Is It Possible That An Alcatraz Escapee Is Still Alive?

Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay, Calif., operated for 29 years — from 1934 to 1963. During that time, 36 inmates attempted to escape. According to officials, every single escape failed because the prisoners were either captured or killed. However, five inmates in the December 1937 and June 1962 escape attempts were never found. While most experts believe they died of drowning, family members think at least one man survived and successfully managed to escape the “escape proof” facility.

John Anglin’s Family Believes He Got Away And Is In His 80s

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John Anglin and his brother Clarence escaped with fellow inmate Frank Morris by tunneling through their cells. The three of them wound up in the bitter cold water and were never heard from again. The Anglin family discovered in 2016 that police received a strange note in 2013 purporting to be from John. The letter read: “My name is John Anglin. I escaped from Alcatraz in June 1962 with my brother Clarence and Frank Morris. I’m 83 years old and in bad shape. I have cancer… Yes we all made it that night but barely. This is no joke.”

John & His Brother Teamed Up To Rob Banks In The ’50s

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Before getting into more details about the letter, let’s review some information about John and his conspirators. John and his older brother Clarence were born in Georgia. Their parents were farm workers who relocated the family to Florida in the early 1940s. They spent summers picking cherries in Michigan, and the boys often showed off their swimming skills in the cold water of Lake Michigan. They turned to a life of crime in their 20s (in the 1950s) by robbing banks and other facilities. They made sure the businesses were closed at the time so no one would get hurt.

The Brothers Were Imprisoned & Transferred To Alcatraz After Several Escape Attempts

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John and Clarence may have been burglars, but they weren’t armed and dangerous. They reportedly only used a gun one time, and it was a toy gun. The pair was arrested in 1956 and were given 15- to 20-year sentences. They served their time in various prisons across the country: Florida State Prison, Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas, and Atlanta Penitentiary. Unhappy with their confinement, the siblings made numerous attempts to escape the prison in Georgia. This led to their transfer to Alcatraz. John went first, arriving on Oct. 21, 1960. He was followed by Clarence on Jan. 10, 1961.

They Conspired With Two Other Men To Break Out Of Alcatraz

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John and Clarence got to know a couple other inmates at Alcatraz with the same goal: escape. Frank Lee Morris, who was orphaned at a young age, was first arrested at age 13. He was involved in everything from narcotics possession to armed robbery. He was also extremely intelligent and scored very high on IQ tests. Like the Anglin brothers, he served time in several prisons in Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. He escaped from the Louisiana State Penitentiary but was recaptured one year later for burglary. He arrived at Alcatraz in 1960. The Anglin brothers also met a man named Allen West.

They Dug Holes At Night While Morris Covered Up The Noise With Accordion Music

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The four of them lived in adjacent cells in 1961. It’s possible they knew each other previously from the time they served at the Atlanta penitentiary. Morris was the mastermind behind the escape plans. Over the course of six months, they spent their nights digging around their cells’ ventilation duct openings. They had acquired saw blades they found on prison grounds as well as spoons they stole from the commissary and a drill they made from vacuum cleaner parts. The four men hid the holes using cardboard and paint. Morris would play the accordion in order to muffle the sound of their work.

They Got Advice From Whitey Bulger

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In 2014, Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger wrote a letter to the Algin’s nephew, Ken Widner, about the escapees. Bulger had met the Anglins while serving time at Alcatraz. Bulger reportedly gave John and Clarence some advice about navigating the currents in San Fransisco Bay. He also gave them some insight about life on the run. Widner explained, “He taught them that when you disappear, you have to cut all ties. He told me in a letter, ‘This is the mistake that I made.’ He told me, ‘These brothers undoubtedly had done exactly what I told them to do.’ ”

The Inmates Used Handmade Mannequins To Fool The Guards

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The men dug holes in their cells that were big enough to lead into a utility corridor. They then climbed to the top of their building where they created a workshop to prepare their escape supplies. They also came up with an ingenious way of working outside their cells undetected. They mixed together soap and toilet paper to create a papier-mâché-like substance that they sculpted into dummy heads. They made them appear more realistic using paint from the maintenance shop and clippings from the barbershop floor. The men stuffed towels and clothing under the blankets so it looked as though they were asleep.

The Men Made A Raft & Life Preservers Out Of Rain Coats

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The holes in their cells led to the utility corridor. West was the only one of the four who was unable to escape because the ventilator grill in his cell got stuck. The Anglins and Morris climbed to an area inside their building where they created life preservers and a rubber raft, using more than 50 raincoats they had managed to acquire. They made paddles from scrap wood. The trio climbed the ventilation shaft to the roof, slid 50 feet to the ground down a vent pipe, climbed over two barbed wire fences, and inflated the raft using a concertina they stole from another inmate.

Authorities Found Evidence Of Their Escape But No Human Remains

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They inflated the raft at the northeast shoreline in an area that was out of view of the prison’s searchlights and gun towers. It’s believed they escaped around 10 p.m. No one knew they were gone until the following morning because their dummies made it appear as though they were asleep in their bunks. Law enforcement officials and military men spent the next 10 days searching for the escapees. They found a paddle and a wallet containing the Anglins’ personal information and mementos. Authorities also found one of their makeshift life jackets, which was deflated. However, they never found any remains or physical evidence indicating the inmates’ whereabouts.

Most Believe The Men Died In The Frigid Water

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West, who was left behind, cooperated with investigators. He explained that the men planned to steal clothing and a car once they got to land. FBI investigators believed that the extremely cold water temperature and strong currents would have made it very unlikely for the inmates to reach land. Still, the case remained open for 17 years. On Dec. 31, 1979, investigators closed the case, noting that the Anglins and Morris probably died in the freezing cold water while trying to reach Angel Island. The U.S. Marshals Service never closed its investigation and still receives occasional leads about the case.

In His Letter, “John” Claims His Brother & Morris Lived Long Lives After Their Escape

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Is it possible that John, Clarence, and their fellow inmate Morris survived? Let’s return to that letter that was sent to a San Francisco Police department in 2013. The writer, purporting to be John, noted: “If you announce on TV that I’ll be promised to first go to jail for no more than a year and get medical attention, I will write back to let you know exactly where I am.” He added that Morris “passed away” in 2008, while Clarence died in 2011. John’s nephew Ken Widner was angry that he didn’t learn about the letter until 2016.

John’s Nephews Are Mad Authorities Kept The Letter Secret

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Ken told The Sun: “I believe John is still alive, I do not believe Clarence is still alive, I have no idea clue about Frank Morris. I know Frank Morris was with them in 1975. I have a pretty good idea of where they’re at… (but) that I’m not going to say.” Ken’s brother David Widner added that he thought it was “very possible” John was still alive because the inmates were “very, very smart guys” and capable of surviving the elements. David also added that he thought it was “inhumane” that authorities didn’t tell the family about the letter back in 2013.

The Family Has “Proof” That John & Clarence Headed To Brazil Following The Escape

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The nephews submitted a photo to authorities in 2016 they think proves the brothers survived the escape. The photo reportedly shows John and Clarence in Brazil in 1975. The nephews, who live in Georgia, told a documentary crew that their uncles met up with a criminal associate who took them to the South American country. The photo was reportedly taken on a Brazilian farm that John and Clarence owned. If you look closely, you may see the resemblance to the inmates. Ex-US marshal Art Roderick, who spent 20 years researching the escape, believes the photo was taken by family friend Fred Brizzi.

John & Clarence Reportedly Sent Christmas Cards To Their Sister

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A forensic expert examined John and Clarence Anglins’ mugshots and compared them to the photo of the men from Brazil, noting that it’s “very likely” they were the same men. The Widners also have other evidence that their uncles survived. They showed authorities Christmas cards that were sent to their mother, Marie Anglin Widner. The cards were signed by Clarence and John but had no postage. Their mother received the cards for three years following the escape. As for the 2013 letter, FBI analysts checked it for DNA and fingerprints but were unable to conclusively prove that it was indeed from John Anglin.

Bones Found On San Francisco Shore Didn’t Match The Anglin Brothers

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While making the 2015 History channel documentary Alcatraz: Search for the Truth, the Widners allowed investigators to dig up the remains of John and Clarence’s older brother Alfred. He attempted to escape from an Alabama prison and was electrocuted. Authorities wanted access to Alfred’s DNA to compare it to bones they found on the shore of San Fransisco in 1963. Thinking the bones belonged to one of the Anglins or Morris, they conducted some tests. The DNA did not match the Anglin family, bolstering support that the brothers survived. However, the bones could belong to Morris. Since Morris has no living family members, it’s unclear if they are his.

The Currents In The Bay Would Have Been A Major Factor In Their Survival

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In 2003, the crew from the television show MythBusters tried to determine whether people could escape from Alcatraz island using a man-made raft built using the same materials the inmates had access to. The TV stars concluded an escape was, in fact, feasible. In 2014, researchers at Delft University also tried to determine if the three men could have escaped and survived. Using a computer model, they specifically examined the timing of the escape. If the men left near midnight, the currents would have been favorable for their passage. If they left in the hours before or after 12 a.m., the currents would likely have made it difficult for them to survive.

If John Is Still In Brazil, He May Never Return Home

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It’s possible that John and his brother wound up in Brazil where they lived for many years. But if John is still living, he may never leave the country because Brazil may not allow him to be extradited to the United States. The former marshal Roderick wants to learn how they managed to escape. He told the New York Post in 2015: “When you work these types of cases, there’s a feeling you get when stuff starts to fall into place. I’m getting this feeling now.” As for Ken and David, they want closure and the ability to bury their uncles at their family plot in Florida.

The 1979 Film Escape From Alcatraz Was Based On Their Story

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The 1979 film Escape From Alcatraz starred Clint Eastwood, Jack Thibeau and Fred Ward as Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin and John Anglin. The filmmakers alluded that the escape was successful. The movie was praised by critics and is often considered one of the best films of the year. It has a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earned $43 million at the box office. Filmed at Alcatraz, Eastwood, Ward, and Thibeau did not use stunt doubles to escape down the prison wall and into the water. Director Don Siegel believed they had been lost in the currents on two separate occasions.

A 1937 Escape Also Never Turned Up Any Remains

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In 1937, inmates Theodore “Ted” Cole and Ralph Roe were working in a tire repair shop on Alcatraz when a thick fog entered the bay. They made a hole through a window in the shop and escaped, hiding in the fog. Using a wrench, they opened up a lock in the gate and dropped 20 feet down on the to beach. Later evidence showed the pair had planned the escape in advance but did not use a raft. Authorities believe they drowned and were swept out into the Pacific Ocean. However, no one ever found their remains, and the incident marred the prison’s reputation as being “escape proof.”

Inmate John Paul Scott Was The Only Man Proven To Escape Alcatraz

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On Dec. 16, 1962, prisoner John Paul Scott swam 2.7 nautical miles from the island of Alcatraz to Fort Point, which is located at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. When his body washed up on shore, a group of teenagers found him but believed he was dead. When police arrived, they knew immediately that Scott was the escaped inmate they were seeking. They apprehended him on the same day he escaped and sent him back to Alcatraz. Scott had hypothermia and was exhausted. The identical Alcatraz–Fort Point route is used today by triathletes in two annual events.