True Crime Sunday: Escape from Alcatraz

Alcatraz served as a maximum-security prison from 1934-1963. In that time thirty-six men attempted fourteen escapes. Most of them were either caught or died during the escape. This week we’re going to take a look at three escapees whose fate is uncertain.

On June 12, 1962, three inmates missed the morning check. Frank Morris and brothers Clarence and John Algin fooled guards during the night check by crafting heads made of plaster painted flesh colored and human hair and leaving them in their beds. The heads didn’t work in the morning, but by that time, it was too late.

There was a fourth man, Allen West, in on the escape, but on the night in question, he couldn’t get the vent off of the wall in his cell and was left behind. Given what he told the FBI and what they learned in their investigation, they have a good idea how things happened.

They started planning the previous December and started collecting items they could make into tools. Little by little, the men drilled holes in the wall around the vents in their cell until the whole thing could be taken off the wall. They then hid the hole however they could. On the other side of the wall, there was an unguarded corridor the used to get to the roof of their cell block where they had their “workshop.” The men made wooden paddles and used over fifty raincoats to build a raft and life vests.

On the night of the escape, they climbed the pipes in the corridor up to the roof and made their way to a part of the shore that had a blind spot. The guards wouldn’t be able to see them from the towers. They launched their raft and off they went. What happened to them?

No trace of them was found in the initial search. Did they make it to Angel Island and make their getaway there? Two days after the escape, a rubber sealed packed of letters connected to the men washed up on shore. Pieces of the paddles and a life vest were found in the water not long after. Some pieces from the raincoats were found not far from Golden Gate Bridge. According to West, the plan was to steal clothes and a car and vanish. However, there were never any complaints of thefts around that time. The FBI interviewed the men’s families, but it doesn’t seem they’d seen the men.

The FBI kept the case open for seventeen years and turned it over to the U.S. Marshals. There have been sightings and rumors, but no credible evidence to show whether the men made it to shore or drowned in the frigid water in their attempt to escape. All three men are still on Most Wanted lists, just in case…

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