Alcatraz’s escape attempts made famous the Alcatraz prison island, also known as “The Rock”. The prison operated from August 11th, 1934 until March 21st, 1963. Alcatraz, San Francisco was originally a fort site and hosted a United States Army Military Prison.
With the prison buildings already in place and just in need of a bit of rehabilitation, Alcatraz Island made the perfect place to implement a federal prison. Being surrounded by cold water and strong currents, prison operators determined Alcatraz prison be escape-proof.
The inmates at Alcatraz prison were not sent there directly from sentencing. Instead, most Alcatraz inmates were those who continually disturbed others and caused trouble at their original prison locations.
The prison housed 1,576 total federal inmates during its operation in Alcatraz, San Francisco, with many of them being notorious, well-known criminals. Some of Alcatraz’s famous inmates were Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (“The Birdman of Alcatraz”), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. “Doc” Barker, White Bulger, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. The average population in the Alcatraz prison was 263 prisoners, with a record high of 302 a one time.
Alcatraz Escape Attempts
Throughout its operational time, 36 prisoners made 14 Alcatraz prison escape attempts. It is claimed by Alcatraz prison that no one has ever escaped, or escaped alive. Not only was it located on an island surrounded by cold water with strong currents, but the prison was also designed to be escape-proof.
The staff had a strong background in security. Guard towers were built in strategic locations. Cells were fitted with tool-proof steel fronts and locked from outside control panels. All windows were covered with iron grills. Metal detectors were located throughout Alcatraz prison. There also was a very low ratio of Alcatraz inmates to guards at any given time. Despite the heavy guarding of The Rock, there were still Alcatraz escape attempts made.
The Battle of Alcatraz
The Battle of Alcatraz is the most violent Alcatraz prison escape attempt and occurred from May 2nd to May 4th in 1946. This was a failed escape attempt by six Alcatraz inmates; Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, Sam Shockley, Clarence Carnes, Marvin Hubbard, and Miran Thompson. In this “Battle”, the six Alcatraz inmates took control of the cell house by overpowering the guards. They were able to get weapons and keys from the guards. Unfortunately for the prisoners, a smart guard secretly kept the outer door key. The inmates were unable to escape outside and thusly had to battle the guards.
During this siege, the six Alcatraz inmates took two guards as hostages who were later killed. Shockley, Thompson, and Carnes eventually gave up and returned to their cells. The other three inmates continued to battle and were eventually killed during the battle. Carnes was given a second life sentence as penance, while Shockley and Thompson were sentenced to death via gas chamber for their part in this Alcatraz prison escape.
The Alcatraz 1962 Escape
One of the most notable attempts to escape Alcatraz prison was the Alcatraz 1962 escape attempt by Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin. Their attempt was carefully planned out and executed in June 1962.
During this attempt, the three Alcatraz inmates chiseled away the concrete near an air vent that led to a corridor located behind their cell rooms. The walls of the cell house were old and salt-damaged from wind, age, and salt water, which made it easy for them to chisel their way into their Alcatraz escape room. The Alcatraz inmates used metal spoons and a makeshift electric drill composed of a stolen vacuum motor. They concealed their progress with false walls and disguised the nose of their drill while in use.
The Alcatraz inmates then placed paper-made “dummies” in their beds and escaped through a fan vent at night. Using over 50 stolen raincoats, they constructed an inflatable raft to use to escape Alcatraz Island. Their escape was meticulously planned out and almost perfectly executed.
The error in their plan was a fourth Alcatraz inmate, Allen West. West was supposed to escape with the group, but his fake wall to the escape room did not work correctly. He was not able to break through his fake wall with other inmates and he was left behind. West aided the FBI in their investigation into the Alcatraz 1962 escape.
The Alcatraz 1962 Escape Report
Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin have never been found. The official Alcatraz 1962 escape report concludes that the three Alcatraz inmates drowned in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay. During the time of their escape, there were strong ocean currents and water temperatures of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The case is still technically open, and in the early 2010s, a report surfaced that suggests the 3 men survived the Alcatraz prison escape. The report shows that a raft was discovered on Angel Island with footprints leading away, and a car had been stolen the night of the escape. There is talk of officials engaging in a cover-up to hide this evidence, as the official report states there were no rafts recovered or cars stole the night of the prison escape attempt.
There is also reported to be a letter that claims the three Alcatraz famous inmates survived their escape attempt in 1962. It is a letter allegedly written by John Anglin claiming the three survived and he is ill with cancer. The letter was sent to San Francisco’s police department in 2013. In the letter, John asks for medical attention and suggests that if they promise him only one year of jail he would let the police know his location. He also claims that Morris died in 2008 and his brother died a few years after Morris.
The letter was examined for DNA and fingerprints, but the results were inconclusive. At the time of the letter, John claimed to be 83 years old. With inconclusive results, it cannot be said for certain whether or not the author of the letter is in fact, John Anglin. Thus, leading to more room for speculation on the conclusion of the Alcatraz 1962 escape.
Other evidence against the demise of the three inmates during their Alcatraz 1962 escape is a photograph from 2015. The photo allegedly shows the Anglin brothers in Brazil 13 years after their escape. It supports a longstanding rumor of the brothers living in Brazil by their family. Facial recognition does support the conclusion that the photo does match the resemblance of the brothers.
If the report from Angel Island and the Alcatraz letter referenced above are true, or if the Brazil photo is real, then Morris and the Anglin brothers would be the only 3 men to ever escape from Alcatraz prison, a prison said to be escape-proof. This would also make Morris and the Anglin brothers the most notorious of Alcatraz’s famous inmates.
Did They or Didn’t They?
There is still a lot of speculation on the Alcatraz 1962 escape by Morris and the Anglin brothers. The results of the final reports claiming their deaths are inconclusive and so is the evidence supporting that they survived. Escaping “The Rock” alive would be a huge claim to fame and make them the most notorious inmates ever to stay (and escape) Alcatraz, San Francisco.