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The Great Escape from Alcatraz

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Alcatraz Escape - June 11, 1962

If there was ever an inmate who was destined to escape from Alcatraz, it was Frank Lee Morris. In the movie entitled "Escape from Alcatraz" starring actor Clint Eastwood, Morris was accurately portrayed as the keen and brilliant mastermind of one of the most famous prison escapes in history. The escape plan took several months to design, and it would necessitate the fabrication of clever decoys and water survival gear.

Frank Lee Morris had spent a lifetime navigating the prison system before his arrival on Alcatraz. From his infant years until his teens Morris was shuffled from one foster home to another, and he was convicted of his first crime at the youthful age of only thirteen. By the time he reached his later teens, Morris's criminal record would include a multitude of crimes ranging from narcotics possession to armed robbery, and he had become a professional inhabitant of the correctional system. He spent his formative years in a boys' training school, and then graduated to a series of ever larger penitentiaries.

Morris was credited by prison officials as possessing superior intelligence, and he earned his ticket to Alcatraz by building an impressive resume of escapes. In 1960, Federal officials decided that his pattern of escape attempts, termed as "shotgun freedom" (although his escapes had never involved the use of a shotgun), would end at The Rock. On January 18, 1960, Morris disembarked from the prison launch and became inmate #AZ-1441.

Frank's accomplices in the "Great Escape" were equally well acquainted with the dark world of organized crime. Brothers John and Clarence Anglin were also serving sentences at Alcatraz for bank robbery, having been convicted along with their brother Alfred. All three had been incarcerated at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta when they first became acquainted with Morris, and John and Clarence were eventually sent to Alcatraz following a sequence of attempted escapes.

Alcatraz inmate Allen West, who occupied an adjacent cell, was also brought in on the scheme. He was serving his second term on The Rock and carried a reputation as an arrogant criminal, and he knew John Anglin from the State Penitentiary in Florida. The escape plan started to take shape in December of 1961, beginning with a collection of several old saw blades that West allegedly found in one of the utility corridors while cleaning. In later interviews, West would take credit for masterminding the clever escape.

The plan was extremely complex and involved the design and fabrication of ingenious lifelike dummies, water rafts, and life preservers, fashioned from over fifty rain coats that had been acquired from other inmates - some donated and some stolen. They would also require a variety of crudely made tools to dig with, and to construct the accessories necessary for the escape. By May of 1962, Morris and the Anglins and had already dug through the cell's six-by-nine-inch vent holes, and had started work on the vent on top of the cellblock.

The Anglins inhabited adjacent cells, as did West and Morris, who also resided nearby. The inmates alternated shifts, with one working and one on lookout. They would start work at 5:30 p.m. and continue till about 9:00 p.m., just prior to the lights-out count. Meanwhile John and Clarence started fabricating the dummy heads, and even gave them the pet names of "Oink" and "Oscar." The heads were crude but lifelike, and were constructed from a homemade cement-powder mixture that included such innocuous materials as soap and toilet paper. They were decorated with flesh-tone paint from prison art kits, and human hair from the barbershop.


Actual tool used by the inmates to chip away the cement around the grill.


Frank Lee Morris - Alcatraz Inmate # 1441


John William Anglin - Alcatraz Inmate # 1476


Clarence Anglin - Alcatraz Inmate #1485


Clarence Anglin's Cell - B-152


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