Did Anyone Ever Escape Alcatraz?


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Escaping Alcatraz

Of course, Dirty Harry did it with some other Hollywood stars, who I forget, back in ’79. Harry then went on to shack up with his leading lady and churn out some kids on the side with an air hostess. He beat the bay and got the girls.

The question is outside of Hollywood, have any real jailbirds ever escaped Alcatraz? Over the history of incarceration on the Island, 36 people have tried. Some gave up, some drowned, and some were shot. This is probably why the Birdman decided that his only pleasure in life at Alcatraz would be feeding pigeons from his jail window.


The challenge with escaping Alcatraz Island is the Bay of San Francisco. Depending on the route that you take, the journey would be one to two miles. This may not seem too bad, but other factors create the difficulty. Most times of the year, the water around the bay is freezing cold and the waters are rough. A hidden snag in the bay is the nature of the waves and currents. Very strong currents move southwards, while large waves break northwards, creating a vortex of opposing forces that would likely drown Michael Phelps.

Even if you had a rubber life raft, prisoners in Alcatraz were not afforded the opportunity to get themselves in Olympic physical condition, which is essential for this kind of feat. Aside from nature’s wrath, you would first have to break out of a maximum-security prison and not be shot by the guards. Come to think of it, this would make for a great series of “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here.” I can already see it in my mind. Carrol Vorderman, Danny Dyer, Piers Morgan, and James, the “love rat” Hewitt. Marvellous.


In June of 1962, Frank Morris and the two Anglin brothers made their attempt to escape the island. Their bodies were never found and the FBI was satisfied to assume that they were drowned.

The three busy bees, along with a fourth accomplice, Allen West had spent months planning their escape. They had been smart enough to do their homework and were aware of the problems involved with beating the sea in the bay of San Francisco.

To begin with, the four men chipped larger holes through the air vents in their cells, in order to gain access to an empty corridor that ran parallel to their prison wing. Inside this corridor, they painstakingly crafted a rubber dingy made from stolen raincoats. They even used a vacuum cleaner motor to create a crude outboard motor for their raft. The plan was to paddle with the aid of a small motor to Angel Island, a shorter distance, and then on to the mainland.

On the night in question, fake heads were used to put in their beds to deceive the nightshift guards. For some reason, Allen West was not fully prepared on the night that they decided to escape. Allen West was left behind, and Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers were never seen again.


The FBI had not fully closed the case, when in 2013; the San Francisco police received a letter, supposedly signed by Frank Morris. The letter claimed that all three men had survived the ordeal and had lived for decades. The Anglin brothers had died in their old age, and he, Frank, was the only living survivor. He also claimed to have cancer and offered to turn himself in, in exchange for medical treatment.

The FBI had examples of all three men’s handwriting and compared them with the new letter. The results were deemed to be inconclusive but unlikely, a match. The thinking was that a clever cancer patient was perhaps trying to get some free treatment or attention. Surprisingly, the authorities had no interest in meeting with the author of the letter, not even to confirm that it was a hoax.

Alcatraz existed as a prison for 29 years and had been home to the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Ultimately, it was decommissioned purely for financial reasons. It cost the federal government four times as much as any other prison.


 As far as authorities are concerned, the case will remain open as a mere formality, until the bodies are found, or the suspects are 99 years old. It’s tempting to root for the underdogs, even if they are miscreants. Realistically speaking, I think the history of escape attempts is summed up by capture, drowning, and shooting. This Papillion story does not have a happy ending. Frank and the Anglin brothers may have lived in Hollywood, but in the world that we live in, the boys reside in Davy Jones’s locker. If you loved this then check out some of the other posts around things that only men think about in our guy thoughts category.