The Mystery Surrounding the Great Escape

The inescapable rock of Alcatraz rises up in San Francisco Bay. But did someone actually succeed in that mad dash for freedom?
The inescapable rock of Alcatraz rises up in San Francisco Bay. But did someone actually succeed in that mad dash for freedom?

THERE ARE HUNDRY SHARKS in San Francisco Bay.  They will eat whatever they get a notion to.  The water out there is chilly, even in June.

“Just between me and you, do you think they made it?  Did they escape?”  Mr. Hopper asked the guide, as the other tourists wandered on to the next sight ready for viewing at Alcatraz, The Rock.  “I am sure you have heard inside scuttlebutt about it from your years as a guide here.”

The guide, Jimson, cast an eye toward his wandering charges as he said on the sly, “I always thought they were shark bait or fish food, for years, myself — from everything I ever heard, I put it all together and decided that two of them had drowned and the third most probably had.  Just a minute and I will explain my reasoning.”

Jimson corralled the tourists outside a cell and told them he would be right with them, for them to just carefully examine the graffiti scrawled about and he would explain what criminal used his artistic talents to make it.

A dummy mask placed in the bunk by an escapee to fool the guard.
A dummy mask placed in the bunk by an escapee to fool the guard.

Jimson came in closer to Mr. Hopper and continued his line of thought.  “We know that the temperature of the water on the night of the escape attempt was fifty-four degrees, pretty conducive to hypothermia and cramping.  The water was also in the high-choppy range.  Sharks had been observed in the waters by individuals on ferries and sailboats throughout the day.   They did find personal effects in the water that had become separated from their owners.  For example, there was a plastic bag found that contained a money order receipt for ten dollars.  It was made out to Clarence Anglin, one of the men.  Also it contained fifty photographs of a woman and some family members.  As would be expected, after the escape attempt, friends and family members of the three escapees were put under scrutiny and surveillance to see if any of the three men tried to contact them to seek aid or for any other reason.  This never happened as far as we know.  What man could go a lifetime without contacting loved ones?  Or visiting them?”

“So you definitely think they died then?”  Hopper asked the guide.

“Yes I did, until….”

“Until what?”  Hopper wanted to know, as his eyes opened wide.

“Until a documentary on National Geographic in 2011 revealed that they had actually found a raft used by the men.  It had been fabricated from raincoats and was found on Angel Island, the supposed destination of the escapees.  The escapees planned to get to Angel Island by using the raft, then figure out a way to get to Tiburon in Marin County to make their final escape.  They also found a homemade oar near the raincoat raft and footprints leading away from it to a place where a small abandoned skiff was known to be.”

“Wow.”  Hopper said.  “How come I have never heard of this development?”  He scratched his balding head.

“These artifacts were all found at the time of the crime, but for some reason no one released the information until this National Geographic investigation revealed it.  The documentary is ‘Vanished from Alcatraz.’  Many inmates that have resided in Alcatraz did have the opinion that at least one of the men escaped.  Did these fellow cons have inside information, or were they just guessing?  Maybe it was only wishful thinking on their part.”

Hopper added, “I did hear that a team of people tried to re-enact the escape using the same equipment that the convicts did—and they were able to make it to Angel Island under those controlled circumstances.”

A second dummy mask  used to fool the guards.
A second dummy mask used to fool the guards.

“Yes that is true.  It was on the Discovery Channel, ‘Mythbusters,’ I think.  I now am of the personal opinion that Morris did make it, and possibly the other two.  I suggest you search around on the internet for information about the National Geographic documentary and re-enactments of the escape when you have time.  I think they are available to view on video channels.”

“I certainly will do that, Mr. Jimson.  Thanks for letting me take up your time.” Mr. Hopper said as he re-joined the group of fellow tourists. Hopper’s wife was becoming irritated as he could plainly see.

The movie Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood allowed us to see the ingenious methods four inmates at Alcatraz used to plan their escape, by making dummies to place in their bunks, by scraping away the mortar and masonry from vent grills—vents that would serve as a tunnels to get them to the outside world once again.  The shafts were only 10” x 14.”  They had to put themselves on diets to be able to navigate them and then also scrape the shafts into a larger shape.  They had to wait until lights-out every night to make their tools.  Some of the best tools were merely sharpened spoons.  When the grills were free they had to make identical cardboard substitutes to fool the guards.  They had to make their raincoat raft and make a tool to inflate it by using the bellows of a concertina that they stole from another inmate.  They also had to haul off the all of material from the scrapings so that they would not be discovered by guards.

On the night of June 11, 1962, three convicted bank robbers housed on the island of Alcatraz, made their daring escape attempt after lights-out.  A fourth, Allen West, had to abort his attempt to go with them.  They arranged the dummies they had made in their bunks.  Frank Lee Morris (whose IQ may have been at least 133) and brothers, Clarence and John Anglin, made their daring escape.  We know they made it to the roof of the prison.  We know they made it over all the twelve foot fences with barbs and razor wire.  We know they made it into the bay.  We know that they got good and wet  and very cold.  We have always thought they were swept by strong tides out and under the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific, if the sharks didn’t eat them first.

Did they have a sense of camaraderie, or was it every man for himself?  Did Morris consider the brothers to be dead weight and leave them splashing in the bay as he manned his raft, or did they power on together and all three make it?

Another often unmentioned tidbit is that a car was reported stolen on that night near the place they would have made final landfall.  Their goal was Mexico.


Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her books.

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