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Fate of Three Convicts Who Escaped From Alcatraz Prison Still Remains a Mystery After Six Decades

Three convicts escaped from the Alcatraz prison facility in 1962, using crude tools available in the surroundings.
Cover Image Source: YouTube/HISTORY
Cover Image Source: YouTube/HISTORY

Three prisoners wrote history when they escaped from a California maximum security federal prison facility in 1962.

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which is now a museum, is located on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay and was used to house prisoners as far back as the Civil War, according to the FBI.

In 1934, the facility was re-fortified and transformed into the world’s most secure prison.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Jimmy Chan
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Jimmy Chan

The prison, because of its unrelenting and tough surroundings, was used to keep the most notorious criminals in the country, the FBI reported. Some of the facility's most noted prisoners include Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and the infamous "Birdman of Alcatraz."

Reinforcements like tougher iron bars, strategically positioned guard towers, and strict rules — involving a dozen checks a day of the prisoners — were incorporated into the system to make the facility the world's most secure penitentiary.

Despite being aware of the dangers of escaping the island, 36 prisoners tried to flee the facility before it was finally closed for good in 1963, the FBI reported. Except for three prisoners, all the escapees were caught or didn't survive their attempts.

Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence made their legendary flight on June 12, 1962, and vanished into thin air. To this day, nobody knows definitively what exactly happened to the trio.

The three prisoners came to the facility between 1960 and 1961 and already knew each other due to previous stints behind bars, the FBI reported. Being in adjoining prisons made it easier for them to talk with each other and hatch their daring escape plan.

The men had another inmate, Allen West, help them with the scheme. Within a year, the prisoners put their plan into motion, and they escaped on June 12, 1962.

West, however, could not accompany the others because he was unable to get out on time.


Officials became aware of the escape when, during their routine early morning check, instead of the prisoners they found fake heads created out of plaster, flesh-tone paint, and real human hair in the prisoners' beds, the FBI reported. The prison quickly went into lockdown.

The FBI got to work and found some paddle-like pieces of wood and bits of rubber inner tubes in the surrounding areas. They also discovered a homemade life vest washed up on Cronkhite Beach.

Authorities figured out West's role in the scheme and got his help to piece together the plan, the FBI reported. The learned the group of escapees used crude tools available in the facility to execute their escape.

The individuals made a homemade drill from the motor of a broken vacuum cleaner and loosened the air vents at the back of their cells. The hole in the wall was then covered with items like a suitcase or a piece of cardboard.


Each night, the individuals went to the roof of their cell block to discuss and arrange for things they needed to escape, the FBI reported. They collected almost 50 raincoats and turned them into makeshift life preservers.

The prisoners also constructed wooden paddles and altered a musical instrument into a tool that could inflate the raft. They made their way to the ceiling with a network of pipes and managed to open the ventilator at the top of the shaft. They hid the opening with the help of a fake bolt made out of soap.

On June 11, 1962, after escaping from the facility, the three individuals allegedly made their way to the northeast shore of the island and launched their raft, the FBI reported.

Prison warden Richard Willard, in his interview, expressed his belief that all three perished in their escape attempt, BBC reported. 

"Yes, we are short a few, but they are not bragging about it. In other words, assumedly all those who are short drowned in the procedure. There is, to our knowledge, nobody walking the streets today bragging about having escaped from Alcatraz," he said. "Why am I so sure? You hear the wind, don't you? And you see the water? Do you think you could make it?"


In 1979, all three escapees were declared legally dead, BBC reported. US Marshals Service eventually took over the investigation.

In 2018, San Francisco Police shared that they received a letter from someone allegedly claiming to be John Anglin, one of the escapees. The letter stated that all three made it out alive, and his other two companions have since died.

John Anglin wanted to negotiate his surrender with authorities in exchange for cancer treatment, BBC reported. The FBI accessed the letter but could not verify whether it was genuine. The case remains open.

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