Alcatraz is an island 1.5 miles off the shoreline of San Francisco. How much do you know about the escape attempts from that notorious prison? Today’s photo (shot this past May) is of the cell of one of the escapees. Here’s the story about the attempted escapes…and their outcomes.
During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed no prisoner had successfully escaped. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, and three escaped and were never found. The most violent occurred on May 2, 1946 when a failed escape attempt by six prisoners led to what would become known as the Battle of Alcatraz.
On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris, John Anglin and his brother, Clarence Anglin, carried out one of the most intricate escapes ever devised. Behind the prisoners’ cells in Cell Block B (where the escapees were interned) was an unguarded 3-foot (0.91 m) wide utility corridor. The prisoners chiseled away the moisture-damaged concrete from around an air vent leading to this corridor, using tools such as a metal spoon soldered with silver from a dime and an electric drill improvised from a stolen vacuum cleaner motor. The noise was disguised by accordions played during music hour, and the progress was concealed by false walls which, in the dark recesses of the cells, fooled the guards.
The escape route led up through a fan vent; the prisoners removed the fan and motor, replacing them with a steel grille and leaving a shaft large enough for a prisoner to climb through. Stealing a carborundum abrasive cord from the prison workshop, the prisoners removed the rivets from the grille and substituted dummy rivets made of soap. The escapees also constructed an inflatable raft from several stolen raincoats for the trip to the mainland. Leaving papier-mache dummies in their cells affixed with stolen human hair from the barbershop, they escaped. The prisoners are estimated to have entered San Francisco Bay at 10 p.m.
The official investigation by the FBIwas aided by another prisoner, Allen West, who was part of the escapees’ group but was left behind (West’s false wall kept slipping so he held it into place with cement, which set; when the Anglin brothers (John and Clarence) accelerated the schedule, West desperately chipped away at the wall, but by the time he got out, his companions were gone). Articles belonging to the prisoners (including plywood paddles and parts of the raincoat raft) were discovered on nearby Angel Island. The official report on the escape says the prisoners drowned while trying to reach the mainland in the cold waters of the bay. But there were sightings of the men over the years, and friends and family of Morris and the Anglins claimed to have been receiving postcards written in the men’s handwriting.
The TV show Mythbusters investigated the escape stories, concluding it is “plausible” that the three survived their intricate escape attempt. The attempt was the subject of the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris. The film strongly implied that the three men made it. If you see them, be sure and tell your local law enforcement officials!
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1944, US forces landed on the coast of Leyete Island in the Philippines, fulfilling the promise made by General McArthur: I will return, which he made after his forces retreated to escape from the Japanese army.
TRIVIA FOR TODAY: there are 4,300 known species of ladybugs in the world.