Inmates Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin created a well-constructed plot to escape Alcatraz. The inmates disappeared into the San Francisco Bay and drowned. Did they really drown as alleged by law enforcement officials? The mystery of what actually happened to the three inmates who escaped “The Rock” continues, decades after their escape.
The plan to escape started almost as soon as Morris and the Anglin Brothers reconnected on The Rock after initially meeting at another prison. Allen West took the first step towards escape when he gathered old saw blades discovered in a utility corridor during cleaning duties. Morris and the Anglin Brothers made crudely constructed tools to dig out the walls and vents, constructing a life raft of rain coats. Life-like dummies made of various materials taken from the barbershop and prison art kits and placed in the inmates cells would prevent guards from noticing the inmates had escaped.
On June 11, 1962, dummies in place, with lights out, the inmates were to remove the ventilator grills, travel across plumbing pipes, and make their way across the roof and drop to the ground. Alcatraz History explains that the men would use their raincoat-raft and escape to Angel Island. After resting, the inmates were to reenter the Bay and eventually make it into a nearby town, stealing supplies and clothes and go their separate ways.
While most sources attribute the alleged plot of escaping Alcatraz to Frank Morris, Allen West later took credit as the escape plan mastermind. Allen West, their cohort in the escape plan did not make it out in time and was forced to return to his cell.
After disappearing into the night, Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers were never seen again. The History Channel points out that Marin County, the intended initial destination of the escapees, recorded no burglaries or similar crimes in the days after the escape from Alcatraz. History Channel says that the FBI “still maintains active arrest warrants for all three men, they are officially listed as missing and presumed drowned, victims of the frigid waters and swift currents of San Francisco Bay.”
The FBI itself claims the case is closed, stating, “The files begin with the breakout in 1962 and continue through December 1979 when the FBI closed the case.” In spite of the conclusion that the men drowned, many people believe the escapees survived with reported sightings well after the escape. The mystery surrounding the 1962 escape resulted in the movie “Escape from Alcatraz,” starring Clint Eastwood
Earlier Escape Mystery
What most people do not know is that the escape of the Anglin Brothers and Frank Morris is not the first alleged successful escape. Perhaps details of the 1937 escape were deliberately put to rest to avoid embarrassment of officials responsible for keeping track of inmates at Alcatraz.
Ralph Roe, imprisoned for bank robbery, along with Ted Cole, in prison for kidnapping began devising their escape plan in 1935. Dense fog on December 16, 1937 presented the perfect opportunity. Cole and Roe were unaccounted for during a workroom count. The inmates made their getaway from the workshop into the Bay. Encrypted messages and sightings in South America discount official conclusion that Roe and Cole drowned in the San Francisco Bay.
The mysteries and intrigue of Alcatraz makes it a curious attraction for many visitors seeking a glimpse into the history of The Rock.