Frank Morris (prisoner)

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Frank Morris
Frank Morris.jpg
Frank Morris mugshot taken at Alcatraz, 1960
Born Frank Lee Morris
(1926-09-01)September 1, 1926
Washington, D.C., United States
Criminal charge Possession of narcotics, armed robbery
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment
Imprisoned at Last imprisoned at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary until escape in 1962

Frank Lee Morris (born September 1, 1926) is an American criminal who took part in the June 1962 Alcatraz escape with fellow prisoners and accomplices John and Clarence Anglin. The fate of Morris remains a mystery that has become a part of American folklore; he was never seen nor heard from again, and is presumed deceased.

The three men who took part in the escape attempt are officially listed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as missing and presumed drowned.[1] The United States Marshals Service continues, however, to investigate and considers their missing status to be an open case.

Early life[edit]

Frank Morris was born in Washington, D.C.[2] He was abandoned by his mother and father during his childhood, and was orphaned at age 11.[3] He spent most of his early years in jail serving lunch to prisoners. As he got older he got arrested for grand larceny in Miami Beach, for stealing cars and armed robbery. [4] 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."[5] Morris was said to have an IQ of 133, which is in the top 3%.[6]


Cell vents

On January 3, 1960, Morris was shipped to Alcatraz, where he became prisoner AZ1441. He had been sentenced to 14 years in prison. Morris reportedly began planning his escape within a year of his arrival at Alcatraz.[7] Three others were involved: John Anglin, his brother Clarence Anglin and Allen West (who may have masterminded the plot[8] 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 other escapees.[9]). The escape was long and complicated and one of the most intricate ever devised. Over a period of 15 months, Morris, West and the Anglin brothers created a raft and constructed lifelike dummies created in their image out of paper mache and human hair collected from the prison's barbershop to place in their cells, and stole prison tools for digging. 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 wardens 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 air 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 two of the life preservers were later found in the bay together with a waterproof bag containing personal effects of the Anglins. The FBI authorities were certain the men had drowned.[10] 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."

However, when authorities searched for any bodies, none were found. 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 that of Frank Morris.[11]

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.[12] In 2015 the bones were proven to not belong to the Anglin Brothers either.

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 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.[13] A male tipster called the Bureau in 1967 claiming to have been at school with Morris and having known him for 30 years. He said he'd bumped into him in Maryland and described him as having 'a small beard and moustache', but refused to give further details. [14]

If Morris did survive the escape and is still alive today, he would be 89 years old.

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

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 2008, the pop rock band Capital Lights released the song "Frank Morris" on their album This is an Outrage!. The song is about the famous prison escape Morris took part in.

In 2011, an 89-year-old man named Bud Morris, who claimed he was a cousin of Frank Morris, claimed that on "eight or nine" occasions prior to the escape he delivered envelopes of money to Alcatraz guards, presumably as bribes. Morris further claimed to have met his cousin face to face in a San Diego park shortly after the escape. Bud Morris's daughter, who was "eight or nine" years old at the time, said she was present at the meeting with "Dad's friend, Frank", but "had no idea [about the escape]".[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pruitt, Sarah (October 9, 2015). "Escape From Alcatraz: June 11, 1962". A&E Television Networks, LLC. 
  2. ^ "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. 
  3. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (June 9, 2012). "Anniversary of a Mystery at Alcatraz". The New York Times. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "The Great Escape From Alcatraz". Ocean View Publishing Company. p. 1. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Ocean View Publishing Company. "The Great Escape from Alcatraz". Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  8. ^ "Alcatraz: Living Hell". National Geographic Channel. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  9. ^ "The Great Escape from Alcatraz". Ocean View Publishing Company. p. 2. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  10. ^ "A byte out of history – Escape from Alcatraz". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 2011-09-02. 
  11. ^ Unsolved Mysteries-episode about the escape on YouTube
  12. ^ 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 
  13. ^ History Channel documentary on YouTube
  14. ^ "Alcatraz Escape FBI Files". 
  15. ^ Bruce, Campbell J. (1963). Escape from Alcatraz. ISBN 1-58008-678-0. 
  16. ^ "Escape from Alcatraz (1979)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  17. ^ "Vanished from Alcatraz (2011)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  18. ^ "Rome man claims he had role in escape from Alcatraz (2011)". WXIA-TV. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 

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