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The Great Escape from Alcatraz

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The Greatest Escape from Alcatraz - Continued

• Critics on the other side of the debate claimed that the fact that no bodies were found amounted to "proof" that the inmates had made it successfully to the mainland. The reality was that it was fairly common for people who perished in the Bay waters never to be found. In fact, on the very night of the escape, an African American gentleman named Seymour Webb, reportedly despondent over a failed relationship, abandoned his car mid-span on the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped to his death in front of numerous eyewitnesses. Despite a quick response from the Coast Guard, his body was never recovered. The significance of this event is that the suicide entered the water at about the same time as the escapees, and his body was never found or recovered.

• The Bay water temperatures ranged from fifty to fifty-four degrees. It was determined that exposure to the elements would have affected body functions after approximately twenty minutes. The showers at Alcatraz were always supplied with moderately hot water, in order to hinder inmates from becoming acclimated to the freezing Bay waters. Personal items carried by the inmates were found floating in the Bay the following day. Also found was a life preserver with heavy teeth marks on the valve. It was believed that the homemade clip to seal the valve had failed, making it difficult for the swimmer to stay afloat.

• On July 17, 1962 the Ship SS Norefjell, a Norwegian Freighter departing from Pier 38, reported seeing a body floating twenty miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. The ship was en route to Canada, and the crew failed to report the sighting until October. The sailors had noticed something bobbing in the water, and used binoculars to confirm that it was a body floating face down. The hands and feet were dangling down in the water, but the buttocks were clearly visible. Although bleached by the ocean and sun, the body was clothed in full-length denim trousers that appeared identical to prison issue uniforms. Coroners from San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, and Marin Counties all confirmed that a body could float for five weeks after drowning. The FBI determined this to be one of the most significant leads in the case. Their official report established that there were no other individuals missing or drowned at that time who had been wearing similar trousers.

The families of the Anglins stated that the escape had been a topic of family discussions for several years. None of them had ever been contacted by the brothers, and they felt that the men would have made contact in some form if they had survived. The Anglin family would soon suffer yet another tragedy. The third brother, Alfred, was electrocuted while attempting to escape from Kilby Prison in Montgomery Alabama in 1964.

The intriguing mystery of this escape is still being explored decades after the fact, and over a million visitors each year make the trip to Alcatraz to witness firsthand the scene of the crime.


An officer photographs the ventilator removed by the inmates. This location was their egress point from the cellhouse.


The rooftop ventilator grill.


The Morris and Anglins' escape later inspired the Hollywood motion picture Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood.

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Contemporary photos of the actual tools fashioned by the inmates to aid in their escape. The crudely made wrench was used effectively to remove the bolts on the rooftop ventilator grill.

The official Alcatraz History bookstore