Alcatraz was a maximum high-security federal prison that opened in 1934 known for mainly accepting criminals that had caused problems at their former prisons and held some of the world’s most notorious criminals. Alcatraz was known for being an “inescapable prison,” as it was located on Alcatraz island, which existed over a mile off the coast of San Francisco, California. There were a total of 14 escape attempts by 36 different inmates, the most famous being the escape of Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin.
This escape was meticulously planned, Frank Morris being the mastermind behind it all. Over the course of a few months, these fugitives chiseled away the concrete surrounding the air vent, which led to a utility corridor that was left unguarded. They utilized tools such as metal spoons and homemade drills, creating holes in close proximity of each other until that entire portion of the wall could be removed. They disguised the sounds of the process with accordions they were permitted to use during music hour and hid their progress with things such as cardboard, suitcases, etc. which fooled the guards. The route led through a fan vent. The group removed the fan and the motor, and replaced them with a steel grill, leaving an ample enough space for them to exit through, and removing the rivets. On the roof, they had a secret workshop and took turns serving as a lookout for one another while they worked before the final headcount of the day. They concealed this by hanging sheets over the sides.
To fool the guards into believing that they were in their beds, they used dummy heads made of paper-mâché. They even managed to get real human hair, which was stolen from the barbershop. Their escape vehicle was an inflatable raft that was constructed over the span of weeks out of over 50 stolen raincoats.
Finally, the fateful night had arrived. On the night of June 11, 1962, the three inmates placed the dummies on their beds and broke out of the main prison, which was not discovered until the following morning, giving them a good head start. A fourth man, who served as the prison informant and was supposed to accompany them, could not break through his cell, due to not having his ventilator grill completely removed, and was consequently left behind. He would later trade all the details of the plan to the FBI in exchange for not being charged for his role in the escape. However, the three men: Morris and the Anglin brothers, using their route, departed from Alcatraz Island aboard their raft to meet their fate, whatever that may have been, never to be seen again. And that is where the mystery comes in.
What happened to these brothers is still unknown. However, there are two theories. The first is that the brothers died, whether through drowning, hypothermia, etc. This theory is supported by the fact that the brother’s original plan was to end up on Angel Island, which was over a mile away from Alcatraz Island. The chilly temperatures and the strong currents resulted in odds potentially becoming stacked against the men. The fugitives then planned to steal a car and clothes once on land, however, there were no reported thefts of the sort within that time period. This brings up the question of whether they had help from their families, however, it’s unlikely that their families would have the financial support to assist. A few bags of family memories of the Anglin brothers were also found floating near Angel Island, which would’ve been very difficult to give up. Lastly, within the 17 years in which the case was open, no credible evidence that the men were alive whether on land or overseas was found.
The second theory is that the men successfully and carried out their plan and survived it. This is supported by the fact that the men’s bodies were never recovered, whether on land or in the water, and many people make the swim from Alcatraz to Angel Island yearly. Also in 1992, Brizzi, a drug dealer, approached the Anglin family, claiming that he was there to follow through on a promise he’d made to the brothers and that while smuggling drugs into Brazil in 1975, he’d met with both brothers. His proof that this occurred was a photo that he claimed was of the Anglin brothers. Expert forensic analysts believed that it was likely that it was indeed a photo of the escapees. Art Roderick, the marshal who was the lead investigator of the case for over 20 years, admitted that they had received leads claiming that the fugitives had fled to South America, but they were dismissed as every point led to nothing. However, this theory is still possible, as South America has been used as a safe place for people seeking to stay anonymous. Also, the third Anglin brother, who never went to Alcatraz due to good behavior, tried to escape from the prison he was detained in only a few weeks before his release date, although he became tangled in an electrical cord and was electrocuted. This baffled the guards. Why would such a good inmate try and make an escape attempt only a short time before he would have been released regardless? Another inmate claimed that the third brother found out that his siblings had successfully escaped and knew of their whereabouts. The mother of John and Clarence Anglin also claimed to have received annual Christmas cards after their escape.
A letter reportedly sent by one of the escapees in 2013 resurfaced recently. The letter stated, “My name is John Anglin. I escaped 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!” However, it is not officially confirmed that it was really him.
It is a good possibility that the truth of this story may have become a victim to time. However, it still remains an interesting tale. If Morris and the brothers did in fact succeed, they successfully carried out and survived one of the most iconic prison breaks in history.