- The island prison Alcatraz, which was dubbed the “ultimate maximum security prison” during its time, was supposed to be an inescapable stockade that held America’s most incorrigible public enemies, a reputation left shattered one summer night in 1962 by three men – if the story holds true.
- Bank robbers Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin were serving their sentences on the solitary island known as “The Rock,” situated in the middle of San Francisco Bay, when they hatched what some recognize as the most ingenious prison break in American history.
- 3 ALCATRAZ INMATES SURVIVED 1962 ESCAPE, SWAM TO LAND, LETTER SUGGESTS
While the case remains open, some federal officials say the men drowned during the escape and the cold, choppy waters of the Pacific swept their bodies away. But their bodies were never recovered.
Frank Morris, pictured left, John Anglin, center, and Clarence Anglin are officially listed as missing and presumed drowned even though their bodies have never been recovered. (FBI)
- Without solid proof that Morris and the Anglin brothers did, in fact, die before ever reaching the shores of California, swirling conspiracy theories have spawned to fill in the blanks.
- Read on to learn more about the escape from Alcatraz and the biggest conspiracy theories surrounding this American mystery.
- What was Alcatraz?
The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum-security prison on Alcatraz Island, located just over a mile off the coast of San Francisco, Calif. It had held military captives during the Civil War but was re-fortified in the 1930s to combat the major crime wave of the early twentieth century. This modern iteration was operational for nearly 30 years, from Aug. 11, 1934, to March 21, 1963.
Alcatraz was thought to be an inescapable prison. Other notable inmates included Al Capone, Robert Stroud, the so-called “Birdman of Alcatraz,” and George “Machine-Gun” Kelly. (FBI)
Despite its isolated location and tough security measures, which included fortified iron bars, strategically placed guard towers and guards performing at least a dozen strict inmate checks per day, the federal reports say 36 men tried 14 separate escapes. Nearly all of the attempts ended with the inmates’ recapture or death.
That changed on June 11, 1962, when Morris and the Anglin brothers executed their clever plan.
The 'Hollywood' Escape
During the routine cell check the following morning, guards discovered Morris, John and Clarence were not in their beds. In their place were dummy heads crafted from plaster, flesh-toned paint and real human hair – a clever arts-and-crafts project that apparently tricked the night guards, according to the FBI.
AMAZING ALCATRAZ DISCOVERY: LASERS REVEAL LONG-HIDDEN MILITARY TUNNEL AND FORTIFICATIONS
Investigators were initially dumbfounded but began to piece the plan together over the course of the next several days as they discovered more evidence.
Family lore: Men did escape Alcatraz to Lake Wales, then Brazil
- Writer's account: I recall being as young as 10 when I first heard the tale of my distant cousins' improbable-yet-daring escape from “The Rock.”
- I recall being as young as 10 when I first heard the tale of my distant cousins' improbable-yet-daring escape from “The Rock.”
- Brothers John and Clarence Anglin were my grandmother's first cousins.
- John William Anglin was 32 and Clarence was 31 when they, along with inmate Frank Morris, who was 35, escaped from the highly-fortified federal prison on June 11, 1962.
Born in Donalsonville, Georgia, the brothers were cousins to my grandmother, Linnie “Cleo” Miller Hardman, one of six children born in nearby Iron City, Georgia. Their parents were George Robert and Rachael Van Miller Anglin — Hardman's aunt and uncle.
The Anglins were two of 13 children to George and Rachael, seasonal farm workers who settled in Ruskin and in the summer traveled as far north as Michigan to pick cherries.
In 1924, my grandmother and her family moved from Iron City, Georgia, to Lake Wales, where she met and married my grandfather, Neil Hardman, who became the city's assistant postmaster. While I was growing up, I remember my grandmother recalling seeing John and Clarence, who were 23 and 24 years younger than she, at family functions.
My mother, Sybil Hardman Catala — a Lake Wales native — said Cleo occasionally mentioned her notorious cousins.
Most striking is the family lore in which my Great Aunt Alnita “Coot” Miller Collier, now deceased, mentioned the brothers did indeed escape, made it across the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay and into the city.
According to Miller family legend, the brothers made their way across the country, into Lake Wales and stayed for about a day in my Aunt Coot's — the Anglins' first cousin on their mother's side — home on Central Avenue.
Steve Shaw, 58, Coot's grandson and my cousin, recalls a day when he was 17 that his grandmother revealed to him the revelation about the Miller family's involvement with the Anglins.
Shaw, who lives in Plant City, said Collier was in her 50s when she told him and he was immediately enthralled by the recollection. He said he looked up information about Donalsonville at the library and later the internet.
Shaw said Collier told him the Anglins showed up at her house, told them they had escaped from Alcatraz and were there to “say their 'goodbyes'.”
“I saw Granny all the time and we talked about all kinds of stuff and one day she told me about this and said to keep quiet about it,” Shaw said. “She said they came in and told her, 'We escaped Alcatraz.' She was one of the people they came to and they said, 'We love you' and 'We can't stay'.”
Since then, Shaw said, he's done quite a bit of personal investigation into the escape and thinks what my great-aunt told him was true.
“I hung out with Granny a lot and she told me all kinds of stuff, but this she said to keep quiet about, which I did for 38 years,” he said. “When she told me this, I was in high school, about 1978. I didn't get it, but she told me to keep quiet so I did. (The Anglins) were very close to her evidently.”
Where the men went from there isn't certain, but family lore has it they fled the country and lived in Brazil. In 2013, the San Francisco Police Department got a handwritten letter allegedly written by John Anglin who said they made their escape and that Morris died in 2008 and Clarence in 2011.
John said he was 83 and had cancer and would turn himself in for a minimal prison sentence for access to cancer treatment. Results by the FBI regarding the handwriting and fingerprints on the letter were inconclusive as to who wrote it, according to numerous media reports.
How Did Three Men Escape from Alcatraz?
It was a routine inspection by the prison warders. On the morning of June 12th, 1962, the guards at Alcatraz high security prison made their morning check on the prisoners in their cells.
When they came to Cell Block B, they quickly realized that something was not quite right. The men were in their beds but they were showing no signs of life.
The guards unlocked the cells and were stunned by what they found. Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin were missing; in their place were elaborately made paper-mâché heads with real hair and painted eyes. Three of Alcatraz’s most dangerous prisoners had escaped.
An Inescapable Fortress
Neither the guards nor the other prisoners could believe that they’d managed to get away. Alcatraz, after all, was one of the world’s most closely guarded prisons. Situated on a rocky island in San Francisco Bay, it was washed by cold and hazardous waters, making escape almost impossible.
In its twenty-nine years as a federal prison, from 1934 to 1963, no one had ever made it out alive. Forty-one inmates tried. Of those, twenty-six were recaptured, seven were shot dead and at least three were known to have drowned.
This proved no deterrent for the three new escapees. In fact, they saw the island’s isolation as a challenge.
All three men were hardened criminals. Frank Morris had been involved in a number of serious crimes ranging from armed robbery to dealing in narcotics. He had been transferred to Alcatraz in 1960.
John Anglin was also an infamous criminal. He’d robbed the Columbia Alabama Bank in 1958, together with his two brothers. It had earned him a thirty-five-year prison sentence.
Clarence Anglin had been involved in a number of other bank robberies and had also been caught escaping from the Atlanta State Penitentiary. It was decided to send him to Alcatraz, in order to prevent him from making any more escape attempts.
All of the men were highly resourceful and extremely motivated. They discovered that there was an unguarded three-foot-wide utility corridor behind their cells. This led to an air vent and thence to the outside world.
The prisoners began to chisel away at the moisture-damaged concrete. For tools, they used metal spoons stolen from the canteen and an electric drill that they improvised from the motor of a stolen vacuum cleaner.
They did most of the work during music hour, when the noise of accordions covered the sound of their hacking at the concrete.
They also made dummy heads from soap, toilet paper and real hair in order to fool the guards; there were constant checks on the prisoners throughout the night.
It took a year to tunnel through the wall of the service tunnel. The men then had to steal a long piece of cord in order to reach the manhole that covered the air vent. When they finally lifted the manhole cover, they replaced the metal bolts with fake ones made of soap. Finally, on the night of 11 June, all was ready. It was time to make their escape.
Everything went exactly to plan. They crawled into the utility corridor, climbed the air vent and reached the prison roof. Then they clambered down to the rocky ground and began pumping air into a raft that they’d previously made from rubber raincoats. They’d even managed to make oars.
The guards immediately began searching for the men, but did they ever find them?
To find out the answer, listen to the full episode of our new podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, c
Man claims he is one of three 1962 Alcatraz escapees
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- By Amy B Wang | Washington Post
- The questions have stymied law enforcement agencies, haunted family members and intrigued the public for more than half a century.
- Did the three men who escaped in 1962 from Alcatraz – then known as the world’s most impenetrable island prison, a place for only the most hardened of criminals – survive their brazen attempt?
- And if so, are they still alive, nearly 56 years later?
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- To this day, Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin and John Anglin remain the only people who have escaped Alcatraz and never been found – a disappearance that is one of the country’s most notorious unsolved mysteries.
- The prevailing theory is that Morris and the Anglin brothers drowned after leaving Alcatraz Island and attempting to cross the frigid San Francisco Bay.
- But in a newly surfaced letter sent to San Francisco police in 2013 and obtained by CBS affiliate KPIX, a man claiming to be one of the escapees said all three of the prisoners survived the attempt – but he was the only one still living.
“My name is John Anglin,” the handwritten letter began. “I escape [sic] from Alcatraz in June 1962 with my brother Clarence and Frank Morris. I’m 83 years old and in bad shape. I have cancer. Yes we all made it that night but barely!”
The letter claimed Morris died in 2008 and that Clarence Anglin died in 2011.
The note continued: “If you announce on TV that I will be promised to first go to jail for no more than a year and get medical attention, I will write back to let you know exactly where I am. This is no joke.”
That was nearly five years ago.
Escape from Alcatraz: How three prisoners escaped the inescapable island in 1962 – but are they still alive?
On the morning of 12 June 1962, a loud, shrill siren began wailing from the top of a rock in San Francisco Bay.
Few, if any, had ever before heard it sound in anger. It was the escape siren on the supposedly inescapable island prison of Alcatraz.
Fifty-six years ago on Tuesday, an early morning bed check revealed that three inmates were missing from their cells.
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
- In their place were towels and clothes arranged to resemble bodies sleeping under blankets, with dummy heads made from a mixture soap, toothpaste, concrete dust and toilet paper, topped with real human hair taken from the floor of the prison barbershop – not overly realistic, but enough to fool the guards who had checked on the cells during the night.
- A massive manhunt began, involving federal agents, state and local police, coastguard boats, military helicopters and at least 100 armed troops.
- But Frank Morris and the brothers John and Clarence Anglin were never found – by officialdom.
- And so a trio of convicted bank robbers became folk heroes.
Even today their legend lives on. Some wonder whether the men themselves do too.
There is only a faint chance of all three still being alive now – Morris would be 91 today, John Anglin 88 and his younger brother Clarence 87.
But since the escape, there have been reports of the Anglin brothers sending their mother Christmas cards, of Frank Morris meeting a cousin in San Diego, of the trio sending fellow inmate Clarence Carnes – “the Choctaw Kid” – a postcard with the “mission accomplished” code phrase: “Gone fishing”.
The escapees’ reputation was perhaps burnished by repeated official insistence that they had drowned trying to escape. It was definitely enhanced by the Clint Eastwood film Escape from Alcatraz – released in June 1979, six months before the FBI closed its case and declared the three men dead.
If the authorities really had refused to believe the men made it out alive, that would hardly be surprising.
Alcatraz is surrounded by freezing, supposedly shark-infested waters (AFP/Getty)
- Alcatraz was the prison within the prison system, the place reserved for the trouble makers, or those who refused to stop trying to escape or to run their criminal empires from behind bars.
- You didn’t escape, although – until they were abandoned in 1941 – you might go mad in the solitary confinement dungeons of what was initially a 19th century military prison.
- The only normal exit routes were death or infirmity – the latter was how Al Capone eventually got out, in 1945, so riddled with syphilis that he was deemed incapable of running his gangster empire from behind the bars of a softer jail.
- At Alcatraz, natural barriers enhanced human security that included 12 head counts a day, prison guards listening to every contact with visitors, and metal detectors so sensitive they were set off by a stay in Al Capone’s mother’s corset.
The prison may only have been 1.5 miles offshore, but, especially to prisoners allowed little or no exercise, it had the potential to be a fatal swim.
The water was often bitterly cold and rough. There were strong currents and lethal undertows, although the talk of “shark-infested waters” is something of an exaggeration.
Prison folk tales told of ‘Bruce’, a shark bred by the Bureau of Prisons to have only one fin, which supposedly forced it to swim in perpetual circles around the island.
In truth, the sharks in the bay are normally leopard sharks – not man eaters, although they were scavengers capable of “cleaning up” the corpse of any man who drowned trying to escape..
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Alcatraz inmates survived infamous 1962 escape, letter suggests
SAN FRANCISCO — It is one of America's greatest mysteries: What happened to three men after they pulled off a daring prison break at Alcatraz in 1962? Only the worst criminals were sent to Alcatraz.
And for 29 years, it was the most secure federal prison in the country — surrounded by the cold, rough waters of the Pacific.
But brothers John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris disappeared into the night and have never been found.
The men have become folklore — fueled by Hollywood and popular shows. And in the last 55 years, theories about their fate have multiplied as new evidence surfaces.
A letter allegedly written by one of the escapees recently came to light. CBS San Francisco exclusively obtained it from a source.
“My name is John Anglin. I escape from Alcatraz in June 1962 with my brother Clarence and Frank Morris. I'm 83 years old and in bad shape. I have cancer. Yes we all made it that night but barely!”
The FBI says this is the most recent piece of evidence that forced the agency to reopen the iconic cold case. The letter was sent to the San Francisco Police Department's Richmond station in 2013.
“It's interesting, I mean it's obviously a very famous case here in San Francisco,” said Jeff Harp, a security analyst for CBS San Francisco.
55 years later, Alcatraz prison escape remains a mystery
Harp spent 21 years with the FBI, but did not work directly on this case.
The 3 Men Who Escaped Alcatraz Actually Survived, Claims Handwritten Letter
Three men escaped Alcatraz in 1962 (with some help from the pages of Popular Mechanics) in one of the most daring prison breaks of all time. The big question that has lingered in the decades since: Did they make it safely, or die in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay?
This week a new development is making headlines. A handwritten letter claims to be penned by one of the three escapees. It says all three survived the escape and that he alone is still alive.
A CBS station recently obtained the letter, which was sent to a San Francisco police station back in 2013 (no explanation yet for the five-year gap). Key excerpts:
“My name is John Anglin. I escape from Alcatraz in June 1962 with my brother Clarence and Frank Morris. I’m 83 years old and in bad shape. I have cancer. Yes we all made it that night but barely!” “If you announce on TV that I will be promised to first go to jail for no more than a year and get medical attention, I will write back to let you know exactly where I am. This is no joke…”
The letter goes on to claim that the other two men, Frank Morris and John's brother Clarence Anglin, died in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
So is it a clever hoax, or real long-sought evidence that the escape from Alcatraz succeeded? The authorities aren't saying one way or the other. According to the Washington Post:
June 1962 Alcatraz escape attempt
Coordinates: 37°49′36″N 122°25′24″W / 37.82667°N 122.42333°W / 37.82667; -122.42333
June 1962 Alcatraz escape attemptAlcatraz, with Angel Island (the fugitives' intended destination) in background, San Francisco Bay, March 1962Date11 June 1962TimeApproximately 10:30 PM (UTC-7)LocationAlcatraz Federal PenitentiaryAlcatraz Island, San Francisco, California, U.S.
The June 1962 Alcatraz escape was a prison break from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, a maximum-security facility located on an island in San Francisco Bay, undertaken by inmates Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin. The three men were able to escape from their cells and leave the island in a makeshift raft.
The fate of the escapees after they entered San Francisco Bay has remained unknown. A fourth inmate, Allen West, did not manage to escape his cell in time to join the others and decided to abort his escape attempt. The escape was marked by elaborate planning and execution, including crafting dummy heads to fool the guards, and the manufacture of improvised tools and a raft.
In 1979, the FBI officially closed its investigation, concluding that the men drowned in San Francisco Bay, while trying to reach land. However, the US Marshals Service has continued to keep the escapees on its wanted list. New circumstantial and material evidence has continued to surface, stoking further research and debates on whether the inmates managed to survive.
Main article: List of Alcatraz escape attempts
Of the 36 inmates who staged 14 escape attempts over the 29 years that Alcatraz served as a federal penitentiary, twenty-three were recaptured, six were shot and killed, two drowned, and five (three being Morris and the Anglins and the other two being Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe) are listed as “missing and presumed drowned.”
Frank Lee Morris (September 1, 1926 – disappeared June 11, 1962) was born in Washington, D.C. He was abandoned by his mother and father during his childhood, and orphaned at age 11, and spent most of his formative years in foster homes.
He was convicted of his first crime at age 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.
As he got older, he was arrested for grand larceny in Miami Beach, for stealing cars and armed robbery. The associate warden's record card at Alcatraz Prison lists his “Crimes Involved” as “Juv. Deliq.
-2; Runaways-2; Breaking & Entering-1; Burglary-1; Narcotics & Armed Robbery-1; Unlawful Flight, Mann Act, & Bank Robbery-1.” Morris reportedly ranked in the top 2% of the general population in intelligence, as measured by IQ testing, displaying an IQ of 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 AnglinClarence Anglin
The Anglin brothers, John William (May 2, 1930 – disappeared June 11, 1962) and Clarence (May 11, 1931 – disappeared June 11, 1962) were born into a family of thirteen children in Donalsonville, Georgia.
Their parents, George Robert Anglin and Rachael Van Miller Anglin, were seasonal farm workers; in the early 1940s, they moved the family to Ruskin, Florida, 20 miles 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 Anglin was known to have a tattoo of “Zona” on his left wrist and one of “Nita” on his right upper arm.
The brothers worked as farmers and laborers. Clarence was first caught breaking into a service station when he was just 14 years old. They began robbing banks and other establishments as a team in the early 1950s, usually targets 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. They were arrested in 1958 after robbing the Bank of Columbia branch in Columbia, Alabama. In 1958 John Anglin robbed the Columbia, Alabama, Columbia Savings Bank Building with a toy gun together with his brothers Clarence and Alfred.
 Both received 15-to-20-year sentences, which they served at Florida State Prison, Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, and then Atlanta Penitentiary. After repeated failed attempts to escape from the Atlanta facility, the brothers were transferred to Alcatraz.
 John arrived on October 24, 1960, as inmate AZ1476, and Clarence on January 10, 1961, as inmate AZ1485.
Allen Clayton West (March 25, 1929 – December 21, 1978) was born in New York City. He was imprisoned for car theft in 1955, first at Atlanta Penitentiary, then at Florida State Prison. After an unsuccessful escape attempt from the Florida facility, he was transferred to Alcatraz in 1957 and became inmate AZ1335.
 When West was transferred to Alcatraz, he was 28 years old and had the education of an eighth grader. West was arrested over 20 times throughout his lifetime. In December 1978, suffering severe abdominal pains, West was sent to the Shands Teaching Hospital, where he died of acute peritonitis on December 21 at the age of 49.
Escapee's prison cell, with widened vent opening beneath the sink.
As soon as the four inmates were assigned adjacent cells in December 1961, they began formulating the escape plan together, though always under the leadership of Morris, the chief mastermind and unilateral orchestrator of the plot. It helped to ensure their mutual trust that they already knew each other from their time in an Atlanta prison years before. Over the subsequent six months, the men widened the ventilation ducts beneath their sinks using discarded saw blades found on the prison grounds, metal spoons smuggled from the mess hall, and an electric drill improvised from the motor of a vacuum cleaner. The men concealed the progress of their holes with walls of painted cardboard, and the noise of their work with the louder noise of Morris’ accordion on top of the ambient din of music hour.