Above:  Mugshots of Clarence Anglin, John William Anglin and Frank Lee Morris, pictured from left to right.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum security federal prison on Alcatraz Island about 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, California.  It operated from 1934 – 1963.  The prison was first built in 1910 and served as an Army military prison for several years before becoming a civilian prison.  It housed many notorious criminals, including Al Capone, the “Birdman” Robert Stroud, “Machine Gun” Kelly, Mickey Cohen, “Whitey” Bulger, and “Creepy” Karpis.

John Anglin robbed banks with his brother Clarence Anglin in Georgia, both were caught in 1956.  They were both sentenced to 15 – 20 years.  They were moved several times around the country in different federal prisons because of their escape attempts before landing in Alcatraz in 1960 and 1961 respectively.  Frank Morris was an experienced criminal with dozens of arrests including narcotics and armed robbery.  He was first sent to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary where he met the Anglin brothers.  He was sentenced to 14 years and transferred to Alcatraz in 1960.

Allen West, a conspirator in the escape, was convicted of car theft in 1955 and sent to Atlanta Penitentiary where he met Morris and the Anglin brothers.  He was transferred to Florida State Prison, but attempted to escape.  He was then sent to Alcatraz in 1957 where he met up with Morris and the Anglin brothers again.  He was never charged with his role in the escape because he fully cooperated with the investigation.  West served his term and then had to serve additional sentences in Georgia and Florida for other charges.  He was released in 1967, only to be arrested for car theft again.  While in prison on those charges, in 1972 he stabbed another inmate to death in what is believed to be a racially-motivated crime.  He was given a life sentence.  He died in 1978 at the age of 49 from peritonitis.

The 4 inmates had planned the escape for more than 6 months.  All the men were in their 30s.  In June of 1962, John Anglin and his brother Clarence Anglin, along with fellow inmate Frank Morris broke out of the “inescapable” Alcatraz prison.  West was not able to get out before being caught.  They were presumed dead by authorities, but their bodies were never found in the San Francisco Bay.  The three inmates had shimmied through a hole they chiseled into the walls of the prison and climbed up onto the roof.  To disguise their escape, they placed realistic dummy heads made of paper mache and human hair collected from the prison barbershop in their beds.  The three men made a makeshift raft out of raincoats and used jerry-built paddles to escape onto the dark waters of the Bay.

Now, more than 50 years later, the family of the Anglin brothers is coming forward for the first time to offer new evidence and family secrets that may solve once and for all whether or not the 3 inmates survived the most daring escape in American history.  Alcatraz:  Search for the Truth follows the family as they work alongside a retired investigator who has become obsessed with the case to solve the “Riddle of the Rock”.  The show features interviews with the escapees’ nephews David, 48, and Ken Widner, 54.

“This is absolutely the best actionable lead we’ve had,” Art Roderick, the retired US marshal who was lead investigator on the case for 20 years told The Post.

The Anglin family said they were harassed by the FBI for years, but kept the secrets close.  A desire to solve the case before the escapees’ sister (the Widner brothers’ mother) passed away combined with the egotistical pride of the Alcatraz officials over their alleged zero escapes alive record prompted the family to come forward now.

“[Alcatraz officials] were not willing to…say, ‘Maybe [they] did make it,’ ” David Widner said, “That gave me the motive to prove them wrong.”

In the History Channel special airing Monday, October 12th, the nephews take their evidence to Roderick, who retired in 2008, but still works on the case.

“When you work these types of cases there’s a feeling you get when stuff starts to fall into place,” he said, “I’m getting this feeling…”

The Anglin family also finally agreed to let investigators exhume the remains of the Anglins’ older brother, Alfred, who died trying to escape from an Alabama prison.  They wanted to use his DNA to match with a set of bones that investigators found in 1963 on the shore of the Bay.  The DNA did not match, though investigators point out the bones may be Morris’ (he has no living relatives).

36 people tried to escape Alcatraz, did the 3 men survive?  The Anglin family said that if the brothers did not survive the escape they want their bodies back to inter them in the family plot in Florida.  Roderick said that if the brothers are alive, he wants to find them so he can question them on how they did it.

It is important to note that John Paul Scott, an inmate at the prison, was able to successful swim across the Bay in December of 1962.  He was immediately recaptured.

Sources:  NYPost  |  |  WKBW

  1. Mark says:

    when does it air again?


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