Believed to be nearly escape-proof, the island prison Alcatraz, situated in San Francisco Bay, was proven once again to be escapable by a trio of prisoners in June of 1962. It is not known, however, if any of the three men survived the attempt.
Brothers Clarence and John Anglin and a man named Frank Morris were prisoners at Alcatraz for crimes ranging from bank robbery and narcotics possession to armed robbery. The trio, along with another prisoner named Allen West, concocted an escape plan that was many months in the making. The first step was to dig around the ventilator grills on the back walls of their cells. Once through the holes behind the grills, they would crawl up shafts to the roof, and then scramble down to the rocky shoreline.
On June 11th, the plan was put into action. The Anglins and Morris went up onto the roof without West, whose access to the roof was blocked.
The three left behind dummy heads they had made from soap and toilet paper and hair from the barbershop. These were realistic enough to fool the guards making bed-checks during the night.
Once off the roof, the trio inflated a make-shift raft they had made from prison raincoats. They had borrowed some of the coats and stolen others to get enough of them to bond together with glue stolen from the prison’s glove-making shop. Then they floated out into the night.
Nothing more is known of the threesome, although several subsequent facts seem to indicate that they perished in their escape attempt. For example: according to West, once ashore, the men’s plan was to rob a clothing store and then steal a car to make their getaway. But no stolen cars or clothes were reported after the escape attempt. Additionally, a variety of personal items that belonged to the men was later found floating in the bay, as was a hand-made life preserver. And, one month later, some of the crew on board an outgoing freighter believed they spotted a body floating in the bay, but this was never verified and no dead body was retrieved or washed up on shore.
On the other hand, an episode of the television show “Mythbusters” recreated the escape attempt using identical materials to the escapees’ raft. They successfully paddled to shore, proving that such an escape was indeed possible.
After years of searching, the FBI closed their investigation into the case on December 31, 1979, although the U.S. Marshals Service would continue to look for the trio.
The ultimate fate of the three men made famous for their 1962 Alcatraz escape is unknown.