The Escape From Alcatraz Was A Success, Recent Evidence Found In San Francisco Suggests

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The three men who famously escaped from Alcatraz, an “escape-proof prison” and one of the world’s most notorious in its day, may have survived the ordeal and lived into old age, according to new evidence that has turned up in the San Francisco FBI offices recently.

As CBS News reports, a letter, purportedly from one of the escapees, John Anglin, turned up in the FBI’s hands recently. And if it’s real, it means that Anglin and his accomplices really did escape from Alcatraz and dieD as free men, rather than drowning in San Francisco Bay, as authorities believe.

The Story

By 1962, Alcatraz was considered one of the worst prisons in the country, housing the most vicious and hardened criminals that other federal prisons didn’t want. It was also considered escape-proof; even if a prisoner managed to break out of the building, any escape would have required a 1.5-mile swim through the frigid, shark-infested waters of San Francisco Bay. That’s a daunting task for even top-tier athletes who train specifically for the swim (there’s a triathlon every year that includes the swim as part of the challenge).

For Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers (John and Clarence), Alcatraz’ reputation as being “escape-proof” was more of a challenge than a hindrance.

Frank morris might have escaped from alcatraz
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Using stolen tools and supplies, the three men constructed an inflatable raft. Late in the evening on June 11, or early in the morning of June 12, 1962, the three men escaped their cells and were never heard from again.

For 55 years, the men have been presumed dead, with authorities believing they drowned in the bay.

New Evidence

This week, CBS News obtained a copy of a letter, purportedly from John Anglin, that claims the three men succeeded in their escape.

“My name is John Anglin. I escape 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!”

The letter doesn’t say what happened to the other two men after they reached land, but it does claim that Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris both died of old age as free men – Frank in 2008 and Clarence in 2011. As for John Anglin, the purported writer, the letter appears to have been an attempt to get some much-needed medical attention for an old man dying of cancer.

“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…”

It is unclear, as of this writing, if any attempt was made to track down the purported letter-writer. If he were truly John Anglin and if he were alive today, he would be 86 years old.

The letter was sent to San Francisco’s Richmond Station in 2013.

The FBI has, in fact, attempted to authenticate the letter, using fingerprint and DNA analysis. The results were, regrettably, inconclusive.

Jeff Harp, a security analyst for CBS San Francisco, never worked on the Frank Morris/Anglin Brothers escape, but he did spend 21 years with the FBI. He’s not convinced the men made it.

“As a law enforcement person I’d like to think that their escape attempt was not fruitful for them.”

Similarly, Jolene Babyak, who has written several books on Alcatraz, doesn’t think there’s any merit to the letter, either. Baybak was a 15-year-old girl, the daughter of the warden, and living on the island when the men escaped. She’s inclined to agree with the U.S. Marshals that this particular lead – the letter – is nothing worthwhile.

“No evidence, lots of allegations, no real evidence, nothing you can follow up on.”

The real June 1962 escape from Alcatraz was dramatized in the 1979 movie, Escape From Alcatraz, starring Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris.