« "Should Sex Offenders Be Buried With Military Honors?" | Main | "Clemency in a Time of Crisis" »

June 10, 2012

Golden anniversary of the greatest escape from the greatest prison

AlcThis morning's New York Times has this new article discussing an old mystery still surrounding a long-closed (but still justifiably famous) federal prison.  The piece is headlined "Tale of 3 Inmates Who Vanished From Alcatraz Maintains Intrigue 50 Years Later," and here is how it begins:

Fifty years ago, on the night of June 11, 1962, the three convicts were locked down as usual.  Guards walking the tier outside their cells saw them at 9:30 and checked on them periodically all night, looking in at the sleeping faces, hearing nothing strange.  But by morning, the inmates had vanished, Houdini-like.

Guards found pillows under the bedclothes and lifelike papier-mâché heads with real hair and closed, painted eyes.  Federal agents, state and local police officers, Coast Guard boats and military helicopters joined the largest manhunt since the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932, scouring the prison complex on Alcatraz Island, the expanse of San Francisco Bay and the surrounding landscape of Northern California.

A crude raft made of rubber raincoats was found on a nearby island.  But the fugitives were never seen again.  Federal officials said they almost certainly drowned in the maelstrom of riptides, undertows and turbulent, frigid waters of the 10-mile-wide bay, their bodies probably swept out to sea under the Golden Gate Bridge.

But for aficionados of unsolved mysteries, the fantasy that Frank Lee Morris and the brothers Clarence and John Anglin had successfully escaped from the nation’s most forbidding maximum security prison and are still alive, hiding somewhere, has been a tantalizing if remote possibility for a half-century now.

It seemed wildly improbable.  “The Rock” where Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and other infamous criminals were held was thought to be escape-proof.  In its 29 years as a federal prison, from 1934 to 1963, no one is known to have made it out alive.  Forty-one inmates tried. Of those, 26 were recaptured, 7 were shot dead, 3 drowned and 2 besides Mr. Morris and the Anglin brothers were never found.

Had they survived, the three men — all bank robbers serving long terms — would be in their 80s now.  And while their names are all but forgotten, their breakout has been a subject of fascination to many Americans, analyzed in countless articles, four television documentaries, a 1963 book by J. Campbell Bruce, “Escape from Alcatraz,” and a 1979 movie of the same name starring Clint Eastwood as Mr. Morris.

June 10, 2012 at 10:15 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Golden anniversary of the greatest escape from the greatest prison:


"The Eastwood film implied that the escape had been successful. A 2003 “MythBusters” program on the Discovery Channel tested the feasibility of an escape on a raincoat raft and judged it possible. And the 2011 National Geographic program disclosed that footprints leading away from the raft had been found on Angel Island, and that contrary to official denials, a car had been stolen nearby on the night of the escape."

Liked the movie myself.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 10, 2012 10:53:56 AM

I posit that they escaped and are hanging out at their clubhouse in Oregon with DB Cooper. They keep a Sasquatch as a pet and used to play cards with the Unabomber before he was captured.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jun 10, 2012 12:30:45 PM

"Federal officials said they almost certainly drowned in the maelstrom of riptides, undertows and turbulent, frigid waters of the 10-mile-wide bay, their bodies probably swept out to sea under the Golden Gate Bridge."

I have no idea what really happened but I will point out that the federal officials have a strong vested interested in that explanation as it allows them the keep up the appearance that the prison was truly inescapable.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 10, 2012 1:48:36 PM

I agree with Jardinero1, execept that he neglected to mention that Elvis is there, too.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 10, 2012 2:33:19 PM

If the Feds. say the guys died, I believe the opposite.

Posted by: Juan Escobedo | Jun 10, 2012 4:06:03 PM

They made it.

Posted by: Hooty Saenz | Jun 10, 2012 5:33:08 PM

Yeah, we -- err I mean -- they definitely drowned. Don't look for us -- them.

Posted by: Anonymous (of course) | Jun 10, 2012 9:27:45 PM

And one of them is Trig Palin's actual father and he has Obama's real birth certificate.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jun 10, 2012 10:21:57 PM

I liked the previous comments, especially the one made by Mr. Morri- err, anonymous I mean. I personally liked to believe that they made it, because the feat is just so amazing.

Posted by: Anne Roberts | Jun 11, 2012 1:56:11 PM

The last comment is unsurprising but we should remember they were in prison for a good reason so them escaping isn't that charming.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 13, 2012 9:27:58 PM

'were in prison for a good reason'

the 2 brothers weren't big time criminals (i.e. axe murderers) they were put on the 'rock' because they had made mulitple escape attempts at other federal facilities

Posted by: Jammer | Jun 14, 2012 5:15:53 PM

There are other good reasons such as bank robbery or multiple escape attempts while in jail for other crimes.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 30, 2012 7:59:40 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB