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The Great Escape from Alcatraz

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The Greatest Escape from Alcatraz - Continued

Using glue stolen from the glove shop, the inmates also started working to cut and bond the raincoats into a makeshift raft and life preservers. Each evening following the completion of their self-imposed work detail, they would hide the materials on top of the cellblock to minimize any chance of being caught with the contraband materials. The inmates also acquired an elaborate array of handmade tools. West was able to lift an electric hair clipper while working on a paint detail in the barbershop, and he used the clippers, along with drill bits stolen from the Industries by another inmate, to fashion a makeshift motorized drill. However the motor proved be too small, and thus the project would require more effective equipment.

By a stroke of good luck, West had recently learned that the prison's vacuum had broken. He was permitted to attempt a repair, and while inspecting the machine, he found that it had two motors. He carefully removed one, and was able to get the other working, thus deflecting suspicion. Morris and the Anglins were then able to use the vacuum motor for their drill. They attempted to drill out the roof ventilator, but with only limited success. The motor proved too noisy, and it was not very effective.

After months of long preparation the inmates had completed fashioning all of the gear they needed for their escape, and they then continued working to loosen the ventilator grill on top of the cellhouse. John Anglin carefully completed the valve assembly on a large six-by-fourteen-foot raft, while Morris modified an accordion-like musical instrument called a concertina, which would be used to rapidly inflate the raft. But while the others had progressed well in their various preparations, West had fallen behind in digging out the ventilator grill at the rear of his cell. His primary role had been to construct the life preservers and special wooden paddles for the raft, tasks which didn't require him to leave his cell. On the night of June 11, 1962, Morris indicated that the top ventilator was loose enough, and that he felt that they were ready to attempt the escape.

At 9:30 p.m., immediately after lights-out, Morris brought down the dummies from the top of the cellblock and announced that the escape would be staged that very night. Clarence Anglin attempted to assist West in removing his ventilator grill by kicking at it from outside of the cell in the utility corridor, but his efforts were unsuccessful. Morris and the Anglins would have no choice but to leave him behind. The inmates made their final thirty-foot climb up the plumbing to the cellhouse roof, traversed 100 feet across the rooftop, and then carefully maneuvered down fifty feet of piping to the ground near the entrance to the shower area. This would be the last anyone ever saw of Morris and the Anglin Brothers.

In a later interview, West said that their plan had been to use their raft to make their way to Angel Island. After resting, they would then reenter the Bay on the opposite side of the island and swim through a waterway called Raccoon Straits, then on into Marin. They would steal a car, burglarize a clothing store, and then venture out in their own separate directions. West had finally been able to complete the removal of his grill and climb to the rooftop, but by then all of the other inmates had disappeared. With no raft or other means of escape, he was forced to return to his cell.

For decades speculated abounded as to whether this famous escape attempt had been successful. The FBI spent several years investigating, and later resolved that the inmates' plan had failed. The following are only a few of the key points resulting from the investigation which cast doubt on the success of the famous escape from Alcatraz by Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin:


Allen West


Allen West's Cell - B-140


John Anglin's Cell


Utility Corridor - Rear of Cell 152


Interior of Frank Morris's Cell 138


Exterior of Frank Morris's Cell

· The formal plan was to steal a car and then perpetrate a burglary at a clothing store. No reports of any such crimes were filed in Marin County within a twelve-day period following the escape.

· Sources reported that these three men had neither friends nor relatives with the financial resources to come to San Francisco and assist in the escape. It would have cost thousands of dollars to put a boat in the Bay night after night, waiting for the one night when the escape actual took place. There would have been no way to communicate with outside contacts in order to confirm the date of the break and the progress of their preparations.

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