Crime Corner

Escape from Alcatraz

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Alcatraz is an Island which is located in San Francisco, California, United States. The island was developed with a lighthouse, a military base, a military prison, and a federal prison (1934 – 1963). After the prison on Alcatraz island was shut down, the island was made a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Today, the island’s facilities are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; it is open to tours. Visitors can reach the island in a little under 15 minutes by ferry ride from Pier 33, located between the San Francisco Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco.

Whilst the federal prison was in use, there was 14 escape attempts. Most were caught or killed, in the process, but three prisoners possibly managed to evade capture, even to this day. This article explains their story.

On June 12, 1962, three convicts were not to be found in their cells in the morning check-in, these were; John Anglin, Clarence Anglin (brothers), and Frank Morris. In place of them, in their beds were dummy heads made of plaster, flesh-tone paint, and real human hair that were realistic enough to fool the night guards who conducted a headcount that night. When the fake bodies were discovered, the prison went into lock-down, and a search began for the missing prisoners.

The FBI were notified immediately and asked to help the local law enforcement track down the missing men.

Within two days of the men’s escape attempt, a packet of letters sealed in rubber, some paddle-like pieces of wood, bits of rubber inner tube and a homemade life-vest were all discovered washed up on Cronkhite Beach, but other than this, even the most extensive searches could not turn up any other items relating to the men in the area, including any of the three men’s bodies.

Using this evidence, and the testimony of a third man who didn’t make it out of his cell in time the FBI managed to discover much of what the men did, and how three men managed to escape a supposedly inescapable prison.

The group had started making their plans in the previous December. Using crude tools—including a homemade drill made from the motor of a broken vacuum cleaner— each of the men loosened the air vents at the back of their cells, removing sections of their walls with the drill. Once they made the holes, the men hid the holes with whatever they could find, cardboard, suitcases, whatever they could find.
Behind the cells was an unguarded utility corridor, allowing the men to make their way down this corridor and climb on top of the roof of their cell block, this is where they set up a secret workshop that only the four men knew about. They used a range of stolen and donated materials to build and hide what they needed to escape. The men managed to make homemade life preservers, a rubber raft, and wooden paddles.

On the 11th of June everything was in place for the three men, except for the one who was left behind. His grill was not fully off in time, and got left by the three who managed to escape. The three others got into the corridor, grabbed the gear they had prepared, climbed up and out and got on to the prison roof. Then, they shimmied down a stack of bakery trays that were stacked against the building, climbed over the fence, and made their way to the northeastern side of the island where they deployed their raft and set sail.

What happened to them next no one knows, no bodies have ever been found, no clothing, other than the few bits listed at the beginning of the article have ever been found, suggesting they COULD still be alive and many people have attempted to prove that the men COULD have survived, by swimming from the bay to the island, however, it was the middle of the night, with strong winds, it seems unlikely that the men did survive. The even FBI concluded that they do not believe the men did make it to the shore alive.

According to the prison informant, after the men arrived back on land, they were to steal clothes and a car as soon as they got there. No clothing or cars were found to have been stolen, and the case was high profile, so they would have been reported. All three of the men were career criminals, all having been to prison multiple times, so it is likely if they did survive they would have gone on to reoffend, however none of the men were ever arrested on file, which again lends heed to the idea that the men did not survive.

According to the families, none of them helped the men escape, although the brothers sister does believe they survived. According to her they sent a secret message to another brother, and trusted friends have spotted them at both of their parents funerals, showing their respect. Their sister, wholeheartedly believes they made it alive, and are off somewhere living out their lives.

The FBI worked on the case for 17 years without getting any evidence that the men were alive, living in the USA or even overseas, so they officially closed their investigation on December 31, 1979. At this point, as they had no proof they had survived, or that they did not, the responsibility of the case is now on the U.S. Marshals Service, who continue to investigate, in case that the men did survive.

What do you think, does the lack of bodies and certainty of the sister that the body survive convince you they made it? Or as they have never reoffended, no theft of a car or clothing and the FBI never finding any evidence that they were alive even once make you think they must have died and their bodies battered and washed up somewhere in the bay.

If the case interests you and you would like more information on the men, the FBI has a page dedicated to them and their escape which you should check out that this article is based on. Here’s the original source:

Secondly, the podcast criminal, has done an episode where they interview the brothers sister and get her view on what happened to the men. You can listen to that episode here:

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