Sentenced to life for a murder he didn’t commit, Pep may be Eastern State Penitentiary’s most famous innocent prisoner…
Guilty of murder. That was the “verdict” handed down to one of Eastern State Penitentiary’s most infamous inmates. The sentence? Life without parole. Just who was this “lifer,” and more importantly, was he actually innocent? We traveled to Eastern State Penitentiary to learn a little more about its 4-legged fugitive.
The prisoner, Pep, was known in the records as Inmate C-2559, but his nickname was Pep “The Cat-Murdering Dog.”
But what if Pep, a canine sentenced to a life in the slammer, was actually an innocent pup?
The story of Pep’s crime and punishment is shrouded in a bit of mystery and controversy that goes all the way to the Pennsylvania Governor’s Mansion.
Legend says Pep, a black Labrador Retriever, was sent to the slammer on August 12, 1924 for killing then-Governor Gifford Pinchot’s wife’s beloved kitty cat.
There was no trial. There was no jury. The governor simply sent poor Pep down the river and placed him in the custody of his good buddy, Herbert “Hard-Boiled” Smith, the warden of Eastern State Pen.
Amidst rumors of the governor’s abuse of power, he told a different story. Pep was simply sent to the prison to be a mascot and “buddy” to the other inmates.
So why was Pep really incarcerated? Well, the truth is somewhere in the middle of the two stories.
Pep was first given to the governor’s family by a relative known to breed labs, and, from what we know, was a model family pet for the first several months. Then, in 1924, Pep decided to start his life of crime, a pattern that would land him in jail for the rest of his life.
You see, Pep had a taste for the dark side, but it wasn’t the wife’s cat that fell prey to his criminal palette. It was the governor’s front porch sofa cushions.
Unable to stop, the governor decided Pep was beyond rehabilitation and sent him to Eastern State where he would become one of the earliest prison therapy dogs in the country.
Of course, he was welcomed and beloved by the inmates and became such a hit he began traveling between Eastern State and nearby Grateford Prison. Pep finally passed away about ten years after his initial “incarceration,” and was buried on Eastern State grounds.
Today, prison experts point to the sofa-cushion-eating Pep as one of the animals who paved the way for future prison therapy dogs.