Breaking the Rock: Escape From Alcatraz
In the course of its 29-year history, Alcatraz saw 14 escape attempts carried out by 34 men.
They used to say that no one could survive the swim off Alcatraz Island through the San Francisco Bay. But even a nine-year-old has managed the swim. The US Marshals no longer accept as fact the idea that three men who escaped Alcatraz in a 1962 break drowned in the bay.
Now, they've assigned a man to put the mystery to rest. AMW has gone inside the mystery and we've got what the AMW Hotline has learned about the men who made the only successful escape from Alcatraz.
For years, Alcatraz was known as one of the most well-secured incarceration facilities in the country. The island's isolated location in the middle of the San Francisco Bay made escape seem like a daunting task that only the most courageous inmates would attempt. Yet, over the course of its 29-year history, there were 14 separate escape attempts, in which 36 inmates tried to get off "The Rock." Of those, 23 were caught, six were killed, six are presumed dead, and one drowned for sure.
Alcatraz's biggest mystery, however, surrounds its most infamous escapees: Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin who have not been seen or heard from since their June 1962 prison break. Their complex and ingenious plan to get off the island involved plaster dummies, fake vent coverings, a motorized drill and a raft crafted from pilfered raincoats.
»AMW's Inside Investigation
On June 12, 1962, three men did what most said was impossible: they escaped from Alcatraz. But did they survive?
The Failed Attempts
Inmates reportedly had to shower with hot water so they wouldn't get acclimated to the cold waters of the San Francisco Bay.
Although Morris and the Anglins attempted the "big one," some of Alcatraz's other escape attempts--and the men behind them--were just as daring and dangerous:
April 27, 1936: The First Attempt
Joe Bowers was the first Alcatraz inmate to attempt an escape, by scaling a chain-link fence near the island's edge. Guards ordered him back down and when he refused, one of the correctional officers opened fire. Bowers fell more than 50 feet to the shore below and later died from his injuries.
April 14, 1943: Four Out the Window
In this daring escape attempt, inmates James Boarman, Harold Brest, Floyd Hamilton and Fred Hunter took two guards hostage, then climbed out a window and made it to the shoreline. Boarman, Brest and Hamilton started swimming away while guards fired shots at them, but only Boarman was struck. He sank below the surface and his body was never recovered. Brest and Hunter were apprehended and taken back into custody, but Hamilton was thought to have drowned. Two days later, however, he was found inside a small cave on the edge of the island and was quickly returned to jail.
July 31, 1945: A Clever Plan
John Giles had a nearly foolproof plan for getting off of Alcatraz island. Since he worked in the prison laundry room, he gradually stole an entire Army uniform piece by piece. Once he had donned the whole outfit, Giles got aboard a boat that he assumed was heading to San Francisco and his eventual freedom. Little did he know, he wasn't going very far at all. When they instead docked at the nearby Angel Island -- which was a major processing hub for troops during WWII -- officers apprehended Giles and took him back into custody.
May 2-4, 1946: The Battle of Alcatraz
This escape involved the most prisoners and lasted the longest. Six inmates, including two men who had tried to escape four years earlier, took over the prison, overpowering guards and acquiring weapons and the jailhouse keys. Their escape attempt soon turned chaotic and violent, however, when they realized that they were missing some vital keys. Moreover, prison officials caught wind of their attempt and quickly moved into action. But Clarence Carnes, Bernard Coy, Joe Cretzer, Marvin Hubbard, Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson did not intend on surrendering without a fight.
During the next two days, the six inmates created mayhem inside Alcatraz, including the murder of several officers. When the Marines were finally able to restore order to the prison, they found the bodies of Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard and were able to apprehend Carnes, Shockley and Thompson. Carnes, who was only 19 years old at the time stood trial for the murders of the prison guards and was sentenced to a second life term in prison. Stockley and Thompson received the death penalty and died in the gas chamber in 1948.
December 16, 1962: No Match For The Elements
Most Alcatraz escapees were caught soon after they were discovered missing.
John William Anglin
Frank Lee Morris
After bending the bars on a basement window and climbing out, John Paul Scott and Darl Parker made their way off of the main island and into the water. Parker was captured and returned to prison after swimming a short distance. But Scott washed up a few days later under the Golden Gate Bridge suffering from shock and hypothermia after trying to battle the choppy, chilly waters of the San Francisco Bay.
These desperate escape attempts represent less than half of the prison breaks carried out by criminals locked up inside Alcatraz. While all others failed, Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin may be the only ones to have done it successfully. But what all these attempts have in common is that the men carrying them out were willing to face incredible odds just to get off "The Rock."