Friday 18 Apr, 2014

Escape from Alcatraz?

San Francisco Cable Car

Did the 1962 escapees make it to the streets of San Francisco?

Alcatraz, the world-famous island prison 1.5 miles out in the San Francisco Bay, is famous for its security. According to official records, no inmate ever successfully escaped the prison, despite 14 documented attempts during its history.

One of those attempts, however, remains a mystery to this day.

On June 11, 1962, inmates Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin carried out the final stage of an elaborate escape plan. Over the course of several months prior, the prisoners had chiseled holes in their cell walls, using metal spoons and an electric drill made from a stolen vacuum cleaner motor. They only chiseled during music hour; the sound was masked by accordions.

The holes in the walls led to a small unguarded corridor that ran behind their cells, which led to a ventilation shaft that opened up on the roof. At the end of the shaft, the prisoners had removed the rivets from a metal grille and replaced them with dummy rivets made of soap. The men had also stolen a number of raincoats to use as a raft.

On the night of the escape, the prisoners left decoy heads in their beds, made from a mixture of soap, toilet paper and real hair, and they made their way along the escape route and out into the night.

From there, their fate is a mystery.

After a thorough investigation, the FBI declared that the men had drowned in the bay, having found some of their belongings floating in the water (including plywood paddles and parts of the raincoat raft). Still, rumors persist to this day that the prisoners actually made it to the mainland. Sightings of the men have been reported over the years, and friends and family claim to have received postcards written in their handwriting.

The escape has caught on in popular culture as well. The 1979 movie Escape from Alcatraz chronicles the story, and the ending implies that the prisoners made it to freedom. More recently, the show Mythbusters did its own analysis and concluded that it is possible the inmates survived the escape. And in 2011, a National Geographic program featured newly released evidence that hints at a connection to the escape: a raft was found on nearby Angel Island with footprints leading away from it, and a car in the area was stolen that night.

We may never know the truth about the three escapees. Who knows, perhaps you can uncover a new piece of evidence on a student trip to San Francisco.