These Men Escaped From Alcatraz Prison – But How?

Located off the coast of San Francisco, the Alcatraz Prison is widely known as one of the most dangerous prisons in the world. It’s located on a remote island surrounded by rough waters infested with sharks, and that’s the reason why the most dangerous criminals are put behind bars at this site. It is believed that at least 36 prisoners died while trying to escape the prison, and not a single soul was ever able to escape alive… at least not until 1962, when a small group of three inmates carried out their escape plan successfully. Shockingly, it was not until January 2018 that the exact details of their escape were made public. Read on to find out about this thrilling story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster!

Photo: Courtesy of Alcatraz Cruises

#28. An Intimidating Prison

Located in San Francisco, the Alcatraz Prison is one of the most dangerous prisons in the world, so can you think of anything more intimidating than being sent there? The most violent murderers and experienced schemers are usually sent here, so no wonder it’s one of the most feared maximum-security prisons on earth!

Photo: Courtesy of 24/7 Mirror

Considering the prison’s meticulous security mechanisms, escaping its premises always seemed like an absolutely impossible task. Even if someone did miraculously manage to escape the building, they would still have to swim across the shark-infested waters of San Francisco’s coast. In 1962, three inmates perished in their attempt to escape the prison, but a recent investigation has proved otherwise. Keep on reading to find out about this thrilling story worthy of a Hollywood movie!

#27. The Mastermind

The mastermind behind the escape plan was a man named Frank Lee Morris. Famous for his wit and shrewdness, he was one of Alcatraz’s most experienced criminals. An orphan since the age of 11, he had a traumatic childhood and he engaged in violent crimes from an early age, being convicted of a felony for the first time when he was only 13.

Photo: Courtesy of 24/7 Mirror

Without a doubt, he was a brilliant kid with incredible talent. But instead of becoming famous for his successful career or academic achievements, he became internationally known for being the ringleader of Alcatraz’s most famous escape ever.

#26. The Alcatraz Of The South

Frank Lee Morris served jail sentences in different prisons and penitentiaries around the world and was transferred from one country to another on numerous occasions. He was eventually sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, popularly known as the “Alcatraz of the South”, where he was meant to serve a 10-year sentence for robbing a bank.

Photo: Courtesy of 24/7 Mirror

Miraculously, Frank managed to escape this Louisiana prison, but he was eventually captured. To prevent this from happening again, the authorities sent him to the infamous Alcatraz prison, and this is when the story gets interesting. Are you ready to hear the rest?

#25. The Four-Man Squad

Once in Alcatraz, Frank befriended two other inmates who were siblings, Clarence and John Anglin (shown in the picture below), and they eventually joined forces. Unlike Frank, the siblings had had a normal childhood, but in spite of this, they were caught by the police for bank robbery in 1956.

Photo: Courtesy of 24/7 Mirror

Similar to Frank, the siblings attempted to escape from the Atlanta Penitentiary a few times, the reason for which they were sent to Alcatraz. Furthermore, Frank and the Anglin brothers would soon team up with another man called Allen West, and these four became one of Alcatraz’s most famous squads.

#24. Crazy Or Genius?

Once the four-man squad had been formed, they began to detailedly plan a scheme for escaping from the most secure jail on the globe. The truth was that all of them had plenty of experience in breaking free from their cells and escaping past the guards, but they knew that their chances were grim, as the 36 inmates who had previously attempted to escape Alcatraz had all died on the way.

Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock

At the same time, these men were fully aware that carrying out their plan would involve a great deal of trust and loyalty. All the other inmates kept telling them they were crazy, but you know what they say: there’s a very thin line between crazy and genius!

#23. Similar Paths

Curiously, these four men had all served in the Atlanta Penitentiary for at least a year before being sent to Alcatraz, and this was one of the reasons why then bonded quickly. Basically, they kind of felt like friends for having come from the same prison.

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Either by chance or fate, the four men were put in adjacent cells, and this is why it was relatively easy for them to communicate with each other and plan their getaway. But what resources would they need in order to pull off such a plan?

#22. Collection Of Valuable Objects

How can an inmate obtain the necessary resources to carry out an escape plan, when they’re stuck in a cell all day? Well, the inmates at Alcatraz earned a living by making clothes or shoes for the US Army, and this came in handy for the fab-4.

Photo: Courtesy of FBI Media

The fact that they had to carry out these jobs allowed them to smuggle a few objects back to their cells, some of which came in handy for their escape plans. Besides, since all of them had been sent to Alcatraz for relatively non-violent crimes, the guards weren’t so interested in them compared to other more threatening prisoners.

#21. Division Of Labor

As they began to collect those objects, they began putting their plan into motion. They were fully aware that their absence would be noticed once they escaped, and that’s why they created life-sized bodies, which they would then place underneath the sheets.

Photo: Courtesy of History Channel

Each member had their own task to carry out the plan. For instance, the Anglin brothers were in charge of making the dummy heads for all four prisoners, and to make the heads, they used real hair from the barbershop, soap wax, and toilet paper. Frank, in turn, was in charge of coming up with an instrument that would inflate and make for a life jacket.

#20. Painstaking Task

Night after night, each of them would spend four hours straight nibbling at the rock in their respective cells to gain access to the ventilation system. In order to do this, they would use spoons or small pieces of wood that they gathered from their workplace.

Photo: Courtesy of Alcatraz History

As you can imagine, this was the longest part of the plan, as removing the rocks would take several months, not to say a year. Kind of like the plan that Matt Damon came up with on the 1994 action film Shawshank Redemption, right?

#19. Worn Down Walls

Luckily for these guys, although Alcatraz was one of the highest-security prisons in the world, the building was quite old and its walls were crumbling. In fact, each time the prisoners showered or washed the dishes, saltwater would flow through the pipes and damage them gradually.

Photo: Courtesy of FBI

To make matters worse (or best, actually), water sometimes leaked from the pipes into the walls, softening the rocks. The fab-4 obviously took advantage of this, so they nibbled at the moister and weaker parts of the walls. They’re lucky they lived in the 60s, cause American prisons are certainly not as precarious today!

#18. A Potential Escape Route

One can’t help but wonder how these guys got away with all the noise they made when piercing through the walls. Well, during the 60s, inmates were actually allowed to listen to music during certain hours of the day, so these guys used this to their advantage.

Photo: Courtesy of Alcatraz History

Frank would play his accordion the loudest he could to drown out the noise generated by the chipping. At one point, they discovered that on the opposite side of the wall, there was an unsecured corridor with pipes running up and down. They hoped that the corridor would serve as an escape route.

#17. Step By Step

The mentioned corridor hidden behind the walls secretly served as a play area for these prisoners. After a few months, they managed to erode a decent amount of the brick in various of the cells, until the hole was big enough for them to climb through.

Photo: Courtesy of History Channel

Once these holes were big enough, the inmates would have to climb through the wall to the utility corridor and then climb to the top by clinging onto the pipes. After reaching the top of the building, they would have to open one of the shafts to access the roof, and they knew this would be the most difficult part of the plan. Would they make it?

#16. Flotation Device

By May 1962, Frank and the Anglin brothers were ready to climb through the walls. They barely fit through the holes, but a small cavity was all they needed to officially initiate their escape. But how would they swim their way across the sea?

Photo: Courtesy of Alcatraz History

As I’ve said, these guys were extremely shrewd, and they managed to improvise a life vest system by stitching and gluing nearly 50 raincoats together. They knew that if they were to lose them on their way, they would drown to death in a matter of hours.

#15. Ready, Set, Go!

By this point, only one thing was holding them back. While Frank and the Anglin brothers had completed the holes in their cells, Allen West still hadn’t finished his. The problem was that the walls of his cell were much harder, so he had a hard time keeping up with the rest of his squad from the start.

Photo: Courtesy of Sky News

Two months later, by June, West was all set and gave the signal to his pals. So they packed their improvised life-savers and got ready to crawl through the hole and climb up the pipes from the other side of the wall. Would they make it all the way past the roof?

#14. One Down

Even though Frank and the Anglin brothers went through the hole easily, West didn’t have the same luck. It appeared to be that he had miscalculated the width of the hole, but the truth was that after waiting for him for two whole months, the three men were impatient.

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The guys tried to help him through the hole, but the effort was fruitless. Therefore, they were left with no choice but to leave him behind. After all, they were fully aware that the more they waited, the more they risked being found.

#13. The Descent

Leaving West behind mustn’t have been an easy decision, but the team knew that they couldn’t look back. On the bright side, their raft would be one person lighter, which increased the chances of reaching the coast.

Photo: Courtesy of FBI

Frank and the siblings climbed their way up the water pipes until they reached the top and accessed the roof using a latch that was not fully shut. They were at a 100-foot height and now they had to climb down the piping that was outside the building. They knew that any minor miscalculation would lead to their death. Would they make it all the way down?

#12. Off To The Sea

The three prisoners (or should we say former prisoners?) descended until they landed on an area close to the shower blocks and they managed to circumvent the guards. Once they reached the shore, they would need to pump up their improvised raft. Crazily enough, this was the last day that the world ever heard of Frank and the Anglin brothers, as they were never seen again.

Photo: Courtesy of

It is believed that the squad dived into the sea somewhere around 11 pm. The guards found the fake heads on their beds the following morning, and an alarm immediately began to sound all over the island.

#11. Cold Feet

Once the alarm rang out loud, the rumor spread and in no time all the inmates were talking about Frank and the siblings’ surprising escape. This seemed to encourage West to follow his mates’ steps, so once his hole was big enough, he climbed through and climbed up the pipes, hoping to meet up with his squad on the other side of the shore.

Photo: Courtesy of Ppcorn

But West faced a major obstacle: how would he make it all the way across the sea without the raft made out of raincoats? He knew he would risk death, but he got cold feet and chose to go back to his cell. A few days later, West confessed the team’s escape plan, and this is the only reason why the world knows what happened.

#10. Time Would Tell

During the next two weeks, the San Francisco police remained alert, as West told them that the men planned to steal a car and flee as far as possible. However, during the following two weeks, not a single case of car theft was recorded.

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The police authorities were faced with the following question: was West’s story true? Or was it a made-up story meant as a smokescreen to mislead the authorities? They didn’t know who or what to believe, so only time would tell.

#9. Chances Of Survival Were Grim

When the police searched the water for any signs, no bodies were found. However, they did find a few items that belonged to the prison, suggesting that at least a few prisoners had attempted to escape at some point.

Photo: Courtesy of All That’s Interesting

At the same time, the authorities knew that the chances of survival were grim, as an average human body can survive no longer than half an hour in chilly waters. They weren’t even used to cold water, considering they had hot water in the prison showers.

#8. Closed Case

17 years later, in 1979, the FBI decided to close the case, obviously presuming that the prisoners had drowned somewhere around San Francisco Bay. Despite the case being closed, the U.S. Marshals continued to follow the case.

Photo: Courtesy of Reuters

One month after the escape, a firefighter reported spotting a body roughly 17 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and it was wearing clothes similar to the ones the Alcatraz prisoners wear. Since no evidence was found, the report was eventually deferred.

#7. New Evidence

But in 2014, a team of researchers claimed that the midnight currents could have acted in favor of the squad, thus increasing their chances of survival. On top of that, in 2015, a History Channel broadcast revealed proof of the siblings’ survival, since apparently, their family had received a letter that had their handwriting on it.

Photo: Courtesy of History Channel

Besides, reporters tracked down a picture taken in Brazil somewhere around 1973 showing two men, and forensic professionals agreed that those men were the Anglin brothers. Could they really be alive and living in the South American country?

#6. Case Reopened

However, there was even more evidence that seemed to back up the theory that they were alive. The Anglin brothers’ older brother, Robert, confessed that he was in contact with them both from 1963 to 1987, the year in which he lost communication.

Photo: Courtesy of CBS San Francisco

But in January 2018, the San Francisco Police Department came across a letter supposedly signed by John Anglin, and that’s when the FBI decided to officially reopen the case. Nobody really understood why the FBI had tracked down the letter five years after it was sent, the thing is that now, over four decades later, the famous Alcatraz escape was all people talked about. But what did the letter say?

#5. Crucial Revelations

The letter included some very intimate details about the convicts’ escape as well as their past whereabouts. It said the following:

My name is John Anglin. In June 1962, I escaped from Alcatraz with my brother, Clarence and Frank Morris. I’m 83 years old and I’m in bad shape. I’ve got cancer”.

Photo: Courtesy of 24/7 Mirror

John then confessed that Frank had died in October 2008 and that his tomb was under the name of another man in Argentina. He also claimed that his brother had passed away in 2011. But what about him? Did John reveal any personal data on the letter?

#4. More Confessions

Later on, John – or who we believe was John – revealed that he had been living in Minot, North Dakota, for a couple of years after the escape. If you believe this is a pure bluff, you better look closely at these images and read the letter for yourself! Amazing, right?

Photo: Courtesy of

Surprisingly, though, the letter also stated he was by then living in Southern California, just a few miles from the prison he had escaped from! In the letter, he also asked for assistance due to his poor health condition, but at the same time, he knew that meant to risk being caught and sent back to prison. But can you guess what the ending paragraph said?

#3. A Shocking Statement

The letter concluded in the strangest of ways. It read: “If you announce on TV and promise that I will to go to jail for no more than a year and get medical care, I will write back to let you know precisely where I am. This isn’t a joke“.

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Obviously, before the authorities agreed to these terms, the forensic experts would have to run some tests in order to determine whether the author of the letter was, indeed, John. After all, things didn’t quite seem to add up: why would a man in his final days agree to be sent to prison?

#2. Forensic Team In Action

For several days, the FBI’s forensic team analyzed the letter in search of any trace of DNA or any fingerprints. They also checked the handwriting and compared it to letters that had been sent earlier.

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It’s needless to say that media outlets from all over the world were following such a thrilling case. Furthermore, a local station known as CBS KPIX published the letter. However, the forensics confirmed that the studies’ results were inconclusive, so the truth was still left unknown. There was no evidence whatsoever as to who had been the true author.

#1. The Final Word

On their final report, the U.S. Marshal Service admitted that the three men might have survived, but in spite of this, no conclusive evidence was ever found, and probably never would be. However, the official statement also claims that they have serious doubts regarding the veracity of the letter.

Photo: Courtesy of Alcatraz Cruises

However, the investigation will not be considered 100% closed until solid evidence of the three men’s deaths is found, or until they all reach the age of 99. So far, authorities haven’t got any evidence as to whether the three men are alive or not. If they did survive, this means they lived more than half of their lives in freedom, presumably under false identities. What do you think happened?

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    Hernán Tamargo

    Teacher. Political Scientist. Writer. Feminist... and much more!

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