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 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, 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. 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. As of 2015, Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers are still wanted by the U.S. Marshalls.

Previous attempts[edit]

There were 14 separate total escape attempts by 36 different Alcatraz inmates.[3] 23 were caught alive, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five (Morris and the Anglins included) are listed as "missing and presumed drowned".[4] 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.[5] 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,[6] where he became prisoner AZ1441.

Allen West[edit]

Main article: Allen West

Allen Clayton West was born on March 25, 1929.[7] 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.[7] After his release from federal prison on January 7, 1965, West was sent to serve prison sentences in Georgia and Florida.[7] He was released in 1967 but was later arrested in Florida on charges of grand larceny, robbery and attempted escape.[7] Receiving multiple sentences, including life imprisonment, West was sent to Florida state prison in January 1969.[7] On October 30, 1972, he fatally stabbed another prisoner in what may have been a racially-motivated incident.[7] 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.[7]


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

Morris, West, and the Anglin brothers began planning their escape in September 1961. Over the course of nine months they slowly widened ventilation duct openings in their cells' walls, using spoons stolen from the commissary, until they were large enough to crawl through. To avoid immediate discovery of their absence during routine bed checks by guards, 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.[8] On the night of June 11, 1962 they placed towels and clothing in their bunks, covered them with blankets, positioned the dummy heads on the pillows, and crawled through the ventilation holes into an unused service corridor.[3] West found his escape route blocked by a steel bar, and was left behind.[9]

From the service corridor the three men climbed a ventilation shaft to reach 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. The prisoners then climbed down from the rooftop and scaled the prison's outer fence. At the northeastern shore of the island they inflated a raft fabricated from standard-issue prison raincoats and contact cement, and departed at approximately 10 p.m. using home-made wooden paddles for propulsion.[3][9]


The escape was not discovered until the following morning, due to the successful dummy-head ruse.[10] Police found no trace of the men on Alcatraz or Angel Island, but did identify remnants of the raft, paddles, and a bag containing the Anglins' personal effects washed up on an Angel Island beach.[9]

FBI investigators concluded that, while it was theoretically possible for one or more of the inmates to have reached Angel Island, the cold water temperature and direction of the ocean's tides made it unlikely.[3] Interviews with West revealed that the men planned to steal clothes and a car once they reached land, but no car or clothing thefts were reported in the area following the escape.[3][9] The FBI closed its case on December 31, 1979, after a 17-year investigation. Their official finding was that the prisoners drowned in the cold waters of the bay while trying to reach the mainland.[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.[11]

A 2003 MythBusters episode[12] 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.[9] 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.[6]

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. Morris further claimed to have met his cousin face to face in a San Diego park shortly after the escape. 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]".[13]

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."[14] Michael Dyke, the Deputy US 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 prisoners wore. There were no other missing people during that time period."[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

In 2008, the pop rock band Capital Lights released the song "Frank Morris" of their album This is an Outrage!. The song evidently is about the famous 1962 escape.

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 Attempts". Alcatrazhistory.com. Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  5. ^ "Alcatraz Escape — June 11, 1962". Alcatraz History. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  6. ^ 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 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Babyak, Jolene (2001). Breaking the Rock: The Great Escape from Alcatraz. ISBN 0-9618752-3-2. 
  8. ^ "Valued exposure: Escape". BBC News. June 15, 2009. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  9. ^ 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 
  10. ^ Marzilli, Alan (2003). Famous Crimes of the 20th Century. Philadelphia: Chelsea House. pp. 73–75. ISBN 9780791067888. 
  11. ^ "Escape From Alcatraz And A 47-Year Manhunt". National Public Radio. 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  12. ^ MythBusters, season 1, episode 11
  13. ^ "Rome man claims he had role in escape from Alcatraz (2011)". WXIA-TV Atlanta. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  14. ^ http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Alcatraz-escapees-family-convinced-brothers-alive-3626364.php
  15. ^ http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-18404134
  16. ^ http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30349106
  17. ^ Bruce, Campbell J. (1963). Escape from Alcatraz. ISBN 1-58008-678-0. 
  18. ^ McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. Harper Collins (2002), p. 307. ISBN 0-00-638354-8.