Frank Morris (prisoner)

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Frank Lee Morris
Frank Morris.jpg
Frank Morris mugshot, 1960
Born (1926-09-01)September 1, 1926
Washington, D.C
Criminal penalty
Life imprisonment
Conviction(s) possession of narcotics, armed robbery - Washington, D.C, others

Frank Lee Morris (September 1, 1926 – missing since June 11, 1962) was an American criminal who attempted an escape from Alcatraz prison in June 1962 and was never seen or heard from again.

Early life[edit]

F.L.Morris was born in Washington, D.C.[1] He was abandoned by his mother and father during his childhood, and was orphaned at age 11.[2] He spent most of his early years in jail serving lunch to prisoners. The associate warden's record card at Alcatraz Prison lists his "Crimes Involved" as "Juv. Deliq.-2; Runaways-2; Breaking & Entering-1; Burglary-1; Narcotics & Armed Robbery-1; Unlawful Flight, Mann Act, & Bank Robbery-1."[3] Morris is said to have an IQ of 133, which is in the top 3%.[4]


Cell vents

On January 3, 1960, Morris was shipped to Alcatraz, where he became prisoner AZ1441. Morris reportedly began devising his escape within a year of his arrival at Alcatraz.[5] There were three others involved: John Anglin, his brother Clarence Anglin and Allen West (who may have masterminded the plot[6] but was the only conspirator who did not participate in the escape, as he was unable to finish removing the ventilator grill in his cell in time to join the escape when it was eventually carried out[7]). The escape was long and complicated. Over a period of two years, Morris, West and the Anglin brothers created a raft and lifelike dummies, and stole tools to dig with. So many escape materials had been used by the conspirators that they had created a workshop above their cell row.

Allen West was cleaning above their cell row and asked prison guards if he could cover the area with blankets. West explained his cleaning area was extremely dusty and dust was falling down on the prison floor. These blankets completely covered West's workshop area. By May 1962, they had dug through the vents at the back of the cells, working in shifts, with someone keeping lookout while others dug. On the night of June 11, 1962, the attempt went ahead. The group placed the dummies in their beds, escaped through the vents at the back of their cells and into the utility corridor. They then proceeded onto the roof and down to the bay. There they boarded the raft they had constructed and disappeared into the night.

The following morning prison officers found dummies lying in the beds and the prisoners missing. The raft and 2 of the life preservers were later found in the bay together with a waterproof bag containing personal effects of the Anglins. The authorities were certain the men had drowned.[8] They cited the fact that "the individuals' personal effects were the only belongings they had, and the men would have drowned before leaving them behind."

When authorities searched for bodies, they found none. Harlem crime boss Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson claimed to have known of the plot and told authorities that he had arranged for a boat to pick the men up from the bay. However, his testimony was given little credit due to his background and prior attempts of lying to gain favor or plea deals. The FBI said in their report that on July 17, 1962, a Norwegian ship spotted a body floating in the water 20 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. Although they did not retrieve the body and did not report the sighting until October, they told the police the body was dressed in clothes that prisoners on Alcatraz used, and that the body resembled Frank Morris.[9]

According to the 2011 National Geographic documentary, Vanished from Alcatraz, bones from a human were found eight months after the escape on the shore near the place where the Norwegian ship had spotted a body. The bones were recovered and buried and on Vanished from Alcatraz, the bones were dug up, and DNA from the bones was compared to one of Morris's paternal relatives. The DNA did not match and so the bones were not Morris's, although it is not certain if they belonged to the floating body at all.

Dummy head found in Morris's cell.

In the end, authorities pointed out that the chances of the prisoners surviving the trip across the bay were slim. The men were habitual criminals yet were never arrested again. The FBI officially closed the case on December 31, 1979, concluding that "no credible evidence emerged to suggest the men were still alive" (though there have been many subsequent reconstructions and yearly triathlon events are held to commemorate the event). There have been sightings of the three men over the years which provides circumstantial evidence that they might have survived. [10] If Morris did survive the escape and is still alive today, he would be 88 years old.[8]

Popular culture[edit]

In 1963, J. Campbell Bruce published his book Escape from Alcatraz about escapes from Alcatraz Island, including that of Morris and the Anglin brothers.[11] The 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz starred Clint Eastwood, Fred Ward, and Jack Thibeau as Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin respectively. Allen West was played by Larry Hankin; his character's name was changed to Charley Butts.[12]

Frank Morris and the 1962 escape were examined in a 2011 National Geographic Channel program titled Vanished from Alcatraz. According to the newly uncovered official records discussed on the program, a raft was discovered on Angel Island with footprints leading away. There was also a report of a stolen car in the area that night, which could have been used by Morris and the other escapees. While confirming these facts, which were hidden from the officials for quite some time, the findings of further investigations remain inconclusive. As a result, the U.S. Marshal’s office is still investigating this case, which will remain open on all three escapees until their 100th birthdays.[13]

The TV show MythBusters showed that in similar conditions a raft made of raincoats could be paddled across to the Marin Headlands with three men aboard. Also mentioned at the end of the show, was a compelling report of a paddle found on a part of Angel Island where the current led directly (and only) from the Marin Headlands. The show concluded it is “plausible” that the prisoners may have survived their escape attempt.

In 2011, Bud Morris of Rome, Georgia claimed that he delivered "eight or nine" bags of money to guards at Alcatraz. Morris also claimed to have met up with his cousin, Frank Morris, shortly after the escape. Morris's daughter also recalls the meeting with "Frank" at a park in San Diego.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Alcatraz Escape Part 2 of 17" (PDF). FBI Records: The Vault. p. 52. Retrieved 2011-08-06. In 1955 Vital Statistic Records, Washington, D. C., revealed FRANK MORRIS was born September 1, 1926, Gallinger Hospital, Washington, D. C. 
  2. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (June 9, 2012). "Anniversary of a Mystery at Alcatraz". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "The Great Escape From Alcatraz". Ocean View Publishing Company. p. 1. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  4. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (June 9, 2012). "Tale of 3 Inmates Who Vanished From Alcatraz Maintains Intrigue 50 Years Later". New York Times. Retrieved June 10, 2012. 
  5. ^ Ocean View Publishing Company. "The Great Escape from Alcatraz". Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  6. ^ "Alcatraz: Living Hell". National Geographic Channel. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  7. ^ "The Great Escape from Alcatraz". Ocean View Publishing Company. p. 2. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "A byte out of history – Escape from Alcatraz". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 2011-09-02. 
  9. ^ Unsolved Mysteries-episode about the escape on YouTube
  10. ^ History Channel documentary on YouTube
  11. ^ Bruce, Campbell J. (1963). Escape from Alcatraz. ISBN 1-58008-678-0. 
  12. ^ "Escape from Alcatraz (1979)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  13. ^ "Vanished from Alcatraz (2011)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  14. ^ "Rome man claims he had role in escape from Alcatraz (2011)". WXIA-TV. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 

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