Have you seen these fugitives? The mystery of the Alcatraz escape remains after 60 years

Sixty years ago this week, the people of the Bay Area woke up to one of the most fascinating and amazing stories of the century, as three young, athletic brains achieved something that had long been accepted as impossible: they escaped from Alcatraz.

“Three Alcatraz convicts shoved their way out of a thick concrete cell block with spoons and escaped from prison yesterday,” The Chronicle’s June 13, 1962, front-page story began. “Their fate is unknown.”

And that remains unknown.

Technically, fugitives Frank Morris, Charles Anglin and John Anglin are still wanted men. Dead or alive, the escapees, all convicted bank robbers who escaped from other prisons, have never been found and currently occupy the front page of the US Marshals Fugitive Investigations site – with aged photos of the trio, believed to be in the 90s to now.

News of the escape broke on Tuesday, June 12, 1962, breaking what had been a slow news week at the start of summer vacation.

“OUT OF ALCATRAZ BY A SPOON” resounds on the front page of The Chronicle, although the use of spoons turned out to be one of the less interesting facts of the escape, which involved digging around a mouth. metal vents, sneaking between posts, and sneaking past guards. towers and at the northern end of the island.

The front page of June 13, 1962, San Francisco Chronicle, which featured an article detailing the escape of three inmates from Alcatraz prison.

Chronicle Archives

The ingenuity of the inmates included:

• Using a makeshift drill built from a silent fan motor to remove a vent in each cell by drilling tiny holes over several months.

• Build a secret workshop above the cell block, where Morris and the Anglins fused raincoats to make a raft and life jackets.

• Create mannequins with plaster heads, painted detailed faces, and real human hair from the barbershop, which fooled guards during bed checks and gave inmates a nearly 10-hour head start.

“Director Blackwell allowed reporters to view one of the mannequins left by the men in their cell,” The Chronicle reported two days later after visiting the cell. “It was incredibly realistic and was adorned with human hair presumably salvaged from the prison barber shop.”

Nothing could have made the story bigger, short of the early invention of social media. Chronicle photos captured locals lining up outside the Pier 43 telescopes to watch the search effort from multiple agencies. The story dominated the front page for a week.

People watch Alcatraz federal prison through a telescope after the trio escape.

People watch Alcatraz federal prison through a telescope after the trio escape.

Joe Rosenthal/The Chronicle

As the search dragged on, federal officials played down the story, insisting the inmates must have drowned. Chronicle editors responded by ordering a boat, an Olympic club trainer and two swimmers to simulate the swim from Alcatraz to Angel Island. They succeeded, making the trip in 53 minutes.

“It’s not too difficult to swim,” concluded Olympic club coach Earl Geneck afterwards. “It could be done by inexperienced swimmers if they condition themselves by taking cold showers.”

By the weekend, five days after their disappearance, the escapees had attained outlaw hero status. The Chronicle wrote an editorial condemning their previous crimes, while virtually offering them amnesty in the newspaper’s editor’s office.

“If Morris and the Anglin brothers actually got off the hook and dumbed down all the art, science, and penological quirkiness that went into making Alcatraz ‘escape-proof,'” the editorial, “we offer them silent acclaim for destroying for the last time the myth of his inviolability.

There were very few clues. The largest was a sealed bag containing addresses and numbers found near the Golden Gate Bridge, presumably so the convicts could contact friends and family after the escape. Later, a Norwegian liner spotted a body floating outside the Golden Gate, which appeared to be wearing prison clothes.

Correctional Officer Orrin T. Maybee looks inside the escape hole and the blanket fashioned by the prisoners.

Correctional Officer Orrin T. Maybee looks inside the escape hole and the blanket fashioned by the prisoners.

Alcatraz US Penitentiary 1962

Alcatraz officials pointed to the two as evidence that the inmates were dead and claimed their no-escape streak was intact. The prison closed less than a year later and turned into a national park, with the legend of Morris and the Anglins being part of the tour. They remain the most famous escapees and the most likely survivors. (Another couple in the 1930s reached the water and were never found, but the tide was much higher that day and they are presumed dead.)

The 1979 film “Escape From Alcatraz” is a fictional film based on escape, starring Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris. His ending suggests the bag full of addresses was a ruse, and Morris survived.

The FBI has long given the case to US Marshals, where it remains open. Investigator Michael Dyke told Jill Tucker of The Chronicle in 2012 that he believed one of the men was dead, but the other two survived.

“I think there’s still a good chance they’ll be successful,” Dyke said. “I can’t prove it. Well, I can’t tell you anyway.

One of four heads created by Alcatraz inmates Frank Morris and Charles and John Anglin to facilitate their escape from the infamous prison in 1962.

One of four heads created by Alcatraz inmates Frank Morris and Charles and John Anglin to facilitate their escape from the infamous prison in 1962.

FBI San Francisco

Requests for updates on the case have been unsuccessful. But U.S. Marshal Don O’Keefe, the head of the agency, issued an official statement to the Fugitive Investigations Section. And the sketches of the men have been updated over the past decade, to age the fugitives another 10 years.

“The ongoing U.S. Marshals investigation into the 1962 Alcatraz federal prison escape serves as a warning to fugitives that, whatever the weather, we will continue to search for you and bring you to justice,” he said. said O’Keefe.

Peter Hartlaub (he/him) is the cultural critic of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @PeterHartlaub

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