These men were never seen again, and their fates remained unknown for over 50 years when in January 2018 the police received a mysterious letter. This new information changed everything and forced the FBI to reopen the investigation. Continue reading to discover the daring true story of the great escape from Alcatraz and what really happened to the men who got away.
An Unbelievable Escape
Alcatraz was the most frightening prison imaginable. This maximum-security prison was designed with the sole purpose of keeping the most dangerous criminals away from normal society. Somehow, three prisoners managed to evade all of the prison’s advanced security functions and escape.
The Alcatraz escape has become one of American history’s most famous unsolved crimes. After the fact, the local officials claimed that the three escapees drowned in the cold water, but recently there have been clues that the prisoners (who are now elderly) managed to get away and live. A letter that arrived in 2018 has caused the FBI to reopen the investigation. What is the real story?
Frank Lee Morris
Frank Lee Morris was known for his great mind and ability to plan. He was cunning, highly skilled, and extremely intelligent. When he was 11, Morris became an orphan, after which he was moved from foster home to foster home. Those years taught him self-reliance and independence.
But Morris was also drawn to trouble. At the tender age of 13, he was convicted for his first crime. He was set to make his mark on the world in a most unexpected way. Frank Morris will forever be known as the man who orchestrated the great escape from Alcatraz.
A Repeat Offender
As he got older, Frank Lee Morris kept up his criminal activities and served time in prisons in a variety of states, eventually ending up in the state penitentiary of Louisiana, known as “Alcatraz of the South.” This sounds quite intimidating, but Morris was planning a big surprise.
Frank Lee Morris was serving ten years for bank robbery when the unthinkable happened – he managed to escape! Morris successfully evaded the authorities for almost a year before he was captured during another robbery. He was arrested and put away, but this time, he was sent to the notorious Alcatraz.
The Anglin Brothers
Frank Lee Morris knew that a good prison break could not be handled alone. He needed a team and found them when he got to “The Rock,” a common nickname for Alcatraz. The team was made up of Morris, two brothers named John and Clarence Anglin, and another convict named Allen West.
The Anglin brothers were born in Georgia and grew up in Florida. Their parents were seasonal farm workers, and the family traveled the country searching for farming jobs. The Anglin family, two parents, and 13 children, would go North and pick cherries every June.
John and Clarence Anglin were inseparable as children; some would say they were as thick as thieves, which they ironically became as they grew up. Every year when they were children, their family would head North for work picking cherries, sometimes even getting all the way to Michigan.
In those summers, the Anglin brothers would swim in the icy waters of Lake Michigan and were well known for their superior swimming skills. They had no idea how important being a good swimmer would be for them in the future. In their early 20s, the brothers started pulling off bank robberies together but were caught and arrested during a bank job in 1956. But that was just the beginning for them...
During their incarceration at the Atlanta Penitentiary, the Anglin brothers were caught trying to escape numerous times. All they wanted was to get out, and it didnt matter how. This led to them being sent to Alcatraz, which was a maximum-security prison. While there, they met Frank Lee Morris, the team leader.
The group of four, which also included fellow inmate Allen West, had plenty of personal experience on how to escape or try to escape from various prisons. They pooled their knowledge and started working on a plan to achieve the impossible – an escape from “The Rock.”
The Escape Plan
The plan for the escape was quite simple, but the means to pull it off were nearly impossible. They would need the perfect coordination of the whole team to make it work. This was not a one-man's job. This was not the first escape attempt of this kind, and there was no room for mistakes.
It had to work, and it had to work smoothly. Over 30 inmates had tried to escape Alcatraz island over the years, and none had succeeded. What would make this attempt any different? What guaranteed that this was the right time to make history?
It is known that all four team members were jailed at the penitentiary in Atlanta at one time. There is a possibility that they knew each other from their time there. John and Clarence Anglin definitely met Frank Lee Morris while they were in Atlanta.
The four men also had adjoining cells while they were locked up in Alcatraz, and a long long time to think up their grand plan of escape. The plan they came up with would demand every ounce of their bravery and all the resources they could possibly collect. The escape program became the only thing they talked about or thought of. It became their existence.
Collecting the Materials
Alcatraz at that time was not just a prison but also a factory, which was great luck for the group. The inmates worked as part of their sentence, giving them access to the materials at hand. And there were a lot of them because Alcatraz worked for the US military making furniture, clothing, and shoes.
The four-man team had another advantage, making the plan even more likely to execute. They were non-violent offenders, something which was extremely rare in Alcatraz. This gave them the advantage of slightly less scrutiny from the guards, allowing them more freedom to operate.
The team started putting their strategy into action bit by bit, making sure every step of the way was planned to perfection. It was complicated, and some would even say ingenious. They would not only escape the virtual fortress of Alcatraz but also make look-alike dummies to leave in their place.
Getting out of the prison was not enough; the gang had to find a way to escape the island and avoid the guards. Prison guards back then did not have the same compassion as today; their orders were to shoot on sight, and any escape attempt was a deadly gamble.
Each team member oversaw a different part of the plan, but they all had to find a way to get out of their cells on the night chosen for the escape. The Angling brothers were responsible for making the fake heads to leave behind in the empty bunks.
The heads were created roughly but efficiently from soap wax, toilet paper, and actual human hair picked off the floor of the Alcatraz barber shop. This was imagination at its best. Morris had the job of fixing up an instrument similar to an accordion so that it would inflate life vests and a raft.
The crew also worked together to create tools to dig out of their cells and unscrew the bolts from the vents. It’s hard to believe, but they managed to make picks and wrenches from items they snagged around the prison, like wood from the workshop and cafeteria spoons.
Each day, the team would work from 5:30 PM to roughly nine at night, chipping away at their cells and trying to make holes big enough to fit through. They removed the vents in their cells to speed along the process and used the picks to make the holes bigger.
The gang was quite fortunate that the prison was already old and in bad shape, with weak, crumbly walls. If this were a new building, the escape plan would be almost impossible to execute. The saltwater that ran through the pipes for showering and washing dishes was slowly destroying the pipes and leaking into the prison walls.
Over the years, the salt wore down the cement and eventually caused it to crumble. The prison authorities also kept the water slightly warm to keep prisoners from getting used to the cold temperatures out in the icy waters of San Francisco Bay.
You are probably wondering how so much banging and chipping could be going on without anyone being the wiser. The truth is that the escapees cleverly used prison reform to their advantage. In the 1960s, it was decided that inmates should be allowed an hour of music each day. Nothing could be heard over the disharmony that ensued.
Morris also played his accordion as loudly as possible whenever he could, and the racket was enough to conceal any noises made by banging or the chipping of cement. The holes in the back of the cells led to an unguarded utility corridor full of pipes that were going up and down.
Climbing the Jungle Gym
The utility corridor was unguarded and full of bars like a jungle gym. If the prisoners opened the holes in their cells wide enough to get through, they could easily use the bars to climb the three stories to the roof. After that, they would just have to hope for the best.
At the top of the building, they needed to use one of the large shafts for roof access. They were shocked to discover that many shafts were sealed off with cement. After a panicked search, they found an unsealed shaft and used their homemade wrench to pry it open.
The Anglin brothers and Morris managed to break through the walls of their cells by May of 1962. The holes they made were barely large enough for them to fit through, but they managed to squeeze their way out. The gang made their life vests and the raft by stitching and gluing raincoats together.
They used more than 50 raincoats for the job. These were a vital part of the plan, without which they would most certainly drown in the cold bay waters. They thought of everything as there was no way this project could fall because of a simple thing like deep water.
The gang was all set, and all that was left was to wait for Allen West to finish carving out his escape hole. Then, they would be ready to move when the right moment arrived. In June 1962, the signal to begin the escape finally arrived, but things did not go as planned.
Allen West finally finished digging an escape hole large enough for him to go through on June 11, 1962. He let the other gang members know, but no one could have predicted what would happen next. This was not the end of the story, nor was it the beginning.
The Plan is Set in Motion
The gang anxiously waited for lights out that day to set their plan in motion. They wondered if any of them would make it to the outside alive. The risks were clear in their minds, but the draw of a life of freedom away from Alcatraz was just too strong.
They were willing to risk everything, including their lives, to get away from “The Rock.” Their hearts raced, and adrenaline coursed through their bodies at the very thought of escape. As soon as the lights went out, the crew set up the fake dummies and set out to squeeze out of their cells.
Things go Wrong
Morris and the Anglin brothers slipped out of their cells without difficulty, but Allen West couldn’t escape his. He had let the others know that the hole he made was ready, but it seems he miscalculated the size or the work necessary to enlarge the hole.
Frank Lee Morris worked from the utility corridor, while West worked from the inside. They tried everything, but the hole just wasn’t big enough, and West was stuck. Around 9:30 PM, over a glass of water from West’s cell, they both decided that West would have to be left behind.
One Man Left Behind
After many months of working together and a general feeling of comradery, leaving West behind could not have been an easy decision, but the group was not left with a whole lot of options. The hole wasn’t budging, and any additional noise making it bigger was likely to bring about the guards’ unwanted attention.
Although reluctantly, West took one for the team and maybe even made the escape possible due to less weight on the raft. The three remaining escapees were finally ready to start their climb. They used the plumbing pipes in the utility corridor and climbed up 30 feet toward the roof.
The climb to the jailhouse roof went fairly easily for Morris and the Angling brothers. After which, they had to make a heart-pounding crossing of over 100 feet of rooftop before they could begin their descent. The three men climbed down 50 feet of pipes on the building’s side to reach the ground.
They came down next to the showers and quietly snuck past the guards stationed there. The three remaining team members used their wits and preparations to evade all the other guards on duty as they made their way to the shore. They had to stop there in order to inflate the raft and life vests.
Raising the Alarm
Following that day, Frank Lee Morris and John and Clarence Anglin were never seen again. They headed out to sea in their improvised raft at roughly 11:30 PM and fell off the face of the earth. The prison authorities didn’t even notice they were missing before the following morning.
Early the next morning, blaring sirens rocked the prison of Alcatraz and woke up all the inmates. There was great confusion, and nobody could believe that anyone had actually tried to escape “The Rock.” They all knew such a thing could not be done, but they would soon discover that three inmates had achieved the impossible and gotten away.
Last Man Out
Allen West was down but not out, and he had not given up on his plans for escape. Even though he was left behind, he continued working on enlarging the hole in his cell enough to squeeze through, and he finally succeeded. West was ecstatic; he left his cell and started to follow the rest of the team.
After leaving his cell, West climbed to the rooftop, but by the time he made it to the top, the others were nowhere to be seen. He had no raft or help and had to decide whether to take a chance and swim for it, and most likely lose his life or return to his cell.
No Car Found
But there was one problem with the confession: no cars were reported stolen in or around Angel Island in the twelve days following the escape. This means either they planned to stop at a different location and West lied, or they landed somewhere else accidentally, or Morris and the Anglin brothers never reached the shore.
During his confession, West bragged to the authorities that the whole plan had been his idea and that he orchestrated the great escape. That was when the authorities got the FBI involved. They opened an official investigation to determine if the three convicts survived the escape attempt.
The Bay Search
The bay was searched intensively but no bodies were ever recovered, although some personal items were discovered floating in the water the following day. The water the night of the escape was quite cold, ranging from a temperature of 50 to 54 degrees. The San Francisco Bay is characterized by frigid water all year long.
According to the experts, an adult male would be able to survive roughly 20 minutes in the cool water before it caused a breakdown in bodily functions. Also, the escapees would not have been able to prepare for the frigid water temperatures while at Alcatraz because the officials kept the water warm in part to deter from escape.
On December 31, 1997, 17 years after the escape, the FBI investigation was finally dropped. They concluded that the prisoners probably drowned in the San Francisco Bay as the bodies never being found. The US Marshals, however, have kept their investigation ongoing.
The Deputy US Marshal said to NPR in an interview in 2009: “There’s an active warrant, and the Marshals Service doesn’t give up looking for people.” In fact, that was not the last that was heard about the three people who allegedly escaped from Alcatraz. This story has no ending as it seems, and the mystery will forever live.
Following the Currents
About a month after the escape, a body was spotted about 17 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge by a Norwegian cargo ship. According to them, the body was in clothes similar to the Alcatraz prison uniforms. However, it took a while for the report to be filed, and the body was never recovered.
In 2014, a group of researchers used a computer model to calculate the currents flowing on the night of the escape. According to their findings, if the gang headed out around midnight, the water currents would actually assist them on their way to shore, and they had a good chance of survival.
Signs of Life
A History Channel documentary aired in 2015 brought to light new evidence that seemed to support the Angling brothers having survived the escape. A signed Christmas card was sent to their family, and handwriting analysis was a match for the brothers. Unfortunately, no one could determine the date of delivery.
The Anglin family brought to light another key piece of evidence, a picture of the two brothers in Brazil shot in 1975. This picture was analyzed by a forensic expert who stated that it was “more than likely” John and Clarence Anglin. To this day, no one is 100% sure that these allegations have any truth behind them.
Another piece of the puzzle was supplied by Robert Anglin, one of the Anglin siblings, who confessed on his deathbed that he had been in touch with John and Clarence from 1963 through 1987 but claimed that they later lost touch. The Anglin family did not seek out their long-lost brothers in Brazil because the escape from “The Rock” is still an open Interpol investigation.
If they were to locate and inadvertently lead police to their siblings, they would face severe repercussions. The question of why the police didn't harshly investigate the Anglin family members remains unknown. Maybe the police knew more than we think?
The famous great escape of Alcatraz made new headlines in January 2018 when the FBI shockingly announced that they were reopening the case. The decades-old cold case was suddenly brought back to life by intriguing new evidence.
The new evidence was a letter sent to the San Francisco Police Department in 2013 signed by a man claiming to be John Anglin, one of the Alcatraz escapees. It is unclear why the letter didn’t come to light for five years, but its contents were both intriguing and shocking. Was this a key point in the new and modern investigation of the case?
John Anglin’s Confession
The letter begins: “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!” Anglin continues: “Frank passed away in October 2008. His grave is in Argentina under another name.
My brother died in 2011.” But where was Anglin now, and why was he suddenly reaching out? The letter reveals everything. Was there perhaps another letter that the police were unaware of, or was this letter the final clue the police were ever going to get their hands on?
Where was He?
The letter, written supposedly by John Anglin, goes on to reveal where he has been in the many years since he “escaped” Alcatraz prison. The letter continues with, “This is the real and honest truth. I could tell you that for seven years of living in Minot, North Dakota and a year in Fargo, North Dakota until 2003”.
The letter was unreadable in parts, but a special BBC report interpreted the contents and found that Anglin had lived in Seattle “for most of my years after the Escape.” But it was the next revelation the letter contained that was truly unbelievable!
Close Enough to Touch
The letter supposedly written by John Anglin also revealed the man’s current location “Living in Southern California now.” It is almost impossible to believe that a fugitive from the law and participant in one of the greatest prison breaks of all time, was currently living only a few hours from San Francisco.
The man who wrote the letter was extremely ill and desperate for some help, even if that meant jail time, but was the letter writer really John Anglin? The letter ended with a highly unusual deal offered to the authorities. Would they be willing to agree to these unbelievable terms?
The Real Deal?
These are the terms set in the letter: “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…”
But before the deal was even considered, the letter itself had to be investigated to see if any other information about its authenticity and origin could be discovered. An intensive analysis was done of every aspect of the letter in an attempt to unlock its secrets. The police knew it had something priceless in their hands.
The US Marshals handed the letter over to the FBI, who then tested the paper extensively. They checked for trace DNA evidence, dusted for fingerprints, and ran handwriting analysis using the three escapees' writing samples from when they were locked up. But did they find anything?
San Francisco’s local CBS affiliate, KPIX, published the letter and reported on the investigation. According to them, “the FBI’s results were inconclusive.” A security expert on the channel gave the following perplexing quote as to the letter’s authenticity, saying the FBI’s conclusion: “means yes, and it means no, so this leaves everything in limbo.”
Over the years, the US Marshals’ position has been that “it is possible” Morris and the Anglin brothers survived the escape. But after the letter came to light in January 2018, one of their representatives questioned the letter’s legitimacy to The Washington Post, claiming he believed it was a fake.
A quote from the Post’s article stated: “The Marshals Service has continued to investigate leads and said it will do so until the men are proven deceased, or until they turn 99.” The FBI saw things differently when they decided to call off the search in 1979; this was their take: “For the 17 years we worked on the case, no credible evidence emerged to suggest the men were still alive, either in the U.S. or overseas.”
The Last Man on Alcatraz
Jim Albright, the very last guard to leave Alcatraz prison, was interviewed by ABC 7, a local TV affiliate in San Francisco, to commemorate 55 years of the prison’s closing in March 2018. He worked there during the escape and was asked about his beliefs regarding the men’s fate. Does he think they drowned, or did they survive as claimed in the letter?
This is what he had to say: “It depends on whether you’re talking to me or you’re talking to their mother. I believe they drowned, I really do.” Albright believed that the man who wrote the letter, pretending to be John Anglin, was a very sick man who needed treatment for his cancer and was using the famous escapee’s name to get help.
U.S. Marshals Respond
The only reason the public even learned about the letter was its publication on KPIX, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco. The station received a copy of it from an anonymous source. After the letter was published, the US Marshals made the following statement.
“There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of them would have changed their lifestyle and became completely law-abiding citizens after this escape.” The US Marshals are the only ones still on the case, so they probably know what they are talking about. What do you think happened? Will the truth ever come out?
Inside Alcatraz: historic photos of America's most notorious prison
This is a shot of the Alcatraz recreation yard. Prisoners could use the yard to play sports like handball and baseball or to enjoy the fresh air in the few hours they were allowed to use it. The prisoners in Alcatraz had a very harsh daily routine, consisting of counts that would reach 13 times daily.
With such a limiting day-to-day, the time spent in this yard was precious, and the prisoners wouldn't risk their relatively free time for the world. The fresh salty air of the sea was felt while in the yard so that the inmates could smell freedom; however, to most, that was as close as they could get.
This next image shows what the cellblocks looked like from the outside. Now, although the photo is black and white, it didnt look any better even when in color. The cells were smaller than average, and the inmates didnt get more than a hard bed to sleep on.
The cell didnt consist of anything much more than that, and the day-to-day was pretty much basic. These blocks consisted of 336 cells, and on average, 260 of them were filled. In addition to these cells, around 40 other cells were called "solitary confinement." Over the years, there were 1557 prisoners who spent their days in cells looking like this.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone, also called "Scarface," is one of the most notable American gangsters in history. After years of gang activity, he was imprisoned; however, he was accused of receiving special treatment. It was then suggested he move to Alcatraz, where he served seven and a half years.
While serving time at “The Rock,” Capone was injured by another inmate with scissors from the prison barbershop. He was injured but survived and finished serving his sentence in 1939. It was reported that Capone paid all of his duties back to society, paid his fines and taxes back, and in 1947, he passed away outside of the prison walls.
The Snitch Box
A picture was taken in 1956 of a guard operating one of the prison’s “snitch boxes,” as named by the prisoners. The boxes were both static and portable and were used to detect metals such as weapons and contraband. As it is in all prisons, and not only in Alcatraz, metal of any sort was prohibited.
A simple object like a fork or even a spoon could immediately become a harsh weapon or a digging device for making the way to freedom. Spoons were used to carve through the sand that was behind the tiled walls and forks; well, there is no need to explain how a fork can easily turn into a severe injury weapon.
The Inmate Band
So, not everything was terribly bad in Alcatraz. Although many inmates were locked up behind the prison's walls for life, they were still given the option to have a phone conversation every now and then. This photo was taken sometime in the 1950s, and it shows a prisoner during a phone conversation.
The prison guard is standing right behind him, not giving the prisoner any chance for privacy. Unlike today, where phone conversations can be monitored and listened to, even from afar, this was the only way the prison could ensure nothing (yet again(illegal was going on).
The Alcatraz mess hall food was not known for its diversity. This menu from 1956 is typical, with one type of meat, sides, and dessert offered. Now, to us, the menu seems to be rich and satisfying, consisting of appetizing dishes; however, could you imagine being served almost the same thing day in and day out? This was worse than a school dinner.
You could always exchange your school dinner with a packed lunch from home that would include a tuna sandwich; however, when it came to Alcatraz and possibly any other prison, what was served today would probably be served the next day.
The Mess Hall
The dining room in Alcatraz was often referred to as The Mess Hall, where prisoners and guides alike would eat their meals. This shot was taken in 1955, and it shows a guard watching the inmates entering the mess hall for a meal. This so-called dining room was connected to the west part of the main cell house, and the corridor leading there was called by the inmates Timed Square.
Beyond this hall was the prison's kitchen, where the food was prepared. Unlike these days, where prison workers have a totally different menu, the isolated prison's guides, and other workers would eat the same food the prisoners did, except for additional treats the inmates could only dream of.
Being transferred into solitary confinement was one of the harsh punishments an inmate could be given. This punishment, too, had two meanings. The prisoner could either be sent into "The Hole," which was a dark room with barely enough room to move, or a cell that looked pretty much like this, which had the basic needs but no light at all.
This stark and simple cell was used for solitary confinement and contained only a sink, toilet, and bed. Prisoners were kept in isolation with no light except for mealtimes. The date the picture was taken is unknown.
After reading this, you realize the harsh reality some people live in. This proved how intelligent, sensible, and, most of all, sensitive some of these prisoners were. A prisoner created this drawing, and it reads; "When my family, the church, the school, and the community fail, those wardens are supposed to perform a miracle and re-habilitate me."
Of course, most of the prisoners, not only in Alcatraz but in all prisons all over the world, belong behind bars and must pay the price back to the community; however, there are some ( even until this day) that will little support, and little guidance, could fit back into society, and live their life (legally) and peacefully.
A Military Garrison
This next photo was taken in the early days of May 1946 during the Battle of Alcatraz. This battle resulted from an escape attempt by armed inmates to escape the prison walls. Two prison officers, William A. Miller and Harold Stites, were killed during these riots.
In this photo, prison guides arrive by boat at the Alcatraz prison during one of the attacks on the rebels. Over the years, there were 14 separate attempts to escape the prison, the first in 1936 and December 1962 the last. The Battle of Alcatraz was the 10th attempt recorded.
The operating room in Alcatraz prison was basically a complete operational procedure room in a cell. The San Francisco Health Department managed it and was responsible for its safety and functionality. To many, the operating room looked spooky and threatening; however, this ensured the inmates were kept healthy. One of the San Francisco Health Department's most important responsibilities was preventing the spreading of diseases.
This could have been a disaster, as it could have affected the prisoners and the guards alike. It has been reported that over the years the prison operated, 15 prisoners died of natural diseases and illnesses. The rest either took their own lives or their lives were taken from them.
Paul G. Madigan
At first, this photo may seem like an ordinary photograph of some manager or clerk, but in fact, this image has a lot of historical significance. In this photo, Paul G. Madigan, the warden of Alcatraz Federal Prison, sits at his desk, completing daily routine duties. What is not seen in this photo is that this was an historic day for the prison.
This was taken on March 15th, 1956, and it was the first time the prison gates were open for publicity. This was the first time press, television, radio, and other reporters were allowed into the prison to document and see the truth behind this place's story.
In 1934, the Alcatraz prison inmates were introduced to "The Back Yard." This was the place to exercise, relax, and take time out. It was located next to the dining hall and surrounded by a high wall and barbwire fence. Until 1936, there was just an unpaved court used for the outside space, so when the yard was completed, it was a real upgrade for the inmate's imprisonment conditions.
The heavy barbwire surrounding the yard guaranteed that no one could ever climb this wall, not even to view the magnificent ocean scenery on the other side. This yard served Alcatraz prisoners until its final days in 1963 when the prison closed down.
The Last Prisoners
Alcatraz was built and became a civilian prison in 1934. It served as one of the harshest prisons in the United States for thirty years. It was isolated and held some of the most dangerous criminals. On March 21, 1963, the prison closed its gates, and the last of the inmates were transferred to other prisons across the country.
The decision to close the prison was taken a long time before the Morris and the Anglins escaped. As it turns out, the operational cost and overall prison expenses were just too high to keep. This photo shows the very last inmates making their way elsewhere.
Not everything about Alcatraz was illegal and related to crime. The government took advantage of the prisoners and their condition, being isolated from the outside world. Most of the inmates used to work in the facilities, and many of those jobs were to serve the country's needs. These jobs were unpaid, so no one made money out of it.
In this photo, one of the prison's inmates does War Work and repairs uniforms for the Army Quartermasters Department. Turning the prison into a work base for many of the government's needs saved alot of money and resources over the years.
This next image is of one of the most famous inmates of Alcatraz prison. His name was Robert Stroud, known as "The Birdman of Alcatraz." he was placed in prison for the first time in 1909 after being convicted of a serious crime. Stroud spent most of his life behind Alcatraz bars, and out of his 72 years of living, 53 were imprisoned.
Stoud was permitted to keep his bird pet in his cell, where he operated a bird laboratory. He studies birds' behavior in his cell and produces Stroud's Digest of Diseases of Birds. His work and studies contributed tremendously to many ornithologists and their definitive work on bird sicknesses. During his time behind the prions's walls, Stroud nurtured over 300 birds
Arthur R. Barker
This prison record from 1963 belongs to Arthur “Doc” Barker, the son of Ma Barker and a member of the infamous “Bloody Barkers” gang. The gang was founded by Fred Barker and Alvin Parpis, who were later joined by Arthur Barker, who is seen in this photo.
They were at their peak during the harsh depression era but very quickly found themselves behind the Alcatraz bars. The gang eventually had more than 20 members, of which most, at one point, found themselves in Alcatraz. Arthur Barker was shot and killed by a guard while trying to escape Alcatraz.
The Battle of Alcatraz
Marvin Hubbard, Bernard Paul Coy, and Clarence Carnes, seen here, are three of the four inmates who instigated “The Battle of Alcatraz,” a riot that started after an escape attempt and lasted for three days. This battle is known as the failed attempt, in which no one could predict the outcomes.
The reputation the prison had, of being the one place no one could ever escape from, was crumbling down. Coy was the one who planned the escape. He was sentenced at the time to 25 years in prison and, therefore, had nothing to lose by trying to gain his freedom.
Along for the Ride
These pictures of Sam Shockley (left) and Miran Thompson (right) were taken before their time in Alcatraz. Shockley and Thompson joined the riot leaders at the beginning of the “Battle of Alcatraz” and were later executed for their part in the bloodshed. Samuel Richard Shockley, Jr. came from a very complicated background, so not many were surprised when he ended up behind bars. He was just 40 years old when his life ended.
Miran Edgar Thompson was sentenced to life with an additional 99 years after being convicted of taking a police officer's life. He was also responsible for no more robberies and other serious crimes. While serving time in several prisons across the country, he had a reputation as a lucky escaper, succeeding in several escapes he was responsible for.
Alcatraz was considered one of the worst prisons any inmate could find himself in; however, when it comes to culture, there was plenty of room for that. The inmates of Alcatraz had access to over 15,000 books and were subscribed to over 75 best-selling magazines. The prisoners could also play musical instruments, do art, and write letters.
The books the inmates had on offer were from various topics and included some of the best-selling authors of that time. Every prisoner could take up to three books at a time, not including the bible. Crime-related topics where off boundaries, as no one wanted to feed the prisoners with new escape ideas.
The riots of 1946, known as "The Battle of Alcatraz," only lasted over a few days; however, they greatly impacted the prison. From that day onwards, the prison became even harsher than it was, and its reputation of being the toughest jail an inmate could find himself in was closer to the truth than ever.
In this photograph, Alcatraz guards are seen herding prisoners who were not involved in the riots that occurred that day. "The Battle of Alcatraz" could have ended completely differently; however, the result of two killed officers and three inmates who lost their lives, too, was probably inevitable.
The Alcatraz Triathlon
So, like many things, someone thought of a way to keep Alcatraz famous, not only for its prison and its reputation. In 1981, The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon was born. It is a modified International Distance Triathlon, and it is open to professional triathletes. The race consists of a 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz prison to the Marina Green shoreline. And this is not all.
An annual New Year's Day Alcatraz race takes place every year, and the only thing related to the prison is the name. Here, we see George Farnsworth, who was 67 years old then. He finished last. However, he does not seem to be bothered too much about that.
A shot of the would-be escapees who survived the riot: Clarence Carnes, Sam Shockley, and Miran Thompson. In 1948, Shockley and Thompson were sent to their death for their part in the “Battle of Alcatraz, while Carnes received leniency and was sentenced to life in prison.
The two are shown here in the photo during their trial. No matter how serious of a criminal one was, when it came to courts and sentence giving, the gangster's suit was put on, and trying to look innocent was the game's name. Their names would go down in history as two of the most famous inmates America's prisoners have ever known.
In this photograph taken in 2017, the remains of the prison on Alcatraz Island are clearly seen. Today, the prison is a tourist attraction, with guided tours arriving daily. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area manages the site, and it has become a famous museum dedicated to the days it was a federal penitentiary.
The estimated earnings of Alcatraz prison today are around $180,000, including sponsorships and other sources of income. More than 1.5 million visitors make their way to the prison every year. It offers a ride down memory lane and covers the history of the prison through the federal penitentiary days and the American Indian era.
James A. Johnston
James A. Johnstone was a well-known penologist and was the head of the Folsom and San Quentin prisons. When he was in his early 20s, he accepted the wardenship of Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary. It was under his name that Alcatraz prison became one of the worst criminal prisons in the country.
He was known to be seen unguarded amongst the prisoners, even the most dangerous of them all. He would eat his meals with them and communicate in an eye-level conversation. On one occasion, one of the inmates attacked him; however, this did not prevent him from continuing to dine with the prisoners.
Waxey Gordon was an American gangster specializing in illegal gambling and spent a fair share of time behind the walls of Alcatraz prison. His first introduction to the prison was in 1951, after he was accused and found guilty of selling illegal substances on the streets.
His very long criminal record didnt do him any favors, so when it came to giving his sentence, 25 years imprisonment was handed out. He spent his last days behind the prison's walls, where he died of a medical condition at the age of 52.
The fort of Alcatrax lay near the San Fransisco bay. The majority of improvements to the site were conducted in the late 1880s; however, until the very day, they were never fully completed. The Alcatraz prison was built in 1910, and the full construction of the place took 1912.
The earliest inhabitants of the fort were Native Americans, also known as Ohlone, A Miwok Indian word). They used to grow birds but did not permanently live on the grounds. This image is from the original Fort Alcatraz section taken back in 2020.
The Shower Area
To this day, people who visit Alcatraz prison can go through the shower that served the inmates. The situation of the shower is another proof of the difficult conditions the inmates were under while serving their time behind the prison walls.
Privacy was unheard of, and having some personal space, even during the most intimate moment of the day, was something only to dream of. These were designed with the most elementary features; however, the water the inmates used to take a shower with was boiling hot.
The inmates were not given very much. According to federal law, the prisoners were given medical care, a bed to sleep on, food to eat, and clothing. That was it. No one promised a comfortable bed or tasty food; however, they did not go hungry. In addition to theta, the inmates could communicate through these intercoms.
Having intercoms like this assured that there would be no physical contact between a prisoner and the visitor. There would be no way to pass on any devices, food, or letters that haven't been checked. There was complete isolation between the visitor and the inmate.
No Room for Boat Mistakes
To avoid any mistakes made by boat bypasses, this sign was part of the view you could see when getting close to the prison territory waters. It was the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the consequences, if one would pass, were lethal.
So, who would have a pass? We suppose visitors, members of the government, new inmates, police officers, and the press. These were the days when wireless detectors had not been invented yet, so this was the only way to prevent trespasses from entering the forbidden zone.
Inside the Laundry Room
What made the laundry room so appealing to the inmates was the light. It had bright walls and even had windows scattered over them. Although the windows had bars, there was something different about them that differed the room from the rest of the prison.
Maybe it was the laundry smell that made whoever worked there feel good and gave a little touch of hope for better days. Or maybe working in the laundry room kept the prisoners occupied, unable to think of how bad their life was, even just for a few hours.
Who Are You, Morton Sorbell,
Morton Sorberl was born in 1917 and lived for more than 100 years. He was an American engineer who was convicted of spying for the former U.S.S.R. and was sent to Alcatraz in 1952 together with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In 1963, when Alcatraz was closed down, he was transferred to a prison in Lewisburg.
Sorbell served the country in WWII and was imprisoned for almost 20 years. In years to come, his case would be dealt with the years, claiming that until this day, there was no proof Sorbell was actually involved in spying.
There are some people who visited Alcatraz for more than 20 years and on a daily basis; however, they were not prisoners. Edward Schneider worked on the island for 21 years as a Lighthouse keeper. The main responsibilities of the light keeper were to make sure fog signals were working properly and all in order.
The shifts were 24/7, and there always had to be someone on guard when it came to the night shifts, and they would all take turns, and the responsibility was even greater during those hours. Edward Schneider was part of the prison services for almost half of his life and was dedicated to his position throughout all the years.
Karpis is another well-known name when it comes to the gangster's work. He was born in Canada and was one of the leaders of the Barker–Karpis Gang, which was going strong during the 1930s and overall he spent more than 26 years in Alcatraz prison. Over the years, he was found guilty of numerous incidents. In 1936, he was sentenced to life and spent his days there until 1962.
During those years, he was transferred to a different prison; however, very quickly returned back to the gloomy, dark walls of Alcatraz, where he worked as a baker. Towards his last days, he completed giving testimony of his life, which was translated into an autobiography.
The Burning of Alcatraz
In 1970, the walls of the prison were set alight on fire. The fire, which set a light on the occupied island of Alcatraz, ended up setting the lighthouse alight and the warden's home. The alight lighthouse is clearly shown in this photo, right on top of the hill, overlooking the prison.
This fire occurred several years after the prison was closed down. It was occupied by American Indians and several buildings were destroyed at the time. John Trudell, who was a resident of Alcatraz island at the time, said that everything happened so fast. The blaze hit the lighthouse just before midnight, and everything caught fire within seconds.
On November 20, 1969, the island of Alcatraz was occupied by American Indians, led by the Native American group, Indians of All Tribes. They declared the place as being "Indian Land. " All in all, they were lords of the land for just a little over 19 months.
This sign reads, "Welcome to Indian Land." They protested and demanded the return of the unoccupied federal land to the tribes who used to live there. This was a significant moment in the Native American civil rights movement that is active until this very day. The fire that hit the island was the beginning if the end of the Indian occupation and brought almost 20 years to an end.
Portrait of Ed Miller
While the three Day riots were going on in 1946, there was one prison warden that stayed put and didnt leave the premises. Ed Miller was his name. He led several attacks against the inmates and paid a high price for his loyalty and dedication to his work.
He first arrived at Alcatraz in 1934 as was positioned as a correctional officer. By the late 1930s, he was already promoted to Associate Warden. In 1947, Miller was transferred to another federal prison, where he ended his career. He is recognized as one of the most significant wardens of the prison, even to this day.
Alkatraz prison has many wardens; however, some stood out more than others. Warden Paul J. Madigan is, with no doubt, one of them. Madigan was known to be the only warden who worked his way up from the lowest rank of the prison staff hierarchy. He began his days as a Correctional Officer and gradually worked his way up.
During his day, he dedicated his life to the prison, and, it's funny to say, but this was his second home. He knew the prisoners by heart to the extent that he made significant relations with some. He was appreciated by the worst criminals alive.
The Swim For Alcatraz
The swim for Alcatraz has been a lifelong tradition. In this photo, we witness Jack LaLanne, who is often referred to as the "Godfather of fitness," who was a nutrition guru although had admitted to being a justfood addict too. He is seen here completing the Swim for Alcatraz, which took him two hours to complete.
In the photo, he has handcuffs on and is being assisted by his friend, Jay Holt. LaLanne passed away in 2011 and brought his cutting-edge fitness system to the nation, both on TV and in fitness clubs. All of his life was dedicated to getting the people of America into shape.
A Bit of History
It's always fascinating when you come across items that go back years and years. It's as if they carry a story with them, and you can almost feel all of the details. Take this for example. This is a photo of the original hat worn by Jim Albright, Alcatraz's former prison guard.
Prison guard Albright is known for being the last guard in the prison when it closed its gates in March 1963. Jim Albright retired from his duties in 1985 and passed away in 2021 after serving for more than 50 years. The hat is presented in the prison's visitors center and kept in its original condition.
Occasionally, you come across a photo that says so much yet uses so little. This black-and-white photograph pretty much sums it all up. Barney Peterson, who took this photo, managed to bring a mix of emotions concerning this terrifying place into one frame.
Directing the vision down this tunnel, you can almost feel the fear and harshness that lay behind these prison walls. It's as if this underpass leads you to a place that you are familiar with its stories, yet manages to remain unknown. The photograph was taken in 1952 while Alcatraz was still fully operating.