Friday, June 23, 2017

Alcatraz escape remains a mystery 55 years on

Via by Michael Democker

On June 11, 1962, after the lights went out for the night inside the notorious federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, inmates Frank Morris and the brothers Clarence and John Anglin began a bold escape. (Morris had previously broken out of Angola before being re-captured and sent to Alcatraz.) The trio of bank robbers placed fake heads made of toilet paper and soap, complete with hair collected from the prison barber, into their beds to fool the guards.

The Anglins named their decoy heads "Oink" and "Oscar." They slipped out of their cells through 6-by-9-inch vents beneath the sink they had slowly widened with stolen spoons and other makeshift tools over several weeks. The trio then entered a utility corridor behind the cells, climbed the plumbing to the roof, slipped out a ventilation shaft, and made their way down to the water's edge.

They had built a raft out of 50 purloined raincoats they planned to inflate using a converted musical instrument similar to an accordion.

What happened after that has been one of the most enduring mysteries of the past 50-plus years, spawning numerous theories, amateur and professional investigations, and even a popular movie with Clint Eastwood playing Frank Morris. Authorities believe the three men drowned in the chilly waters of the bay, yet the U.S. Marshal Service case is still open. About six weeks after the escape, a departing Norwegian freighter spotted a body wearing what appeared to be prison denims floating face-down about 20 miles from the prison. The remnants of the raft, makeshift paddles and some of the prisoners' possessions were found on the shore of Angel Island about two miles away.

However, a deathbed confession surfaced from a man who said he and an accomplice plucked the escapees from the water in a freshly painted white boat, a claim backed up by an off-duty police officer who spotted the suspicious boat that night. The "confession" goes on to say that the accomplices betrayed, murdered and buried the men near Seattle. John Anglin's sister claims to have received a phone call from him soon after the escape. A cousin of Frank Morris says he met Frank at a San Diego park not long after his escape, a meeting his young daughter also recalled.

A drug smuggler claimed to have run into the brothers in Brazil where they had bought a farm. He says the brothers escaped by attaching a cable (and there was one missing from the Alcatraz dock) to the last passenger ferry of the night which left after midnight. The trio body-surfed to freedom. In 1992, the smuggler, Fred Brizzi, even provided the Anglin family with a photo he shot in 1975 that purported to show the Anglins on their Brazilian farm.

The Anglin family also claims to have received Christmas cards from the brothers on three occasions after the escape. In 2010, another brother, Robert Anglin, told family members he had been in regular contact with John and Clarence from 1963 until losing touch with them in 1987.

For nearly three decades "The Rock" hosted such infamous inmates as Al Capone, "Machine Gun" Kelly and "Whitey" Bulger. During that time, there were 14 breakout attempts by a total of three dozen inmates. The attempt by Morris and the Anglins is the only one that may have succeeded. Alcatraz was closed as a prison in March of 1963 and in 1972 became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Today, the one-time lighthouse, military fort and federal prison is a popular tourist destination run by the National Park Service, hosting about 1.4 million visitors annually. Regularly scheduled ferries leave from San Francisco and deposit you at the dock to walk up the hill to the prison complex. After picking up an audio guide, you can tour the facility which includes a stop at Frank Morris's cell 138 containing the fake head sitting in his bed as well as the exposed escape vent. By walking around to the side, you can also look through a window into the utility corridor where the escapees made their way to the roof and their freedom.

Or death.

Access to Alcatraz is by the private ferry company Alcatraz Cruises which leaves from Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33 (cross streets of Embarcadero & Bay Street) in San Francisco. Alcatraz is daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Tickets for day tours, best purchased in advance, are $37.25/ages 12-61 , $35.25/62 & older$25/ages 5-11, 4 and under free. Night tours and Behind the Scenes tours available at additional charge.

Location: San Francisco, CA

Coordinates: 37deg50'7"N & 122deg21'22"W


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