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Escape From Alcatraz
June 11, 2012 5:09 AM   Subscribe

Fifty years ago today Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin escaped from Alcatraz and were never seen again. U.S. Marshal Michael Dyke is still on the case and thinks at least two of the men successfully escaped.

Newsreel from 1962. The FBI's Byte out of History writeup and case documents. NPR's two-
part series and a timeline of Alcatraz escape attempts.

J. Bruce Campbell's 1963 book Escape from Alcatraz (Amazon) inspired a 1979 Clint Eastwood movie (which was Danny Glover's film debut). The FBI closed the case the same year the movie came out.

In 1993 inmate Thomas Kent told America's Most Wanted the escapees had more help than previously thought and claimed they were going to meet Clarence Anglin's girlfriend in Marin County and drive to Mexico. The US Marshal's Service reopened the case.

In a December 12, 2003 episode of MythBusters, costars Jamie Hyneman, Adam Savage, and intern Will Abbott made a raft of raincoats and successfully rafted from Alcatraz Island to the Marin Headlands (parts one, two, and three).

National Geographic Channel's 2011 History's Secrets: Vanished From Alcatraz (promo) revealed that a raft was discovered on Angel Island with footprints leading away and a car in the area was stolen.

Google Map of Alcatraz and map of currents in San Francisco Bay (change the Averaging Time to 25 h; the default is 1h).

Fellow inmate Allen West was involved in the escape, but couldn't participate because it took too long for him to open the ventilator grill in his cell. Later in 1962 John Paul Scott escaped from Alcatraz and swam to Fort Point but was suffering from hypothermia and exhaustion and was recaptured.
posted by kirkaracha (18 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome post. I love this story. Looking forward to checking out all these links.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:14 AM on June 11, 2012


just the name itself, "Alcatraz", it's so unique and so evocative. And thanks to Wikipedia, now I know where it's from:

The first Spaniard to document the island was Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775, who charted San Francisco Bay and named the island "La Isla de los Alcatraces," which translates as "The Island of the Pelicans," from the archaic Spanish alcatraz, "pelican", a word which was borrowed originally from Arabic: القطرس al-qaṭrās, meaning sea eagle.

Those escapees, I'm now naming them honorary sea eagles.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:36 AM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


I remember watching the TV documentary about this (doesn't seem to be in this list, it'd be between Eastwood and America's Most Wanted somewhere). That show was the first thing that taught me that in real life, you don't necessarily find out the ending to the movie.
posted by DU at 5:39 AM on June 11, 2012


In 1958 John Anglin robbed the Columbia Alabama bank with a toy gun together with his brothers Clarence and Alfred. They were sentenced to prison for 35 years.

WTF?
posted by DU at 5:50 AM on June 11, 2012


WTF?


"Robbery" is a combination charge -- it combines theft (taking of other's property without authorization) with assault (the threat of violence.) Using a toy gun that looks like a real gun makes it aggravated assault. It doesn't matter that it was a toy if a reasonable person would have, in the circumstance, assumed that it was an actual weapon.

This was, of course, well before we started making toy guns have bright orange bits on them to tell the cops that the kid wasn't point a real gun at them, so I would be completely unsurprised to find that the toy gun looked real. Indeed, I had a BB gun one time that at any distance longer than a couple of feet looked like an automatic pistol, and it had a slide action that made it look even more real.

Finally, this wasn't the only robbery that Clarence and John Anglin had committed.

So, multiple counts of theft and aggravated assault that were rolled up into the charge of "robbery". 35 years isn't unusual in the US for such, then or now.

Finally, this was at a time where parole was much easier to obtain -- though the reason they were in Alcatraz was escape attempts, so parole was going to be hard for them to come by.
posted by eriko at 6:25 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's weird to me that the Marshall is all over arresting the men once found. I mean they're 80 years old for one. For two, wouldn't you rather have them come forward on their own? That would confirm the theory but seems unlikely if you're talking about throwing them back into prison.

What's the statue of limitations on escape anyways?
posted by Carillon at 7:08 AM on June 11, 2012


probably he wants to find out if they were the bastards who shot Pancho
posted by thelonius at 7:21 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


kirkaracha: "In a December 12, 2003 episode of MythBusters, costars Jamie Hyneman, Adam Savage, and intern Will Abbott made a raft of raincoats and successfully rafted from Alcatraz Island to the Marin Headlands"

This is the best moment from that episode. I still laugh out loud when I see it.
posted by Plutor at 7:25 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dyke cites a Norwegian ship report of a body floating in the water outside the Golden Gate about a month after the escape. It was face down and appeared to be wearing prison clothes. The crew was unable to immediately report it or collect the body.

Statistically speaking, he said, 2 out of 3 bodies in the bay are recovered. If all three fugitives died, two bodies should have been recovered.


Umm, OK. I'm not sure that's the best invocation of statistics I've ever seen.
posted by Hartster at 7:30 AM on June 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


Carillon: " What's the statue of limitations on escape anyways?"

According to page CRS-12 of this document,
There are other crimes, which like conspiracy, continue on long after all the elements necessary for their prosecution are first present. The applicable statute of limitations for these continuing crimes is delayed if either "the explicit language of the substantive criminal statute compels such a conclusion, or the nature of the crime involved is such that Congress must assuredly have intended that it be treated as a continuing one." Continuing federal offenses for purposes of the statutes of limitation include:

* escape from federal custody, United States v. Bailey, 444 U.S. 394, 636 (1980);
[...]
Here is a summary of United States v. Bailey.
posted by Plutor at 7:45 AM on June 11, 2012


> inspired a 1979 Clint Eastwood movie

The Rock is the best Alcatraz movie evar, and also the best J*mes B*nd movie evar. First off it has Connery as B*nd (as all real JB flicks do.) Second, we get to see the aged B*nd as a jailbird in long grizzled wrath-of-Khan hair wearing his best wrath-of-Khan expression. Third, for added piquancy the woman he's chasing in this one won't have a thing to do with him. (Spoiler...










...he's not chasing her for sex, either, it's totally innocent. She's his daughter--he just found out he has a daughter, from a one-nighter twenty years back--and he just wants to get to know her, and she's all "Ew, mom told me everything I need to know about you, fuck off.")
posted by jfuller at 8:29 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


No prisoners anywhere have had better natural scenery. View are comprehensively stunning from virtually anywhere on that island (even the giant barred "picture" windows in the main cellblock! lol)
posted by Colonel Panic at 8:44 AM on June 11, 2012


It's weird to me that the Marshall is all over arresting the men once found.

The US Marshals Service has basically two jobs: transporting federal prisoners, and arresting fugitives. He's just a cop; he doesn't have prosecutorial discretion. If they're ever found, then the US DOJ will have a determination to make, but not the Marshal.

The Rock is the best Alcatraz movie evar, and also the best J*mes B*nd movie evar.

One way of looking at it, definitely, is the more likely wages of the sin of being a spy.
posted by dhartung at 9:27 AM on June 11, 2012


I lived in San Francisco over ten years before ever visted Alcatraz. I had refused to go because 'only tourists' do that. It was well worth the visit. I used the talking-tour earphones and one comment that really struck me a was prisoner saying he saw a girl walk by one day, maybe a guard/prison staff's daughter, and she was the only girl he'd seen in ten years.

Anyway, I've always hoped one or all of them made it to freedom. I'm also hoping for a deathbed confession.

That show was the first thing that taught me that in real life, you don't necessarily find out the ending to the movie.

I don't like unsolved mysteries.
posted by shoesietart at 9:59 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I took a tour of Alcatraz back in the 70s before much work had been done to restore it or make it tourist-friendly. It was a harsh, cold place, still cluttered with ruins from the Native occupation.

My favorite moment of the tour was the guide mentioning that earlier, two elderly visitors were asking very specific questions and turned out to be former inmates; they shared a bit of their experience and our guide passed some of that on to us.

The description of the raft escape raised more than a few goosebumps on that gray, raw afternoon.

There are a lot of uneasy spirits on that island. I'd love to think at least three made it off.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:37 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


My family toured Alatraz in the early '80s, when I was a teenager. The guide shut us in the solitary cell, which was the darkest black I've ever experienced. It was unsettling almost immediately and it's hard to imagine surviving that psychologically for very long.

Later I lived in San Francisco and went on a tour. A former inmate was signing his book in the bookstore, so I bought a copy and had him autograph it. I asked him how long he was an inmate and he instantly gave the time down to the year, month, and day.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:15 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


That Wikipedia photo of Frank Morris' mug shot looks a bit like Clive Owen's evil twin!
posted by Galadhwen at 9:42 PM on June 11, 2012


shoesietart: "
I don't like unsolved mysteries.
"

That is why they are so awesome. They are a vacuum, and it is our nature to try to fill them.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:51 PM on June 12, 2012


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