When we hear the name “Alcatraz,” we associate it with prison, cold water, and steep cliffs—which is why it makes such a good penitentiary for the most infamous criminals. The prison is known to be practically inescapable and a lot of money and energy has been spent on ensuring that. The only issue is that three convicts escaped in the mid-1960s, and how they did it has been baffling law enforcement for more than 50 years; that is, until now…
14. The Rock
Alcatraz prison was built in 1860 with the hopes of containing some of America’s most violent criminals, as well as being a military fortress. The island was chosen for its remote location, steep cliffs, and ice cold waters, which in theory would prevent anyone from even attempting escape. Even though the geographic harshness was thought to prevent escape, it seems the designers and engineers underestimated the human determination for freedom.
13. Life Of The Prison
The fortress was used as a prison from 1934-1963, giving it 29 long years of active duty. Until June 11th of 1962, no prisoner had ever successfully escaped—the ones that tried either died or were caught in the attempt. The prison had a reputation for thriving off the freedom of its captives until three men changed its reputation forever that day. Without many clues, the three prisoners simply vanished…
12. Frank Morris
Inmate AZ1441, or more commonly known as Frank Morris, was one of the men that escaped on that very memorable day. Morris is a perfect example of how essential a loving support system is at a young age, as his life of crime was fueled by the lack thereof. Morris bounced from foster home to foster home after he was orphaned at a very young age. Young Morris started committing crimes at the tender age of only 13. He was caught committing a robbery in 1960 and sentenced to time at Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco.
11. The Anglin Brothers
John and Clarence Anglin came from a family of farmers and they had a childhood filled with relocation and few things beyond necessities. The brothers began robbing banks and stores as a duo, and eventually got caught up. Sentenced to time in a Georgia prison, the young men made multiple attempts to free themselves and thus were sent to the island in an effort to prevent further attempts. A few things were slightly off with the incarceration of the three men, as the Anglin brothers were put in the same cell, with a third roommate, Frank Morris.
10. A Fourth Accomplice?
There was actually a fourth accomplice by the name of Allen Clayton West, who didn’t end up partaking in the actual escape. He was imprisoned in Florida for numerous charges, ranging from murder to theft, and he tried escaping many times before being sent to Alcatraz. When he met the other three men, they began plotting their escape. Eventually, when it came down to it, he couldn’t remove a ventilator grill in time to escape with the rest—he played a vital role in the plan nonetheless.
9. The Beginning
Planning a prison escape is no easy task, it takes months just to figure out if there is a plausible way to even get out, let alone plan for what you’ll encounter once you’re out. Morris had the original idea, while the other men eagerly went along with brainstorming the perfect plan. They decided they would dig through their ventilator shafts, create decoys as to not arouse suspicion, then climb to freedom in the middle of the night—Finally, once they got to the bay, they would sail away into the night. Their plan seems doable, but they run into many issues along the way…
8. The Decoys
Every night, the guards would do bed checks to ensure everyone was where they were supposed to be—the men knew they needed some kind of decoy to get past this issue. They decided to make improv paper-mâché heads out of toilet paper and soap, painting with life-like colors that they managed to steal from the maintenance shop when no one was looking. They used glue they found on the floor of the barber shop to add hair, creating replicas of their respective noggins. When it was showtime, the men placed their “heads” on their respective pillows and created bodies by lumping their clothes together under their blankets (just like you used to do when you tried to sneak out after curfew)
7. Music Time
Every night for one hour, the men of the prison were allowed to play any instrument they had, giving the escapees the perfect opportunity to dig through their vents without anyone noticing the noise. They didn’t have to dig with their hands either because over time they had acquired all sorts of instruments such as spoons, makeshift blades, and surprisingly, a homemade drill made from an old vacuum motor. Over a few months they were able to dig big enough holes for them to squeeze through, but until the time was right they had to conceal them with cardboard disguised to blend in with the wall.
6. A Major Problem
Although they had been planning this for months, there was still room for disaster to strike, and strike it did. The original instigator of the plan, Allen West, was actually left behind during the final escape. He couldn’t get through the hole in his cell in time and the other men decided to leave him behind. When authorities figured out the plan and questioned West about his involvement, the other men, and their plans for staying under the radar, he refused to give them any useful information. Some believe there is honor in his silence, even though he was a convicted murderer. There are parts of the plan that will forever remain a mystery as they died with him on December 21st, 1978.
5. The Climb
After the initial climb through the ventilator shafts, the men would have entered an unguarded section of the prison, that was essentially an electrical corridor. From this room, the men found their way in the dark to the roof, as quickly as possible in order to avoid any unwanted attention. An investigation, brought to light by a loud bang that was heard in the general area, startled the three men during the escape; fortunately, it wasn’t thoroughly investigated (due to an obviously ill advised decision). As if it wasn’t extremely difficult up until this point, the next step of the plan was going to be the most challenging of all…
4. The Drop
After the initial climb to the roof, the men faced a 50-foot drop to the banks of the bay. With all of their survival gear, they slid down kitchen pipe to the ground. When they all safely landed on the ground, they decided it was time to inflate the raft and get serious about the next step of the plan. Finally, the water was going take them away from the prison—but will they freeze before ever getting to celebrate on dry land?
3. The Raft
Of course, they didn’t have a professional-grade raft so they had to make their own. It’s estimated that around 50 raincoats were used to create the raft that was going to take them to shore. It was carefully handcrafted and sewn together over months, which took detailed planning to ensure there were no leaks. It wasn’t only raincoats the men stole and repurposed, but anything they could get their hands on like scrap wood for paddles. Around 10 am, the morning of the escape, they inflated their raft and attempted entry into the water. They were able to do so because they found a blind spot at the Northeast shoreline.
When authorities discovered the men were missing, a massive manhunt was launched in order to find the escaped convicts. Search parties looked in every room of the prison and every inch of the island. When they couldn’t locate the individuals, they looked on Angel Island, which was nearby. They couldn’t find the three men anywhere, not even any evidence of escape was found—it was like they simply vanished, as if through the walls. The best argument was that the outgoing current might have taken them out to sea, but this convinced no one—the Anglin brothers were known as excellent swimmers so how could anyone believe water stopped them?
1. What They Found
Although authorities never officially found any bodies, there was a report of one that resembled Morris floating in the nearby water the same day of the escape, but no one was ever able to confirm the identity. A couple days after the escape, as the manhunt intensified, a paddle and the makeshift raft washed ashore on nearby Angel Island. What’s even more interesting is, the local police department received a call from someone who claimed to be John Anglin, confirming his survival–yet, the clue didn’t do much to develop the investigation. Clarence Carnes, an inmate at Alcatraz at the time, reported that he received a message that was from the men that simply stated, “Gone Fishing.” It’s believed that the men had outside help, as there is essentially no way they could have disappeared like they did without it.
New evidence supports a theory that the brothers received help from a girlfriend, and they have been living in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.