddy mitchell he was my protege and evertime i thank of him i get a rush all over my boby and it s all good if u talk to my brother almy oneal let him no that i love him more them life it s self and i will see him soon this cancer that me and him have god will take it a way well i got to stop for now god bless paddy

  3. I am Paddy.s great niece, our family kept him a secret from us kids, just found out hes gone. The best thing I remember is when he broke out using nicotine water and drove off in an ambulance and almost died. He never hurt anyone at the banks, but his ex wife and child and other close family members were hurt that he was always gone. I wish he could have seen some of before he left us, but im sure hell be happy up there with God and other good people.

  4. I liked your story, I was in Leavenworth with Paddy and I also knew Mike, you did not mention his last name but I know it is Mike Hyde, the three of us lived in the same cell house in Leavenworth along with Almy O’Neal. All three of them were good people, Paddy was a nice guy, so was Mike but Almy is probably one of the greatest people I have met in my life. Mike and Almy are both gone but Almy is still fighting his cancer. Thanks for posting these nice stories, I enjoyed reading them.

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