June 1962 Alcatraz escape

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

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

June 1962 Alcatraz escape
Alcatraz & Angel Island (2875307468).jpg
Alcatraz, with Angel Island (the fugitives' intended destination) in background
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 may have been the only successful escape from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in that facility's history. On the night of June 11 or early morning of June 12, inmates Clarence Anglin, John Anglin and Frank Morris tucked papier-mâché heads resembling their own likenesses into their beds, broke out of the main prison building via an unused utility corridor, and departed Alcatraz Island aboard an improvised inflatable raft to an uncertain fate.

Hundreds of leads have been pursued by the FBI and local law enforcement officials in the ensuing years, but no conclusive evidence has ever surfaced favoring the success or failure of the attempt. Numerous theories of widely varying plausibility have been proposed by authorities, reporters, family members, and amateur enthusiasts. In 1979 the FBI officially concluded, on the basis of circumstantial evidence and a preponderance of expert opinion, that the men drowned in the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay before reaching the mainland.[2] The U.S. Marshals Service case file remains open and active, however, and Morris and the Anglin brothers remain on its wanted list.

Recent experimental and computer-simulated evidence has suggested that the ultimate outcome of the attempt may have depended on the exact time of the men's departure aboard the raft. A 2015 documentary presented circumstantial evidence that at least two of the men—the Anglin brothers—had survived the attempt and fled to Brazil; but authorities warned against drawing conclusions until the evidence could be reviewed through "regular investigative channels".

Previous attempts[edit]

Of the 36 inmates who staged 14 escape attempts over the 29 years that Alcatraz served as a federal penitentiary,[3] 23 were recaptured, six were shot and killed, two drowned, and five (including Morris and the Anglins) are listed as missing and presumed drowned.

One inmate, John Paul Scott, successfully swam from the island to Fort Point, at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, in December 1962. He was recaptured immediately, exhausted and hypothermic.[4] Today, multitudes of athletes swim the same Alcatraz-Fort Point route as part of one of two annual triathlon events.[5][6]


John and Clarence Anglin[edit]

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

The 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. As a team, they began robbing banks in the early 1950s and were arrested in 1956. Both received 15–20 year sentences, which they served at Florida State Prison, Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, and then Atlanta Penitentiary, where they met Frank Morris and Allen West.

After repeated failed attempts to escape from the Atlanta facility, the brothers were transferred to Alcatraz.[7] John arrived on October 21, 1960, as inmate AZ1476, and Clarence on January 10, 1961, as inmate AZ1485.

Frank Morris[edit]

Frank Morris
Main article: Frank Morris

Frank Lee Morris was born in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 1926. He was orphaned at age 11 and spent most of his formative years in foster homes. He 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. He met West and the Anglin brothers while serving time at Atlanta Penitentiary during the 1950s. On January 3, 1960, he arrived at Alcatraz to serve a sentence of 14 years and was assigned inmate number AZ1441.[8]

Allen West[edit]

Main article: Allen West

Allen Clayton West was born on March 25, 1929.[9] Convicted of car theft in 1955, he was sent to Atlanta Penitentiary, where he met Morris and the Anglin brothers, and then to Florida State Prison. After an unsuccessful escape attempt in Florida he was transferred to Alcatraz in 1957 and became inmate AZ1335.

West was the only conspirator who did not participate in the actual escape, because he was unable to finish removing the ventilator grill in his cell in time. He cooperated fully with the escape investigation and was not charged for his role in the attempt.[10][11]

West was transferred to McNeil Island, Washington on February 6, 1963, and later returned to Atlanta Penitentiary. After serving his sentence, followed by two additional sentences in Georgia and Florida, he was released in 1967, only to be arrested again in Florida the following year on charges of grand larceny. At Florida State Prison he fatally stabbed another prisoner in October 1972, in what may have been a racially-motivated incident. He was serving multiple sentences, including life imprisonment on the murder conviction, when he died of acute peritonitis on December 21, 1978, at the age of 49.[9]


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

The men began planning their escape in December 1961, under the leadership of Morris, the most intelligent of the four,[8] after one of them discovered some discarded saw blades on the prison grounds.[3] Over the course of six months they slowly widened ventilation duct openings in their cells' walls, using the saw blades, spoons stolen from the commissary, and a drill improvised from the motor of a broken vacuum cleaner, until the openings were large enough to crawl through. They concealed their work with cardboard and various other items.[3] Behind the cell tier was an unguarded utility corridor. From the corridor they climbed to the roof of their cell block inside the building, where they set up a small workshop. There, they assembled a variety of stolen and donated materials, including more than 50 raincoats that they turned into makeshift life preservers and a 6-by-14 foot rubber raft, the seams carefully stitched together and sealed with heat from nearby steam pipes. They built wooden paddles, and stole a small accordion-like concertina from another inmate to serve as a bellows to inflate the raft. Finally, they climbed a shaft of pipes and ducts to the building's roof, where they cut away most of the rivets holding a large ventilating fan and grille in place.[3][8]

To avoid discovery of their absence during routine bed checks while they were out of their cells—and after the escape itself—they sculpted realistic dummy heads from a home-made papier-mâché-like mixture of soap and toilet paper, and decorated them with paint and their own hair. With towels and clothing piled under the blankets in their bunks and the dummy heads positioned on the pillows, they appeared to be sleeping peacefully.[12]

On the night of June 11, 1962, with all preparations completed, the men initiated their escape.[3] West had used cement to shore up crumbling concrete around his vent opening, and it had hardened, narrowing the hole and fixing the grill in place. By the time he was able to remove the grill and re-widen the hole sufficiently, the others had left without him; he returned to his cell and went to sleep.[13] West later cooperated fully with investigators, giving them a detailed description of the escape plan, and as a result was not punished for his role in it.[8]

From the service corridor, Morris and the Anglins climbed to the roof. Guards heard a loud crash as they broke through the shaft onto the roof, but since nothing further was heard, the source of the noise was not investigated. Hauling their gear with them, they descended a 50-foot wall by sliding down a kitchen vent pipe to the ground, then climbed two 12-foot barbed-wire perimeter fences. At the northeast shoreline, near the power plant—a blind spot in the prison's network of searchlights and gun towers—they inflated their raft with the concertina. At some time after 10 o’clock, investigators estimated, they departed.[3][8]


The escape was not discovered until the following morning, due to the successful dummy head ruse.[14] On the southern shore of Angel Island, the men's intended destination, two miles north of Alcatraz Island, searchers found remnants of the raincoat raft and paddles and a plastic bag containing names, addresses and photos of the Anglins' friends and relatives, but no trace of the men or their remains.[8]

FBI investigators concluded that, while it was theoretically possible for one or more of the inmates to have reached Angel Island, the frigid water temperature and direction of the currents within the bay made it unlikely.[3] According to West, the men had planned to steal clothes and a car once they reached land, but no auto or clothing thefts were reported in that area following the escape according to the final FBI report, despite the high-profile nature of the case.[3][8] The FBI closed its file on December 31, 1979, after a 17-year investigation. Their official finding was that the prisoners most likely drowned in the cold waters of the bay while attempting to reach Angel Island.[3]

The U.S. Marshals Service investigation remains open, however. As Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Dyke told NPR in 2009, "There's an active warrant, and the Marshals Service doesn't give up looking for people." He said that he still receives leads on a regular basis.[15]


In 1993 a former Alcatraz inmate named Thomas Kent told the television program America's Most Wanted that he had helped plan the breakout, but had backed out because he could not swim. He said Clarence Anglin’s girlfriend had agreed to meet them on shore and drive them to Mexico. Officials were skeptical, because Kent had been paid $2,000 for the interview.[8]

A 2003 MythBusters episode[16] on the Discovery Channel tested the feasibility of an escape from the island aboard a raft constructed using the same materials and tools available to the inmates, and determined that it was "plausible".[8] A 2011 program on the National Geographic Channel disclosed that footprints leading away from the raft wreckage had been found on the Angel Island beach, and that contrary to the official FBI report, a car had been stolen nearby on the night of the escape.[8]

In 2011 an 89-year-old man named Bud Morris, who said 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. Bud Morris further claimed to have met his cousin face to face in a San Diego park shortly after the escape; his 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]".[17]

In 2012, the 50th anniversary of the escape, the Anglins' two sisters and two of their nephews made public their belief that Clarence and John—who would be well into their eighties—were still alive. Marie Anglin Winder claimed that in 1962 she received a phone call from San Francisco after the escape; the caller said, "This is John Anglin." The family also produced a Christmas card, purportedly received in the family mailbox in 1962, saying, "To Mother, from John. Merry Christmas."[18] Michael Dyke, the Deputy U.S. Marshal, conceded that there is a "possibility that they survived"—but noted that a Norwegian freighter reported seeing a body floating in the ocean 15 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, about one month after the escape. "He had on prison clothes—a navy pea coat and a light pair of trousers—similar to what [Alcatraz] prisoners wore. There were no other missing people during that time period."[19]

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.[20]

A 2015 History Channel documentary presented further circumstantial evidence gathered over the years by the Anglin brothers' family, including Christmas cards allegedly sent by the brothers for three years after their escape. While the handwriting on the cards was verified as the Anglins', none contained a postmarked stamp, so experts could not determine when they were mailed.[21] The program featured an interview with family friend Fred Brizzi, who grew up with the brothers and claimed to have recognized them in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1975. To support his story he provided photographs of two men resembling John and Clarence Anglin and the farm near Rio where they were purportedly living.[22] Forensic experts hired by the History Channel confirmed that the photos were taken in 1975, and asserted that the two men were "more than likely" the Anglins.[23][24] The film also presented an alternate escape theory, involving the use of an electrical cord—which was reported missing from the prison's dock on the night of the escape—as a tow line, attached to a passenger ferry that departed the island shortly after midnight.[25]

A retired Deputy U.S. Marshal who now works with the Anglin family called Brizzi's photograph of the two men "absolutely the best actionable lead we've had"—but Michael Dyke, the Deputy Marshal currently assigned to the case, urged caution. "The important thing is to not draw any conclusions," he said, "as [the photo] hasn't been vetted through regular investigative channels."[23] Family members say they received no further communication from the brothers after 1975, but they are planning a trip to Brazil to continue their search.[21]

In popular culture[edit]

J. Campbell Bruce's 1963 book Escape from Alcatraz documents the 1962 escape, along with other escape attempts over the 29 years that Alcatraz Island served as a prison.[26]

The 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz stars Clint Eastwood, Fred Ward, and Jack Thibeau as Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin respectively. West (fictionalized as a character named Charley Butts) was played by Larry Hankin.[27] The film implied that the escape had been successful.[8]

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 g h i "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 Attempts". Alcatrazhistory.com. Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  5. ^ Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, retrieved November 9, 2015.
  6. ^ San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz, retrieved November 9, 2015.
  7. ^ "Alcatraz Escape — June 11, 1962". Alcatraz History. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 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. ^ a b Babyak, J (2001). Breaking the Rock: The Great Escape from Alcatraz. ISBN 0-9618752-3-2. 
  10. ^ "Alcatraz: Living Hell". video.nationalgeographic.co.in. National Geographic Channel. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  11. ^ http://The Great Escape from Acatraz. [www.alcatrazhistory.com/alcesc2.htm AlcatrazHistory.com].
  12. ^ "Valued exposure: Escape". BBC News. June 15, 2009. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  13. ^ Full text of Alcatraz Escape FBI Files. Archive.org, retrieved November 2, 2015.
  14. ^ Marzilli, Alan (2003). Famous Crimes of the 20th Century. Philadelphia: Chelsea House. pp. 73–75. ISBN 9780791067888. 
  15. ^ "Escape From Alcatraz And A 47-Year Manhunt". National Public Radio. 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  16. ^ MythBusters, season 1, episode 11
  17. ^ "Rome man claims he had role in escape from Alcatraz (2011)". WXIA-TV Atlanta. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  18. ^ Nolte, C. (March 18, 2013). Alcatraz escapees' family convinced brothers alive. sfgate.com.
  19. ^ Leithead, A. (June 12, 2012). Alcatraz escape still surprises, 50 years on. BBC.com.
  20. ^ Morelle, R. (December 15, 2014). Alcatraz 1962 escapees had small chance of success. BBC.com.
  21. ^ a b Notorious Alcatraz escapees may still be on the lam (October 19, 2015). CBC.ca, retrieved November 2, 2015.
  22. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-RbxjEmLN4
  23. ^ a b Graff, A. (October 12, 2015). "New claim: Alcatraz escapees might have survived. could still be alive". SF Gate. Retrieved October 13, 2015. 
  24. ^ "50 years later, new evidence suggests 3 Alcatraz escapees may still be alive". WPIX-11. October 12, 2015. Retrieved October 13, 2015. 
  25. ^ Staff Writer (October 12, 2015). "The picture that 'proves' two inmates DID escape from Alcatraz: Notorious escapees didn't drown, body-surfed behind a passenger ferry to freedom and started a farm in Brazil, claims family". Detroit Newstime. Retrieved October 13, 2015. 
  26. ^ Bruce, Campbell J. (1963). Escape from Alcatraz. ISBN 1-58008-678-0. 
  27. ^ McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. Harper Collins (2002), p. 307. ISBN 0-00-638354-8.