Escape From Alcatraz: The Story Of Three Prisoners’ Great Escape

Originally Published March 10, 2020

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was the most secured federal prison in the United States. It’s surrounded by the cold waters and strong ocean currents of San Francisco Bay, where it houses the most notorious and deadliest criminals of all time. (Related: Abandoned Prisons in the US You Can Visit)

Alcatraz was supposed to be inescapable until Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers disappeared on June 11, 1962.

So what happened that night?

On June 12, 1962, the next day after the great escape of the three prisoners, guards found dummy heads made of soap wax, paper mache, paint, and real human hair in the cells of Morris and John and Clarence Anglin. And so a massive search was launched. However, they found nothing but pieces of the raft and a paddle on nearby Angel Island.

But how did they managed to escape the supposed to be inescapable prison? Well, here’s what happened. During the investigation, the FBI found out that there was a fourth escapee, Allen West, who got stuck on the night of the escape and was left behind. West ended up testifying, and the police found the pieces of evidence of how the three convicts escaped Alcatraz.

According to the FBI, Morris was the mastermind of the escape. He had an IQ of 98% higher than the population, and clearly, he knew how to use it to his advantage.

Morris already escaped in Atlanta prison before he was caught and sent to Alcatraz. Shortly after his stay there, he met the Anglin brothers and planned the escape.

According to West, they set up a secret workshop on the top of their cells, where they built and hid everything they used on the escape. The convicts used a homemade drill made from kitchen spoons and a broken vacuum cleaner motor to drilled tiny holes around the air vents in the back of their cells. They punched out a part of the wall large enough to wiggle through and climbed up a network of pipes in an unguarded space. Unfortunately for West, he got stuck and was left behind.

Morris and the Anglin brothers also created life vests, wooden paddles, and a raft made out of fifty raincoats so they can survive. (Related: The Most Daring Prison Escapes in US History)

A panoramic photo of Alcatraz prison.

Until now, it’s still unknown whether the three inmates had drowned or if they were successful with their escape. No bodies were found during the search, but the case remained open until now, and the U.S. Marshals is the sole agency investigating the case.

According to West, the plan was to steal a car once they reached the mainland. But, the police claim that there was no report of car theft around the area. Thus, they believe that the three men didn’t survive.

However, in 2018, a letter allegedly written by John Anglin came to light. According to the FBI, the letter was sent to the San Francisco Police Department’s Richmond station in 2013.

In the letter, it says, “My name is John Anglin. I escape 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!”

It also said in the letter that Morris had died in 2005 and Clarence three years later. The alleged John Anglin made a deal – “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…”

The FBI examined the fingerprints, DNA, as well as the handwriting of the letter. However, the results were inconclusive. The Federal Bureau of Prisons firmly believes that Frank Morris and Clarence and John Anglin drowned that night and that their bodies were swept out to the Pacific Ocean.
But what if the three convicts survived the strong currents of the Pacific? Would they still be alive? Why would the case remain open if the U.S. Marshals believe that they didn’t make it that night? No one really knows. And while the names of Morris and the Anglin brothers are nearly forgotten, their great escape will always remain a mystery and a subject of fascination to most Americans.


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Franchette Agatha an author for GlobalTel


Franchette Agatha Jardin believes that everyone has the capacity to help those who are in need. She writes blogs about issues and news surrounding those in prison in the hopes of restoring a little extra faith in humanity.