June 1962 Alcatraz escape

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Coordinates: 37°49′36″N 122°25′24″W / 37.82667°N 122.42333°W / 37.82667; -122.42333

June 1962 Alcatraz escape
Alcatraz dawn 2005-01-07.jpg
Alcatraz in 2005
Time Approximately 10:00 PM (UTC-7)[1]
Date June 11, 1962 (1962-06-11)
Location Alcatraz Island
San Francisco, California, United States

The June 1962 Alcatraz escape was a prison escape attempt by American criminals Clarence Anglin, John Anglin and Frank Morris to leave Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island using an inflatable raft. The FBI's investigation was unable to determine whether the three men successfully escaped or died in the attempt.[2]

Previous attempts[edit]

There were 14 separate total escape attempts by 36 different Alcatraz inmates.[3] Most of the escapees involved were shot by guards or recaptured. The only known successful swim off the island was by John Paul Scott in December, 1962, but he was recaptured on the San Francisco side, at Fort Point, almost immediately.


John and Clarence Anglin[edit]

Clarence Anglin
John Anglin
Main articles: Clarence Anglin and John Anglin

Anglin brothers Alfred Clarence (born May 11, 1931) and John William (born May 2, 1930) were born in Donalsonville, Georgia, and worked as farmers and laborers. Together they started to rob banks in Georgia and were arrested in 1956. Both were given 15–20 year sentences and sent to Atlanta Penitentiary (where they first met Frank Morris and Allen West), Florida State Prison, and Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

Clarence and John made several failed attempts to escape the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and were consequently sent to Alcatraz.[4] John arrived on October 21, 1960, as Alcatraz inmate AZ1476, and Clarence on January 10, 1961, as inmate AZ1485. Clarence was known to be the smarter of the two brothers.

Frank Morris[edit]

Frank Morris
Main article: Frank Morris

Frank Lee Morris was born in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 1926, and spent most of his early years in foster homes. He was orphaned at age 11 and was convicted of his first crime at the age of 13, and by his late teens had been arrested for crimes ranging from possession of narcotics to armed robbery.

Morris had a long criminal history prior to serving time in Alcatraz. He was sent to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary following one of his arrests, where he first met the Anglin brothers. Frank arrived at Alcatraz on January 3, 1960 on a sentence of 14 years,[5] where he became prisoner AZ1441.

Allen West[edit]

Main article: Allen West

Allen Clayton West was born on March 25, 1929.[6] He was sent to the Atlanta Penitentiary (where he first met Morris and the Anglin brothers) and Florida State Prison for hijacking as a car thief. He was sent to Alcatraz in 1957, charged with attempting escape, and became prisoner AZ1335.

West was the only one of the four conspirators who did not participate in the actual escape, as he had not gone through his hole before and only had left a little piece that he could simply punch through only to find out that there was a metal bar there. The others decided to leave him and took the life raft with them. With no means of leaving the island, West had no choice but to remain in his cell until the escape was discovered the next morning. After the escape was discovered he gave several interviews to the FBI and prison authorities, during which he provided full details of the escape plan, possibly as part of a plea bargaining strategy. West was never charged for trying to escape from Alcatraz.

West left Alcatraz on February 6, 1963, then was transferred to McNeil Island, Washington, and later Atlanta, Georgia.[6] After his release from federal prison on January 7, 1965, West was sent to serve prison sentences in Georgia and Florida.[6] He was released in 1967 but was later arrested in Florida on charges of grand larceny, robbery and attempted escape.[6] Receiving multiple sentences, including life imprisonment, West was sent to Florida state prison in January 1969.[6] On October 30, 1972, he fatally stabbed another prisoner in what may have been a racially-motivated incident.[6] In December 1978, suffering severe abdominal pains, West was sent to the Shands Teaching Hospital, where he died of acute peritonitis on December 21, 1978, at the age of 49.[6]


Dummy head found in Morris' cell
Chiselled cell air vent
The dug out vents in the utility corridor

By September 1961 Morris, West, and the Anglin brothers were planning an escape attempt, which they carried out on the night of June 11, 1962.[3] They fabricated dummy heads from a mixture of soap, toilet paper and real hair, and left them in their beds to fool prison officers making night-time inspections.[7] They escaped from their cells by crawling through holes in the cell walls which they had dug with spoons over the course of a year. This put them into an unused service corridor. West could not make it out of his cell and was left behind.[8]

From the service corridor they climbed a ventilation shaft to reach the roof. The trio then climbed down from the rooftop, scaled the prison's fence and assembled a raft from the prison's standard-issue raincoats and contact cement. They pumped up the raft on the northeastern coast of the island. At around 10 p.m. they climbed aboard, shoved off, and started paddling.[3][8] Security guards brushed off the loud sound of the shaft smashing through the roof as nothing serious. Since nothing more was heard, the issue was left unpursued.


The next morning it was discovered that the trio had escaped. At first it was thought that the escapees had been decapitated. Only upon further scrutiny did the guards realize that the heads were part of a clever escape plot.[9] Police searched for the escapees on Alcatraz and Angel Island without success. An investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation was begun as well.

Remnants of the raft, paddles, and a bag containing the Anglins' personal effects were found on Angel Island.[8] According to the FBI, while it was theoretically possible for the three inmates to have reached Angel Island, the cold water temperature and direction of the ocean's tides made this unlikely.[3] The FBI also said that the plans of the inmates were to steal clothes and a car once they reached land, although no car or clothing thefts were reported in the area following the escape.[3][8] The case was closed by the FBI on December 31, 1979, after a 17-year investigation. It was concluded that the prisoners drowned in the cold waters of the bay while trying to reach the mainland.[3]

As late as September 2009, the case was still being investigated by the U.S. Marshals Service, according to a story broadcast on NPR. Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Dyke told NPR, "There's an active warrant and the Marshals Service doesn't give up looking for people," he said. "In this case, this would be like saying, 'Well, yeah, they probably are dead. We're going to quit looking.' Well, there's no proof they're dead, so we're not going to quit looking." Dyke said that he still receives leads, including one as recently as two weeks before the story aired.[10]

A 2003 MythBusters episode[11] on the Discovery Channel tested the feasibility of an escape from the island on a raincoat raft, and determined that it was "plausible", though the team concluded that the inmates could not have reached Angel Island with the tides, but that they instead went for the Marin Headlands.[8] A 2011 program on the National Geographic Channel reported that investigators found footprints on Angel Island leading away from the raft, and had also identified a blue Chevrolet that had been stolen that night, contrary to the FBI report.[5]

In 2011, Bud Morris of Rome, Georgia claimed that he delivered "eight or nine" bags of money to guards at Alcatraz on several occasions prior to the escape. 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.[12]

In 2012, the 50th anniversary of the escape, the Anglin brothers' sister, Marie Anglin Winder, strongly believed that Clarence and John are still alive. She claimed that back in 1962 she had received a phone call from San Francisco, not too long after the escape, saying, "This is John Anglin."[13] She also stated that they had received a Christmas card in the family mailbox saying, "To Mother, from John. Merry Christmas." The Anglin family are not the only ones who believe that the brothers are still alive; U.S. Marshal Michael Dyke also believes that they are alive. [14] However, their whereabouts are still unknown.

In 2014 researchers at Delft University, using a computer model, concluded that if the men set off approximately at midnight, when the currents might have worked in their favor, they could have made landfall; but if they left in the hours either side, the currents would have been too strong to overcome and they very likely died.[15]

In 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.[16]

The 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz stars 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. The film strongly implied that the men made it to the mainland.[17]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ FBI Investigation File 76-26295, pp. 32
  2. ^ "Alcatraz Escape". FBI Records: The Vault. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "A Byte out of History: Escape from Alcatraz". Federal Bureau of Investigation. June 8, 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-07-09. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  4. ^ "Alcatraz Escape — June 11, 1962". Alcatraz History. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  5. ^ a b This National Geographic Channel show is mentioned in the New York Times article; it is ambiguous whether the author of the Times article is asserting the accuracy of this program. McFadden, Robert D. (June 9, 2012), "Tale of 3 Inmates Who Vanished From Alcatraz Maintains Intrigue 50 Years Later", The New York Times (New York, NY), retrieved June 9, 2012 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Babyak, Jolene (2001). Breaking the Rock: The Great Escape from Alcatraz. ISBN 0-9618752-3-2. 
  7. ^ "Valued exposure: Escape". BBC News. June 15, 2009. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c d e McFadden, Robert D. (June 9, 2012), "Tale of 3 Inmates Who Vanished From Alcatraz Maintains Intrigue 50 Years Later", The New York Times (New York, NY), retrieved June 9, 2012 
  9. ^ Marzilli, Alan (2003). Famous Crimes of the 20th Century. Philadelphia: Chelsea House. pp. 73—75. ISBN 9780791067888. 
  10. ^ "Escape From Alcatraz And A 47-Year Manhunt". National Public Radio. 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  11. ^ MythBusters, season 1, episode 11
  12. ^ "Rome man claims he had role in escape from Alcatraz (2011)". WXIA-TV Atlanta. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  13. ^ http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Alcatraz-escapees-family-convinced-brothers-alive-3626364.php
  14. ^ http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-18404134
  15. ^ http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30349106
  16. ^ Bruce, Campbell J. (1963). Escape from Alcatraz. ISBN 1-58008-678-0. 
  17. ^ "Escape from Alcatraz (1979)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-12-07.