Since the Civil War, Alcatraz, also called “The Rock,” had held captives on its lonely island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. In 1934 during the peak of a major war on crime, Alcatraz was officially turned into the world’s most secure prison: The iron bars were toughened, guard towers were strategically positioned, and strict rules like checking the prisons multiple times a day were all followed. Add to that the fact that it was surrounded by the rough waters of the Pacific ocean. High-profile inmates like Al Capone and criminals with multiple escape attempts were usually sent here.

Despite the seemingly impossible odds of escaping, there had been 14 separate escape attempts involving 36 men from 1934 until it was closed in 1963. None succeeded, as they were either caught or killed during the attempt. However, there was one escape attempt that remains a mystery to this day. This happened in 1962.

The Escape Artists

There were four people involved in the escape.

Frank Morris
Frank Morris. (FBI)

First was Frank Morris, a seasoned criminal who acted as the leader of the escape attempt. Morris had been abandoned by his parents when he was 11. By age 13, he had already had his first criminal convictions. Morris was arrested and charged with armed robbery and drug offenses during his teenage years. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a bank robbery while attempting to escape. Because of that, he was sent to Alcatraz.

John Anglin
John Anglin. (FBI)
Clarence Anglin
Clarence Anglin. (FBI)

Next were the Anglin brothers, John and Clarence. They came from a large family that survived by doing seasonal agricultural work. They traveled up and down the country to pick fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, poverty pushed them into committing criminal acts. At the early age of 14 when they were caught breaking into a service station. Soon enough, they started robbing banks and other businesses, one of which was the Columbia Savings Bank in Alabama. There, they were busted and sentenced to 35 years in prison. They tried to escape multiple times from Atlanta Penitentiary. They were soon transferred to Alcatraz in 1960.

Allen West.
Allen West. (Earl Of SandwishCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The last member was Allen West. He was a serial offender arrested over 20 times. His last act was a car theft in 1955 before he was transferred from Atlanta Penitentiary to Florida State Prison after an unsuccessful escape attempt. He was sent to Alcatraz in 1957.

These four criminals happened to be placed in adjoining cells that made it possible for them to talk and plan their escape.

Carrying Out The Plan

To sum up their plan, the four would tunnel through the walls of their cells by utilizing the holes around their ventilation ducts under the sinks, build a raft, and then paddle their way to freedom. The plan sounded simple had they were not in Alcatraz. But, how much more in the super-secured facility if they were caught escaping from regular prisons?