Until its closure in 1963, the island prison of Alcatraz was considered impossible to escape. Out of 36 inmates who attempted the feat, nearly all were captured or killed. The infamous escape of three men remained a mystery. Until now...
In the 1930s, Alcatraz was the ultimate maximum security prison. It was even used during the American Civil War to hold prisoners. The prison housed such infamous criminals as gangster Al Capone and the infamous "Birdman of Alcatraz." The near-freezing temperatures of the surrounding bay made it almost impossible to escape, but that didn't stop some inmates from trying.
Nicknamed "The Rock," Alcatraz was the last place any convicted felon wanted to spend their incarceration. The island prison was set right in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Surrounded by rough and frigid waters, those inmates who attempted to escape Alcatraz typically met with the same ignoble fate.
During the warmest months, the San Francisco Bay averages around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though the human body can survive such temperatures, the rough waters and rip tides are no match for humans. There were 14 different escape attempts while Alcatraz was open. Most of those attempts ended the same way.
The first attempt in 1936 involved inmate Joe Bowers who was working as a trash incinerator. He started to climb the perimeter fence at the end of the island. A correctional officer stationed in a guard tower gave him fair warning to climb back down. Bowers refused, was shot, and fell to his death. Inmates made it a little further during the second attempt.
In December 1937, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe somehow made it through the iron bars of their cell. A terrible storm was raging outside and the bay's currents were stronger than ever. The escapees made it to the bay and were believed to have been swept out to sea. The two were missing and presumed dead. Then, 25 years later, three men made it further than anyone up until that point.
On June 11, 1962, brothers John and Clarence Anglin, along with fellow inmate Frank Morris, devised an intricate escape plan. Using homemade drills, false walls, and the heads of dummies, the three men exited their cells with no problem. They made it to the roof before climbing down a drainpipe and to the water where they boarded a homemade raft. The three were presumed dead until 2013.
In 2013, the San Francisco Police Department received a mysterious letter. The man, claiming to be John Anglin, wrote about surviving the escape. He claimed the three inmates made it to shore and wound up spending their days in Seattle under different names. The aging convict detailed his escape and current status.
He stated, "My name is John Anglin, I escape (sic) 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." He went on to make a plea to authorities.
“If you announce on TV that I will 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. This is no joke.” The FBI tested the letter and found no evidence or fingerprints. Could the letter be real or was it an intricate hoax?
Nearly five years later, the letter has never been confirmed as legitimate. if this man was really John Anglin, his cancer would have likely caused the convict to meet his inevitable end by now. The case will forever remain a mystery. But the escape plot itself lives on in the popular imagination and was even detailed in the Clint Eastwood film Escape From Alcatraz.