Trio’s Incredible Escape
Three Alcatraz convicts dug their way out of thick concrete cell block with spoons and escaped from the prison early yesterday.
Their fate is unknown.
One of three things is possible: they made it to San Francisco or Marin by swimming or on a driftwood raft; they are hiding in a water-line cave on The Rock, or they drowned.
The men were being sought by air, sea, and land — a helicopter circling over the area, patrol boats cruising from the Golden Gate to Angel Island, and roadblocks from the Tiburon Peninsula.
The escaped trio were desperate bandits who had robbed banks after escaping from Florida and Louisiana State prisons.
They were identified as Frank Lee Morris, 35, a robber from Louisiana; John W. Anglin, 32, and Clarence Anglin, 31, two of three Florida brothers doing time for an Alabama bank job.
Their breakout was an incredible performance, apparently engineered by Morris, toughest of the trio and a man of superior intelligence, with an IQ of 133.
They did their digging in their separate cells nightly over a period of months, even though guards checked them hourly.
During this time they even managed secret climbs to the top of their cell block to loosen the rivets on a five-foot section of the ventilator—in clear view of guards stationed in the gun galleries—to pave the way for flight.
“Their digging would have to be muffled, very quiet,” said Warden Olin D. [sic] Blackwell, who rushed back from a vacation at Lake Berryessa, in Napa county.
“With spoons it takes more time than if you had a jackhammer. It could have taken months.”
The whole operation had an unusually dramatic flair, as if scripted by a top film scenarist.
Morris and the Anglin brothers were locked in their cells, with the Rock’s 264 other inmates., at 5:30 p.m. Monday, the usual lockup time.
They were last seen by a guard on the 9:30 p.m. inspection tour. Thereafter, on the hourly checks, the guards thought they saw the three convicts sound asleep in their cots.
At 7:15 a.m. yesterday the guards made their routine morning head count. Each prisoner stands at the bars in front of his cell, and a guard walks along checking off a list.
Morris wasn’t at his cell front; he was, or so it looked, still asleep. The Anglins weren’t up front at their cells; they too appeared to be in bed.
Guards unlocked the three cells and went in to rouse them. They discovered, in each cot, under the blankets, a head fashioned out of plaster with painted faces and brush-bristles that looked like hair. Under the blankets were pillows to represent the bodies of the men.
The alarm was sounded. All the other convicts were kept in their cells to free custodial officers to make a painstaking search of the 12 acre island. Four FBI agents sped to the Rock to help.
The escaped cons occupied cells on the first tier of the triple-tiered B cell block, in the big buff-colored structure visible from San Francisco. The Anglins had adjoining cells. Morris was four cells away.
To get the picture, a cell block is like a huge cage in a vast warehouse.
In the vacated cells guards found the rather puny evidence of how this most amazing break in the Rock’s quarter-century as a prison for the Nation’s toughest convicts had been engineered.
They found the worn stubs of small tablespoons, purloined from the mess hall.
With these, each in his own cell, the robbers chipped away at a mesh-covered air vent at the base of the cell, a vent about 6 by 10 inches.
As they finished each digging stint, they camouflaged their work with cardboard ingeniously painted to resembled an untouched mesh-covered vent.
How they secreted the cardboard into their cells—add the paint, and the plaster for the dummies—was a mystery.
Once they scooped the cement around the vent to body size, 18 inches to two feet, they were set to go.
Sometime after 9:30 p.m., Monday, at a signal, they squeezed through the three widened apertures into the utility alleyway between cell blocks.
They climbed up drain pipes, up past the other tiers to the top of the cell block. They had already, in some unaccountable manner, removed the rivets that bolted the air-conditioning exhaust to the cell block. They now pried off a bar and squeezed up through this ventilator—no more than 12 inches in diameter—to the outside roof.
Now they were in clear view of the No. 1 gun tower. Presumably they crouched behind a fire wall and stole quietly across the rooftop.
Here again luck as with them. They had to descend a wall brightly illuminated by a searchlight and in the No. 1 tower’s sight-line. They slid down a kitchen vent, about 50 feet to the ground, near the recreation area.
How did they escape detection?
“You don’t look in every direction at the same time,“ said the warden, speaking for the tower guard.
The men kept going. They probably scaled two 12-foot fences toppled by barbed wire, to an area on the northeast section of the island that is a blind spot—that is, the cliffs are out of range of the searchlights of either gun tower No. 1 on the north, and No. 2 on the south.
“This one section is patrolled by a guard. The cons likely slipped by him as he made his rounds.
From there on, nobody knows.
Did they swim into one of the caves that pock the Rock’s cliffy shore? Once beyond the entrance to any of them they could find dry ground, though dank and cold. (A few years ago an escaping convict hid in such a cave for several days before he came out, shivering and starved, with hands up.)
Did they plunge into the Bay and swim for it? They probably could make it. They are all young and hard. Through the night, the ebb and flood tides were mild—about two miles an hour, easy to buck—making the riptides about the Rock less perilous. When Ralph Roe and Ted Cole escaped in a dense fog in 1937, the tide was ebbing at seven miles per hour—too fast even for an expert swimmer to battle.
Whatever, authorities assumed that the convicts had made it, and the big hunt was on. Through the day clues popped up but were soon deflated. A raft spotted on Angel Island, which was sealed off for the day, turned out to be an old fishing net. A raft found under a pier at Richmond was checked out. It hadn’t been used for years.
The flight of the three robbers reverberated even in Washington. Fred Wilkinson, an associate director of the Bureau of Prisons, was dispatched by airplane to investigate.
FBI agents, the Coast Guard, the California Highway Patrol, sheriff’s deputies, police of various cities were in on the search, but turned up not a sign.
Could the cons, then, still be on the Rock?
“I don’t know,” said Warden Blackwell. “I wish I did, I just don’t know.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 13 June 1962, pages 1 and 9.
Here are the descriptions of the three Alcatraz convicts:
JOHN ANGLIN, age 32, height 5-10, weight 140, blue eyes, blond hair, medium build, small scar on left cheek, round scar on left forearm.
CLARENCE ANGLIN, 31, 5-11 1/2, 168, hazel eyes, light complexion, ZONA tattooed on left wrist, NITA on right forearm.
FRANK LEE MORRIS, 35, 5-7 1/2, 135, hazel eyes, black hair, with these tattoos: A devil’s head on upper right arm, a star on each knee (the one on the left knee has a “7” above and an “11” below), a star at the base of the left thumb, the number “13” at the base of the left index finger.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 13 June 1962, page 9.
The Big Search — Air, Land, Water
A co-ordinated land, air and water search for the three missing Alcatraz convicts was launched within minutes of the discovery of their escape yesterday.
Massive search machinery was set in motion automatically from the prison control center, an office lined with bulletproof glass that is the heart of the penitentiary’s security system.
According to prearranged procedure, the escape alarm was flashed to the San Francisco Police, the California Highway Patrol, the FBI, the Coast Guard and the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington.
A Coast Guard helicopter, two 40-foot patrol boats and a 100-foot cutter immediately headed for the island prison to begin a search that spread in widening circles. SCUBA diving teams were aboard the vessels.
Warden Olin G. Blackwell, on vacation at Lake Berryessa in Napa county, with his wife, Laveta, and son, Swayne, was summoned by radio. He returned to supervise the search and investigation at Alcatraz.
Associated Warden Arthur M. Dollison already had organized all available guards to search every nook and cranny on the island.
There were reports that dogs were being used on the island search, but neither Warden Blackwell or Frank Practice, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI here, would comment.
Early in the day, the Coast Guard helicopter pilot spotted what appeared to be a raft on the shore of Angel Island, a mile and three-quarters north of Alcatraz. His message sent military police from the Presidio to the island on an Army launch for an inch-by-inch search.
What appeared from the air to be a raft turned out to be an old fish net. But the search of Angel Island continued because it was a possible escape route.
Authorities were led to believe this after the FBI questioned a fourth, unidentified convict who was supposedly in on the escape. He told agents the escapers planned to go to Angel Island.
Marin county Sheriff Louis Mountanos also was notified, and he ordered patrols along the Marin waterfront.
The theft of an automobile in Marin county was put on the police teletype. This caused a flurry of action near Oakdale, in Stanislaus county, in mid-afternoon, when a motorist told the California Highway Patrol at Modesto that he had been forced off Highway 108 by the car.
It contained three men, and the Highway Patrol immediately started an intensive ground and air search of the Sonora pass road.
There were other alarms during the day’s search. An old balsa raft sent FBI agents and a Coast Guard vessel to the Richmond shore near the Standard Oil pier. It turned out to have no significance.
The searching patrol boats picked up several pieces of debris form the bay. Anything that might have been used as a raft was carefully examined.
The Coast Guardsmen said there was little likelihood that the escapers—if they reached the water—tried to get to San Francisco. Tides and currents are unsuitable for fleeing to San Francisco, but not for escape northward to Angel Island or the Marin shores, they said.
“I’d say that if they tried the water they won’t make it,” said Warden Blackwell.
“I do not believe that prisoners who are not in training as swimmers could make it. The water is too cold — 54 degrees out there — and the current too strong.”
The helicopter search was called off at 5 p.m., but the water search was continued through the night by the two 40-foot patrol boats.
A large number of the 155 guards at Alcatraz live on the island. Those men not on duty when the 7:15 inmate count disclosed the escape were routed out of bed and assigned search areas.
The rest of the guards were called form their homes in San Francisco and on arrival at the Alcatraz dock were formed into search squads.
Each search party was given a detailed map of the assigned area it was to search. Not an inch of the island went un-examined—including the old cells cut out of rock beneath the present prison structure.
The 264 prisoners on the island were marched into the dining room for breakfast and then were locked in their cells for the rest of the day. Normal work assignments were suspended and the prison factories were shut down.
Coast Guardsmen in small boats, accompanied by prison guards, poked into the many caves and recesses that line the island at the water’s edge.
But all the searching on and off the island uncovered nothing—not one solid clue. The three vanished without a trace.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 13 June 1962, pages 1 and 10.
All three convicts who escaped from Alcatraz were bank robbers, and two of them — the notorious Anglin brothers — were experienced escape artists.
John and Clarence Anglin, along with brother Alfred, robbed a Columbia, Ala., bank of $19,000 in January, 1959. At the time, Clarence and Alfred were escapers from the Florida State Penitentiary, and John had just done a prison term for grand larceny.
Less than a month after the Alabama bank job, all three were picked up in Ohio. They pleaded guilty. Alfred and Clarence drew 15 years, John ten.
John and Clarence were brought to Alcatraz from Leavenworth after an ingenious escape attempt by Clarence, with an assist from John.
Clarence cut the top out of a large bread bus and the bottom out of another, then hid among loaves of bread in the boxes, destined for an outside prison farm camp.
A food supervisor, sensing something wrong, removed the front bread rows—and there crouched Clarence.
Brother Alfred is for the moment, safely incarcerated in another Federal prison.
Frank L. Morris, the third Alcatraz escaper, was serving time for the $6000 burglary of a Slidell, La., bank in 1955. He had pulled that job while an escaper from the Louisiana State Prison, where he had been doing a stretch for armed robbery.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 13 June 1962, page 10.
Fourth Con In Plot At Alcatraz
By Charles Raudebaugh
A fourth Alcatraz prisoner “spooned” an escape hole through the eight-inch concrete wall of his cell, but failed to join the three convicts who fled the island prison, The Chronicle learned yesterday.
The fourth hole was found in the cell of Allen Clayton West of Atlanta, Ga. West is serving a ten-year Federal term for interstate transportation of stolen autos.
His cell adjoined that of Frank L. Morris, 35, a Louisiana bank robber and leader of the escape plot.
Morris and the other escapers—John W. Anglin, 32, and Clarence Anglin, 31, bankrobbing brothers from Florida—were still at large late yesterday despite an intensive air, water and land search co-ordinated by the FBI.
All four men served time in the Atlanta Federal Prison before they were transferred to Alcatraz.
Alcatraz officials blamed “erosion and debilitation” for making the escape easier.
Holes large enough for a man to squirm through had been dug in the concrete of each of the four cells with regular prison dining hall spoons.
“The concrete wasn’t crumbling, but there was some erosion in it,” said Warden Olin Blackwell.
“It could be ground down with the spoons.”
“Alcatraz is old,” said Fred T. Wilkinson, assistant Federal Director of Prisons, who flew from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco when the prison break was discovered Tuesday morning.
“It’s in a debilitated condition. It will take a lot of money to bring it up to a high standard of security—maybe $5 million.”
“It has debilitated plumbing, debilitated concrete and debilitated bars. They all weaken your security, there’s no doubt of that.”
Warden Blackwell said there was “a remote possibility” that Morris and the Anglin brothers were still on Alcatraz Island—perhaps hidden in a tidal cave at the water’s edge.
But the scope of the FBI search indicated the official belief that the escaped convicts certainly tried to reach the mainland, or another island in the Bay, after they got out of their cells. Two hundred soldiers searched Angle Island, nearly two miles to the north of Alcatraz—but found no clues.
Coast Guard patrol boats and a yellow Coast Guard helicopter continued their search of the shorelines.
The holes from the four prison cells led into a utility service corridor behind a cell block. The escapers made their way up three tiers to the roof the cell block, removed a section of a ventilator pipe to the roof and then squeezed to the open air after bending a half-inch steel bar across the ventilator opening.
Warden Blackwell and Wilkinson permitted newspapermen to see one of the dummies left behind by the men in their cells. It was amazingly lifelike, and was adorned with human hair presumably gathered from the prison barbershop.
The prisoners were last seen at 9:30 p.m. Monday when lights were turned out. Although guards make an hourly bed check, the dummies were not discovered until 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
“You must remember the officer is making the count at night in a very subdued light,” said Warden Blackwell. “It has to be subdued so the inmates can sleep.”
Newspapermen were not permitted to inspect the four cells personally nor were they permitted to see the spoons that were used in digging through the concrete.
“There is a certain amount of unrest in there today,” said Wilkinson, in explanation for not permitting the press into the prison proper.
The Warden and Wilkinson said they have “not yet learned” how the prisoners could have made and concealed the dummy heads and made other preparations for the escape.
There are periodic, unannounced “shakedowns” of the prison, but Blackwell said he did not know offhand when the cells of the four prisoners were last checked.
Blackwell declined altogether to discuss West’s role in the escape plot.
However, prison authorities confirmed they had used bloodhounds on the island during their day-long search for the fugitives on Tuesday.
A report that the three convicts had used raincoats—presumably to seal and inflate in lieu of rafts—was ruled out because such garments are not accessible to Alcatraz prisoners.
The ventilator grilles in each cell are approximately 6 by 10 inches. The Warden said the grilles had been removed and the holes widened to approximately 10 by 14 inches.
In each case, the work was camouflaged by removable sections of plaster that were painted to conform with the surrounding wall area.
In the place of the metal grilles were substituted screens made of cardboard and painted to resemble metal.
The inmates then covered their handiwork with towels or musical instruments. There were accordion cases in the cells of West and Morris.
Wilkinson agreed that the escapers probably had a lever of some kind—perhaps a piece of pipe picked up in the service corridor—to bend the steel bar that would prevent moving through the roof ventilator.
Guards patrolled the outside of the cell blocks throughout the night, and at both ends of the prison are guards on a gunwalk.
How could the prisoners carry on their work, including the dismantling of the ventilator pipe to the roof, without making any noise?
“That’s one of the things I hope to find out,” said Wilkinson. “I’m going to make some tests at night. But I do know that the wind screams through here at night.”
“The best-run prison in the world is going to have an occasional escape. We’ve had escapes and will have them again. I am sure, as long as there are prisoners.
“To ask that a prison have no escapes is like expecting a police department to prevent robberies altogether.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 14 June 1962, pages 1 and 14.
by Charles Raudebaugh
The convict who stayed behind in the Alcatraz escape had broken the underworld code and is now talking about the flight plot, The Chronicle learned last night.
Only the first phase of the plot—the actual escape from the prison island, difficult and incredible as that was—appears to have been successful.
The man who stayed behind, Allen C. West, a Georgia car thief, is convinced along with Alcatraz officials, that the three escapers drowned.
The second phase was for the escapers to reach the Marin county shore, via Angel Island, using inflated raincoats as rafts. (Officials, however, have ruled out the possibility of their using raincoats.)
The final phase was to begin with the burglary of a Marin clothing store after the fugitives reached the mainland. The escapers would need civilian clothing if they were to avoid capture.
But there have been no clothing store burglaries and the discovery of a crude paddle in the bay between Alcatraz and Angel Islands on Tuesday night point to the failure of the second phase of the plot.
This paddle is similar to one found at the island when a massive shakedown was begun following the discovery of the escape plot.
The escaped convicts are Frank L. Morris, 35, a Louisiana bank robber, whose cell adjoined West’s, and the two bankrobbing Angling brothers of Ruskin, Fla., John, 32, and Clarence, 31.
The men were missing at the 7:15 a.m. head count on Tuesday. Guards found life-like dummies in their prison cots. Air vents in an eight-inch concrete wall had been enlarged with table spoons to give passage to a utility corridor.
Guards found that the escapers climbed utility pipes to the top of the three-tier cell block and then reached the roof by bending a steel bar in the 14-inch shaft of an air condition vent.
Fred T. Wilkinson, assistant director of Federal Prisons, who flew here from Washington when the break was discovered, said yesterday that the path of the escapers to the water has now definitely been determined.
Broken bushes and other signs show “almost the precise trail” the men took to the water’s edge on the north side of the island after they shimmied down a kitchen vent pipe form the roof of the main prison structure.
The search that followed the discovery of the escape immediately disclosed that a hole had been cut in the wall of West’s cell, as The Chronicle reported exclusively yesterday.
Why West declined to go along on the escape is a question that still is unanswered.
“I didn’t want to leave,” is all that he has said.
Wilkinson, formerly warden at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, knew all four convicts before they were transferred to Alcatraz, and says he is satisfied the plotters had no outside help.
“These men have neither friends nor relatives with the resources to come to San Francisco and spend the time and money necessary to help in an escape,” said Wilkinson. “It would cost thousands of dollars to put a boat in the bay every night, say for a month, waiting for the right night.”
Wilkinson said it was a matter of long prison experience that in temporarily successful escapers, the fugitives begin to leave a clearly marked trail with a few days.
“They have to get clothing, or food, or do something to get money,” he said. “There has been none of that in this case.”
Wilkinson added, however, that he was certain the three convicts had drowned in the Bay.
“It would take an athlete to make such a swim,” he said. “The only swimming these fellows were accustomed to was in the little old creeks in the swamps of Florida and Louisiana.”
A search of Angel Island by 200 soldiers turned up nothing to indicate that Morris and the Anglins ever reached its shores. There have been no clues from Marin county.
The FBI has poured more than 300 agents into the search since the alarm was flashed on Tuesday morning.
Despite the mounting indications that the three escapers drowned, the FBI is checking every possible lead.
Every friend, relative—or sweetheart—of the fugitives is being investigated in what is the biggest Justice Department manhunt in the West, if not in FBI history.
Even the girl-friends and relatives of the plotters’ known friends in Alcatraz are on the FBI checklist.
All sorts of debris picked up by the Coast Guard patrol boats that have maintained a continuous search of the area is being studied.
Unexplained movements of small vessels in the bay are being checked, on the possibility that confederates may have assisted the escapers to the mainland.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 15 June 1962, pages 1 and 10.
But a thorough examination produced the same result as an air-sea search of the surrounding waters the day before: nothing.
Both hunts were prompted by the reports of two San Rafael residents—an 11-year-old boy and a neighboring housewife—that they had seen three men on a raft near the islands Wednesday morning.
Dale Grisoz of 128 Knight drive told police and FBI agents excitedly that he spotted the raft at 11 a.m. Wednesday, as he looked toward the Bay through a picture window in the home of Mrs. Fred Hill at 185 Oak drive.
Mrs. Hill, who quickly alerted authorities, said she saw the raft too.
Both witnesses said there were three men aboard, two standing and one sitting. Mrs. Hill said the raft disappeared behind the larger of the two Marin islands just before she called the police.
A few minutes later, she said a small speedboat with three men landed on one of the islands. Later it left. She theorized that the speedboat may have ferried the convicts from the island.
A Coast Guard air-sea search of the immediate area was under way within minutes after Mrs. Hill’s report.
Authorities decided the whole thing was a false lead after a painstaking search of the two islands yesterday by an armed force which included sheriff’s officers, San Rafael policemen and an FBI agent. (Ed., the FBI report stated the Coast Guard found three fisherman in that vicinity.)
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 15 June 1962, pages 1 and 10.
by J. Campbell Bruce
The first intangible evidence that the three Alcatraz convicts made it off the island was turned up late Friday [15 June] by the Coast Guard, The Chronicle learned yesterday.
This was a watertight plastic bag containing names and addresses the fugitives planned to contact.
It was found bobbing in the water near the Golden Gate bridge and turned over to the FBI.
Discovery of the bag strengthened the belief by prison authorities that at least one of the escapers, and perhaps all, drowned in their dramatic flight.
“No comment,” said Frank Price, special FBI agent in charge here.
However, James Burnett, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, contacted in Washington by The Chronicle, confirmed the report of the find.
“It (the bag of addresses) was traced to the escaped group, indicating they got into the water,” he said.
“The theory is that they would not abandon these names, which they obviously carried for contacts, unless they were drowning.”
The belief the escapers drowned caused a brief bit of official excitement yesterday morning with a report that the body of a man was floating near the Bay Bridge.
A Coast Guard patrol boat sent to the scene radioed back to shore that the “body” was a large piece of driftwood.
“We really thought we had something,” a Coast Guard spokesman said. “The thing really looked human until we got right on top of it.”
Two young San Francisco swimmers, Don Kane and Bill Steuart, swam last week from Alcatraz to Angel Island under about the same ebb tide conditions (around two miles an hour) that obtained Monday night.
They were expert swimmers and they tried the test in broad daylight with always a clear view of where they were going. Yet, with the pull of this fairly mild tide, they reached a point some distance west of their Angel Island destination, Point Blunt.
The three escapers were believed headed for Angel Island too, but even if they had once been good swimmers, they were out of practice. They got into the water in the dead of night, might have become confused as to the direction and, it was argued, with the tide’s ebb pull could have been drawn out to sea.
This was the first definite clue to the escape mystery to be found off the island. The trio Frank L. Morris and the Anglin brothers, John and Clarence, fled The Rock some time Monday night.
With infinite patience and ingenuity, they had widened air vents in their cells by chipping through thick concrete walls with mess-hall tablespoons. Then they climbed up three tiers in a service corridor, squeezed through an exhaust pipe to the roof, slide down a drainpipe, scaled two barbed-wire fences and plunged into the icy waters. Back in their cots lay wigged dummies.
Fred Wilkinson, associate prison director who investigated the escape remarked before flying back to Washington Friday night that he was still willing to “bet my life’s savings they’ve drowned.”
Morris, 35, who had an IQ of 133 and presumably engineered the escape was doing time for a Louisiana bank burglary while an escaper from a State prison.
The Anglin brothers, of Florida, also were escaped convicts at the time they robbed a Georgia bank, which landed them on The Rock.
Another clue was also uncovered yesterday.
San Francisco Police Officer Robert Checci, assigned to Mission Station, told the FBI he saw a strange fishing boat in the Bay early Tuesday morning during the period the escape was taking place.
Checci said he reported the incident only yesterday because he didn’t attach any significance to it until he mentioned it to a fellow officer who advised him to notify the FBI.
The FBI would not say whether the report shed any light on its search.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 17 June 1962, pages 1 and 20.
The 267 residents of the big, buff-colored building, with a picture-book view of San Francisco, had one thing in common. They were all unwilling, long-term guests of the Federal Government, on its “escape-proof” island prison of Alcatraz. But last week, three men—neighbors on the first tier of the triple-decked B cell block—were of extraordinary concern to the authorities.
Assigned to adjoining cells on B block were the notorious Anglin brothers, John and Clarence, who (with a third brother, Alfred) had made a career of bank robbery and prison escape in the Southeast.
In 1959, the brother act had pulled of an Alabama bank job while two of them were still fugitives from the Florida State Penitentiary. John and Clarence had finally been brought to Alcatraz from Leavenworth after an ingenious escape attempt.
Four doors down from the Anglins was another Southerner—35-year-old Frank Lee Morris, a New Orleans burglar, bank robber and escape artist, the toughest of the trio, and a man of superior intelligence with an I.Q. of 133.
If they had availed him little on the outside, Morris’ brains had not been wasted from the time of his arrival at Alcatraz two years ago. For last week, he and the Anglin brothers—who had all once been inmates together at the Atlanta federal penitentiary—pulled off the most ingenious breakout in the 28-year history of the island prison.
At 7:15 a.m. last Tuesday, their disappearance was discovered. When the men failed to answer to the morning head count, guards who unlocked the three cells found in each cot lifelike dummy heads fashioned out of plaster with real human hair. And under the blankets, pillows instead of men.
The alarm was sounded, all prisoners were locked in their cells to free guards for a painstaking search of the 12-acre island. Four FBI agents sped to the scene. And in the vacated cells, guards found the rather meager evidence of how the amazing break had apparently been engineered.
Worn stubs of small tablespoons were discovered. With the sharpened spoon handles, the cons, each in his own cell, had chipped away at mesh-covered air vents at the base of the wall—vents about 6 by 10 inches.
As they finished each digging stint, they had camouflaged their work with cardboard cleverly painted to resemble an untouched vent. They further concealed their work by placing accordion cases or towels in front of the apertures.
Up and Over. Sometime after 9:30 p.m., Monday, prison officials theorized, at a signal, the men had squeezed through the three widened apertures into the utility alleyway between cell blocks. Then they climbed up drain pipes, past the other tiers to the top of the cell block, somehow removed the rivets that bolted the air-conditioning exhaust to the block, pried off the bar and squeezed up through the ventilator—no more than 12 inches in diameter—to the outside roof.
Despite being in clear view of the No. 1 gun tower, they apparently managed to steal across the rooftop, descend a wall brightly illuminated by a searchlight, slide down a kitchen vent about 50 feet to the ground, and scale two 12 foot fences topped by barbed wire, until they finally reached a blind spot on the northeast section of the island—out of range of the searchlights.
From there on, no on knew what had happened but the missing men. Any of four conclusions seemed possible by last Thursday: They were still hiding in a waterline cave on The Rock; they managed to swim to Angel Island; they drowned; or—because the ebb and flood tides had been unusually mild Monday night—they had actually made it to the San Francisco or Marin shore.
A massive land, sea and air search by the Coast Guard, the FBI, every able-bodied prison guard, sheriff’s deputies, even a contingent of 200 GIs from the Sixth Army, seemed to rule out the first two possibilities. Not an inch of land on either Alcatraz or Angel Island went unexamined.
By Thursday all the searching on and off the islands had uncovered nothing—not even one clue. The trio had apparently vanished without a trace. And if they had, indeed, made it to freedom, it was the only known escape from Alcatraz in the Rock’s grim history.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 17 June 1962, pages 3 and 4 (This World).
By J. Campbell Bruce
Personal effects in a plastic bag picked out of the Bay were definitely linked to Clarence Anglin, one of the trio of escaped Alcatraz convicts, The Chronicle learned yesterday.
There was a receipt for a $10 money order made out to Anglin by a Rachel Anglin and cashed by the Alcatraz post office.
The find, first tangible clue to the mystery of the convicts’ fate since their departure from The Rock sometime Monday night, was made by the Corps of Army Engineers’ debris boat, the Coyote.
The boat, equipped with a large scoop underneath, serves as a sort of vacuum cleaner for the bay and is skippered by Captain Edward Thompson Jr. of Fairfax.
The Coyote picked up the evidence at 1:15 p.m. Thursday a mile northeast of Alcatraz, off Point Blunt on Angel Island.
“We were following a riptide containing a lot of debris,” he said yesterday as he anxiously watched the Little League team he manages, during a game at Fairfax.
“We picked up all sorts of stuff and out of it one my crewmen—a fellow named Ivory Stephens of Novato—pulled this plastic bag.”
Actually, it was a double bag—one within the other, the larger about nine inches square, the smaller about six, both watertight.
Captain Thompson said he learned later that the bags apparently were fashioned out of the same rubber raincoat from which a sleeve was found floating in the bay. The sleeve was presumably inflated as a waterwing.
Scattered in both the outer and inner bags were some 50 to 60 pictures of a woman—nothing pornographic, not barracks-type pinpups.
“There were about 15 pictures of an attractive brunette, all of the same girl,” said the skipper. “I suppose she was the girl friend of one of these fellows.
“The rest looked like they came out of a family album—children, grownups, ordinary people.
“There were also a lot of names and addresses, but I don’t remember them.”
Captain Thompson turned the evidence over to the FBI which continued to refuse to confirm or deny the discovery.
Clarence Anglin and his bank-robbing brother, John, and a bank burglar, Frank L. Morris, fled The Rock after spooning their way out of a cell block and leaving life-like dummies in their cell cots.
The family snapshots and momentos—flotsam scooped out of a bay—were the only other signs they left behind.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 18 June 1962, pages 1 and 9.
Speculation on the fate of the escaped Alcatraz trio turned yesterday to the macabre.
How long will it take for their bodies to pop-up to the surface?
The FBI and the prison authorities are gong on the assumption, fortified by the discovery of one convict’s personal effects in the bay that the escapers drowned in their rather fantastic break from The Rock.
Frank Price, special agent in charge of the FBI here, in an informal moment commented at considerably greater length than usual.
“I wonder how long it’ll be before the bodies come up. That’s what we’re all waiting for.”
The bodies—if death in the bay was the fugitives fate—would be those of the bankrobbing Anglin brothers, John and Clarence, and high IQ Frank Morris, a bank burglar who presumably, engineered their spoon digging exit out of Alcatraz a week ago.
They got into the water all right, as evidenced by a plastic packet of snapshots, addresses and a money order receipt belonging to Clarence Anglin that was scooped up Thursday by an Army Engineers’ debris boat skippered by Captain Edward Thompson Jr. of Fairfax.
Was it a ruse, deliberately dropped by the convicts to throw pursuers off the trail?
Investigators thought that unlikely, and their views were strengthened even further yesterday with the report of new evidence washed up by the Pacific on a Marin beach.
This was a yard-square piece of black, waterproofing polyethelene with a series of knots tied in it as if an attempt had been made to use it as a makeshift waterwing.
Mrs. Elise Walls found it Friday, washed ashore in front of her house in the exclusive Seadrift area of Stinson Beach.
She told Robert Carlson, the ranger at the Stinson Beach State Park, about it. He called the sheriff’s office which in turn handed it over to the FBI. The FBI gave its usual “No Comment.”
However, in his offguard moment, Agent Price said he had discussed the matter of drowned bodies and their floatability with various coroner’s offices.
Dr. Henry W. Turkel, San Francisco’s coroner confirmed this and said that if the escapees drowned, it could take a half day to a day for the bodies to surface, or for as long as two, even three weeks.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 19 June 1962, page 5.
Five Got Cold Feet, Pulled Out
By Charles Raudebaugh
The escape of three bank robbers from Alcatraz Prison last week was originally plotted as a mass “bustout” of nine convicts, The Chronicle learned last night.
As the escape conspiracy progressed, some of the plotters chilled at the risk of drowning in the Bay and withdrew. They had, however, already begun to chip away at the ventilators in their cells with spoons as the first step in the escape plan.
When bank robbers Frank L. Morris, John and Clarence Anglin, escaped on June 11, the conspirators had dropped to four.
Allen C. West, the fourth man, was left behind because, ironically, he had sealed himself in his cell after once having an adequate escape hole.
West had told prison officials that he scraped such a large hole he was afraid it would be discovered, so he re-cemented part of it.
He thought he would have ample notice of the escape time, but Morris and the Anglin brothers advanced the date. He pleaded with them to help him enlarge the hole last Monday night so he could go with them. But they angrily left him behind because the risk of any more digging would be too great, he has told investigators.
The scope of the planned mass escape was learned by The Chronicle after disclosure that the escapers had a virtual “do-it-yourself” workshop on the top of their prison cell block.
Equipment included a crowbar and even an electric fan converted to an electric drill and muffled for silence.
The prisoners made trips to the workshop for a period of at least a year before their breakout, prison officials believe.
The workshop was a wire mesh enclosure around ventilating system machinery on top of the cell block.
Anyone in the enclosure would be visible in the day time to guards on an elevated gunwalk, but the gunwalk is not manned after lights out at 9:30 p.m.
The plotters even made a crude flashlight to aid them in their work.
The plotters first used tablespoons and table knives to enlarge 6 by 10-inch vents in the concrete wall of their cells.
These holes led into a utility service corridor, through which the men climbed to the top of the three-tier cell block.
In their private workshop, they fashioned the lifelike dummies which they left behind in their cells the night of their escape.
They also used stolen raincoats to fashion crude life preservers, which could be linked together as a raft.
The crowbar was used to spread a bar across a ventilator that led to the roof.
Also found in the workshop was several sharpened spoons and a knife.
Prison officials disclosed for the first time yesterday that shortly after 9:30 p.m. on the night of the escape a guard heard an unusual noise.
Officials now presumed it to have been the cap of the 20-inch ventilator pipe falling on the roof of the building when the escapers pushed their way through.
At the time, however, the noise was not identified. The guard reported it to his lieutenant and said it appeared to come from the direction of the prison hospital.
The lieutenant made an immediate investigation to the hospital but found nothing.
Fred Wilkinson, assistant director of Federal prisons, who flew here from Washington after the break last week for a personal investigation, said yesterday he is satisfied there was no dereliction of duty on the part of the guards.
“The prison is full of noise at night and we investigate every sound,” said Warden Olin Blackwell yesterday. “If the wind blows over a bucket and it sounds like a bucket, we still investigate.”
Prison officials and the FBI, which is investigating the escape, are now satisfied the escapers are not on the island. A plastic-wrapped packet of letters and photos belonging to John Anglin has been found in the Bay, and Wilkinson believes the men drowned.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 20 June 1962, pages 1 and 12.
By Dale Champion
The escape route of the three bank robbers who fled Alcatraz prison last week took them past stacks of lumber and construction pallets—all floatable material.
This was disclosed yesterday when prison officials let newspapermen tour the island for the first time since the prison break was discovered the morning of June 12.
Warden Olin G. Blackwell said he wanted the press to see for itself the extent of deterioration at the prison caused by age and salt air.
“We’re not trying to say deteriorating caused the escape, but it certainly made it easier,” sad Blackwell.
The cells of the three escapers are now cleaned of all personal effects left behind by the convicts.
The prison cots have been stood on end in the bare cells, and the gaping escape holes in the rear walls are still open.
All cells are on the east side of the ground level of Cell Block B—a three-tier cell block.
Frank Morris, 35, of Louisiana, the suspected ringleader had cell No. 138. The ventilator opening in the rear wall of his cell had been enlarged from its normal 6 by 10 inches to 10 1/2 by 14 inches.
Four cells away are the cells of John Anglin, 31, Cell No. 150, and his brother, Clarence, 32, Cell No. 152. Their escape holes are slightly larger than that Morris made—about 14 by 12 inches.
The cell of Allen C. West, a Georgia car thief who stayed behind in the prison break, is also bare. The hole in his cell is smaller than the others.
Warden Blackwell would not say where West had been moved.
“Presumably he is in isolation—in D Cell Block—because this is the automatic fate of troublemakers or would-be escapers.
The escape holes are in eight-inch concrete. The convicts had chipped away at them with spoons from the prison dining room.
“I’ve had structural engineers say that concrete doesn’t deteriorate,” said Blackwell. “All I know is what I see.”
Even so, the concrete is solid and does not crumble to the touch. Digging through it took some doing.
“Spooning out sounds like they worked their way through ice cream,” said Blackwell. “This isn’t ice cream.”
The escape hole leads into a utilities service corridor, three feet wide and the height of the three-tier cell block. It is a maze of pipes of all sizes, many of them rusted. The toilets are flushed with salt water and from the rust it is easy to distinguish these pipes.
It was in such a utility corridor in Cell Block C that the desperadoes of the 1946 prison break hid—and were shot to death.
Guards at the time suggested that bars be installed in this corridor at the level of each tier to prevent men from reaching the roof of the cell block. This was not done because of the expense.
There are walkways at each tier level for plumbers, and this made the climb of the escapers that much easier.
Atop the cell block is a wire mesh cage containing the ventilation machinery. This the prisoners turned into their escape “workshop.” From the roof of the cell-block, the escapers gained access to the roof by removing a roof vent.
Their route then took them across the roof the prison and the mess-hall wing to a kitchen vent pipe protruding about four feet above the roof.
Blackwell said marks in ivy and other plantings show the men shinnied down this pipe, climbed a 12-foot wire fence surmounted with barbed wire, went down a walkway near the prison water tower, crossed a narrow road and entered the area where the lumber was stored.
The lumber is of all shapes and dimensions, with many pieces capable of supporting a single person in the water. There were also many construction pallets, made of 2-by-4s on 2-by-8 ribs.
From the lumber pile, it is only a relatively short distance to the water—on the northeast tip of the island. The island power house blocks the view from Gun Tower No. 1 which is manned 24 hours a day.
The exterior of the prison, built in 1909, showed big cracks in the concrete.
A catwalk to the Gun Tower No. 2, which is on the side of the island toward the Golden Gate, had its quarter-inch steel deck rusted through in spots. The 1 1/2-inch pipe handrails also were corroded at points.
“We do continuous repair work but it’s an enormous job and the work is always ahead of us,” said Blackwell.
“The deterioration isn’t quite as extensive inside as it is outside. We estimate it would take $5 million to bring the institution up to acceptable standards.
“As far as I know, no one in the Bureau of Prisons has ever claimed that Alcatraz is escape-proof.
“We have a population of about 280 culled from the 25,000 men in Federal custody and we’ve held them with reasonable success for 30 years.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 20 June 1962, page 6.
Another puzzler in the deepening Alcatraz escape mystery washed ashore at Sausalito yesterday.
This was a bundle of hatch-cover planks, lashed together by a three-quarter-inch rope.
Authorities, still running down every possible clue that might shed some light on the fate of the escaped convict trio, considered the possibility the planks could have been used as a raft by the fugitives.
The planks, a batch of three, about eight long, a foot wide and two inches thick—were discovered at the foot of Johnson street by Barney West, a Sausalito carver of tiki figures.
The spiral manner in which rope was looped around the heavy planks, and the knots, indicated the work of an amateur, not a seaman.
The background of the three fugitives—Frank Morris of Louisiana and the Anglin brothers, John and Clarence, of Florida, classifies them as professionals in bank robbery—but amateurs in maritime affairs.
The planks, painted red, apparently came off a freighter and might have washed ashore at Alcatraz, but the coincidence of so many coming up at the exact spot and moment of the escapers leaving the island seemed quite remote to Warden Olin G. Blackwell.
They were too heavy and unwieldy for the convicts to have gathered on the rocky shoreline and secreted before their break some time during the night of June 11, Blackwell said.
Even though the planks buoyancy, with the loose loops of rope for hand-holds, made them an excellent getaway vehicle, the puzzler as how the prisoners might have come by them.
Authorities still awaited the most telling evidence yet as to the fugitives fate—their bodies. Indications continued strong that the convicts drowned, and their bodies should surface within another week.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 21 June 1962, pages 1 and 11.
Underwater searching for bodies of the three convicts who escaped Alcatraz in June has been renewed because a fisherman’s line snagged a piece of cloth identified as prison denim.
Prison personnel have been skin-diving in an area 150 yards off the island’s western shore since Monday, when the fisherman, whom Federal officials refuse to identify, made the find.
He said he was fishing in a depth of about 25 feet when his line snagged.
After considerable tugging he pulled up the line and found his hook had snared a piece of blue cloth, about 4 by 14 inches. Tests showed it was material produced in the prison clothing shop and cut into inmate uniforms.
There was no proof that it came form the escaped man’s clothing.
The convicts, Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin, dug their way out of a cellblock with a spoon.
One official said the underwater search is being made “only on the off-chance that something will turn up.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 27 September 1962, page 3.