Alcatraz Escape
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Alcatraz Escape

All 3 were Serial Bank Robbers


Posted Monday October 2nd 2023

FBI Alcatraz Escape
Alcatraz Escape
John Anglin, Clarence Anglin, and Frank Morris

The federal prison at Alcatraz Island was revamped in 1931 when the Justice department wanted a high-security prison to incarcerate the most dangerous, violent, and escape prone criminals in its custody. With its location on a rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was considered to be escape-proof. Some of the most notorious criminals, from Al Capone, to George "Machine Gun" Kelly, to Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, were housed there at one point.

John Anglin, Clarence Anglin, and Frank Morris, all serial bank robbers, were sent to Alcatraz in December 1961. Over six months, using tools improvised from stolen parts, they widened the ventilation ducts beneath their sinks and concealed the hole with a cardboard grate. They made a raft and life vests out of over 50 stolen raincoats, from a design they saw in Popular Mechanics. On the night of Jume 11, 1962, they placed dummy heads made from used toilet paper, cardboard, and hair from the barbershop floor, in their beds. They crawled through the holes in their cell walls, climbed up the pipes of the utility corridor to the ceiling, and escaped through a ventilator shaft to the roof. Then they shimmied down the bakery smokestack and launched their raft into the water. Morris and the Anglin brothers were never found and are presumed to have died in the attempt, though men routinely claimed to be one of the three escaped inmates.

Along with the Coast Guard and Bureau of Prison authorities, the FBI searched the cells for evidence and pieced together the escape plan. They also interviewed the fourth conspirator, Allen West, who was not able to escape in time and was left behind by the other three. FBI agents followed leads on the case, including searching for evidence of a theft of a car or clothes on land, help from family or friends after the escape, and further criminal activity by the trio. The FBI oficially closed the case on December 31, 1979.

Alcatraz Escape Handmade Raft
  • 3-Ring Binder
    The fake ventilator grill was made in part from the cover of this binder.
  • Alcatraz Correctional Officer's uniform hat, wristwatch, and keys
    This hat and watch belonged to Charles H. Herman, Jr., who was Cell House Officer-In-Charge the night of the famous escape, June 11, 1962.
  • False Ventilator Grill
    One of the false ventilator grilles that the Anglin Brothers and Frank Morris conceal holes drilled in their cells.
  • Handmade Raft
    This raft is made from green rubberized raincoats issued to the prisoners at Alcatraz. It was shaped into a tube and held together with glue and stitching.
  • Lifejacket
    the inmates also created lifejackets out of stolen raincoats.
  • Pillowcase
    Pillowcase from the pillow one of the dummy heads was resting on.

Alcatraz Escape Handmade Paddles
  • John Anglin Wanted Poster
  • Handmade Plywood Paddles
  • November 1960 Popular Mechanics Information on how to build the rubber raft that they used. The magazine was recovered from the cell.
  • Ha Ha We Made It postcard Received by the Warden of Alcatraz Prison on June 18, 1962. Hand written words HA HA WE MADE IT Frank John Clarence.

Alcatraz Escape Handmade Tools
  • Handmade Tools
    The Anglin Brothers and Frank Morris created several tools they used in their escape, including a wrench, flat file, chisels, and bar spreader, out of materials found around the prison. The chisela were recovered from the cell of Allen Clayton West, the fourth man involved in the plot. He was not able to get out of his cell in time to escape with Morris and the Anglins.
  • Bolt with FBI Evidence Label
    This bolt was recovered from the bucket of dried cement on the roof of Alcatraz Cell Block B after the escape.
  • Handmade Drill
    1962 The Anglin Brothers and Frank Morris fabricated this drill out of a vacuum cleaner motor. They used to break holes in the walls of their cells. It was recovered from a cement bucket.
  • Handmade Flashlight

Alcatraz Escape Green Paint
  • Green and Flesh Colored Paint
    These jars contain paint that was mixed to match the green of the walls in the cells, and flesh-colored paint was used to finish the dummy heads they left in their beds. They were recovered from John Anglin's cell after the escape.
  • Hollowed Out Book
    The book was from the Alcatraz prison library. The pages were hollowed out to hide contraband. The book was given to Special Agent Donald V. Eberle, who investigated the 1962 escape, by Alcatraz Warden Olin G. Blackwell.

Alcatraz Escape Cell

Alcatraz Escape Cell

Alcatraz Escape False Ventilator Grill
Fake Ventilator Grill

June 1962 Alcatraz Escape Attempt

WIKIPEDIA Alcatraz Escape
In June 1962, inmates Clarence Anglin, John Anglin, and Frank Morris escaped from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Late on the night of June 11 or early morning of June 12, the three men tucked papier-mache heads resembling their own likenesses into their beds, broke out of the main prison building via ventilation ducts and an unused utility corridor, and departed the island aboard an improvised inflatable raft to an uncertain fate. A fourth conspirator, Allen West, failed in his escape attempt and remained on the island.

Hundreds of leads were pursued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (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 without reaching the mainland. The U.S. Marshals Service case file remains open and active, however, and Morris and the Anglin brothers remain on its wanted list.

New circumstantial and material evidence has continued to surface, stoking new debates on whether the inmates managed to survive.

The Inmates

Frank Morris
Frank Lee Morris (born September 1, 1926) was born in Washington, D.C. Orphaned at age 11, he spent the rest of his childhood in foster homes. He was convicted of his first criminal offense at 13, and by his late teens had been arrested for crimes ranging from narcotics possession to armed robbery. He spent most of his early years in jail serving lunch to prisoners. Later, he was arrested for grand larceny in Miami Beach, car theft, and armed robbery. Morris reportedly ranked in the top 2% of the general population in intelligence, as measured by IQ testing (133). He served time in Florida and Georgia, then escaped from the Louisiana State Penitentiary while serving 10 years for bank robbery. He was recaptured a year later while committing a burglary and sent to Alcatraz on January 20, 1960, as inmate number AZ1441.

John and Clarence Anglin
John William (born May 2, 1930) and Clarence (born May 11, 1931) were born into a family of 14 children in Donalsonville, Georgia. Their parents, George Robert Anglin and Rachael Van Miller Anglin, were seasonal farmworkers; in the early 1940s, they moved the family to Ruskin, Florida, 20 miles (32 km) south of Tampa, where the truck farms and tomato fields provided a more reliable source of income. Each June they migrated north as far as Michigan to pick cherries. Clarence and John were reportedly inseparable as youngsters; they became skilled swimmers, and amazed their siblings by swimming in the frigid waters of Lake Michigan as ice still floated on its surface.

Clarence was first caught breaking into a service station when he was 14 years old. The brothers began robbing banks and other establishments as a team in the early 1950s, usually targeting businesses that were closed, to ensure that no one got injured. They claimed that they used a weapon only once, during a bank heist – a toy gun. On January 17, 1958, brothers John, Clarence, and Alfred Anglin robbed the Bank of Columbia in Columbia, Alabama. All received 35-year sentences, which they served at Florida State Prison, Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, and then Atlanta Penitentiary. After repeated attempts to escape from the Atlanta facility, John and Clarence were transferred to Alcatraz. John arrived on October 24, 1960, as inmate AZ1476, and Clarence on January 16, 1961, as inmate AZ1485.

Allen West
Allen West (March 25, 1929 – December 21, 1978) was born in New York City. West was arrested over 20 times throughout his lifetime. He was imprisoned for car theft in 1955, first at Atlanta Penitentiary, then at Florida State Prison. After an escape attempt from the Florida facility, he was transferred to Alcatraz in 1957 at the age of 28 and became inmate AZ1335.

The Escape
The four inmates all knew each other from previous incarcerations in Florida and Georgia. When they were assigned adjacent cells in December 1961, they began formulating an escape plan under the leadership of Morris. Over the subsequent six months, they widened the ventilation ducts beneath their sinks using discarded saw blades found on the prison grounds, metal spoons from the mess hall, and an electric drill improvised from the motor of a vacuum cleaner. The men concealed their work with painted cardboard, and masked the noise with Morris's accordion on top of the ambient din of music hour.

Once the holes were wide enough to pass through, the men accessed the unguarded utility corridor directly behind their cells' tier and climbed to the vacant top level of the cellblock, where they set up a clandestine workshop. Here, using over fifty raincoats among other stolen and donated materials, they constructed life preservers, based on a design Morris found in the March 1962 issue of Popular Mechanics, with the article, Your Life Preserver - How will it behave if you need it?. Morris found other ideas in magazines; resin to make a lamp shade in the November 1960 issue of Popular Mechanics, and Signposts of Water Safety about channel buoys indicating course and navigation hazards, in the May 21, 1962, issue of Sports Illustrated. They also assembled a six-by-fourteen-foot rubber raft, the seams carefully stitched by hand and sealed with liquid plastic available in the shops, and heat from nearby steam pipes. Paddles were improvised from plywood and screws. Finally, they climbed a ventilation shaft to the roof and removed the rivets holding a large fan in place.

The men concealed their absence while working outside their cells, and after the escape itself, by sculpting dummy heads from a hand-made paper-mache-like mixture of soap, toothpaste, concrete dust, and toilet paper, and giving them a realistic appearance with paint from the maintenance shop and hair from the barbershop floor. With towels and clothing piled under the blankets in their bunks and the dummy heads positioned on the pillows, they appeared to be sleeping.

On the night of June 11, 1962, with all preparations in place, the men initiated their plan. West discovered that the cement he had used to reinforce crumbling concrete around his vent had hardened, narrowing the opening and fixing the grille in place. By the time he managed to remove the grille and re-widen the hole, the others had left without him. He returned to his cell and went to sleep.

From the service corridor, Morris and the Anglins climbed the ventilation shaft to the roof. Guards heard a loud crash as they broke out of the shaft, but nothing further was heard, and the source of the noise was not investigated. Hauling their gear with them, they descended 50 feet (15 m) to the ground by sliding down a kitchen vent pipe, then climbed two 12-foot (3.7 m) 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 a concertina stolen from another inmate and modified to serve as a bellows. At some time after 10:00 p.m., investigators estimated, they boarded the raft, launched it and departed toward their objective, Angel Island, two miles to the north.

The escape was not discovered until the morning of June 12 due to the successful dummy head ruse.

The Search
Multiple military and law-enforcement agencies conducted an extensive air, sea, and land search over the next 10 days. On June 14, a Coast Guard cutter picked up a paddle floating about 200 yards (180 m) off the southern shore of Angel Island. On the same day and in the same general location, workers on another boat found a wallet wrapped in plastic complete with names, addresses, and photos of the Anglins' friends and relatives. On June 21, shreds of raincoat material, believed to be remnants of the raft, were found on a beach not far from the Golden Gate Bridge. The following day, a prison boat picked up a deflated life jacket made from the same material 50 yards (46 m) off Alcatraz Island. According to the final FBI report, no other physical evidence was found.

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