Where the voices of Alcatraz come to life...

For Desperate or Irredeemable Types
United States Federal Penitentiary Alcatraz



When Alcatraz became a penitentiary, the Bureau of Prisons operated five other similar institutions in the United States: at Atlanta, Leavenworth, Leavenworth Annex, North Eastern (Lewisburg, Pennsylvania), and McNeil Island (near Tacoma, Washington). In addition, the Bureau administered the hospital for defective delinquents, Springfield, Missouri; three reformatories; reformatory camp; a correctional camp; for prison camps; and for federal jails. It would be primarily from the penitentiaries that the recidivists would be drawn for Alcatraz. As early as October 1933 Director Bates wrote the wardens of Leavenworth, McNeil Island, and Atlanta, directing them to prepare lists of men who might be classified as desperate or difficult it would be "suitable" for transferred Alcatraz.

Despite every possible effort by the Bureau of Prisons to give absolutely no information concerning individual prisoners to the press, the San Francisco Chronicle announced in January 1934 that among the first prisoners to come to Alcatraz would be Al (Scarface) Capone, and George (Machine Gun) Kelly and Harvey Bailey, the two infamous Oklahoma kidnappers. Neither then, nor in later instances, did Warden Johnston confirm or deny who is expected as a "permanent guest" on the Rock. In this instance the newspaper was right; all three men would be occupying cells there before the year was out.

The first prisoners were, of course, the 32 bedraggled men the Army had left behind. Warden Johnston officially took charge of them on July 1, 1934, although he was already looking after them since the Army left on June 19. Just where the first true federal prisoner came from has yet to be determined. But on August 3rd the San Francisco Chronicle headlined: "Prisoner Number #1 Draws Cell on Alcatraz Island, Check Writer, Former Army Guard, First Devil Isle Felon.” The article said that Robert Bradford Moxon had been installed the day before as prisoner number one (he was not; prisoner number one was a leftover Army man), and that he would find Alcatraz to be just like home since he had been stationed there as a guard during military prison days. Indeed, the first prisoner on the list after the Army holdovers was Moxon, five years for violation of postal laws.

The first group of prisoners to come from another federal penitentiary arrived from McNeil Island, Washington, on August 11, 1934. This small body of 14 men allow Johnston to practice the method of handling incoming prisoners that he had worked out in advance. The first rule of this procedure secrecy, to keep the press in the dark.

The train carrying the prisoners arrived at Oakland at 9:40 am. The special car was detached from the train and run on a sidetrack to a freight wharf some distance from the regular ferry ship. The launch General McDowell came alongside the wharf. The prisoners were handcuffed in pairs and the pairs were linked together with chain. They stepped from the car and walked the ten feet to the gangplank. On board they were herded into the cabin at the stern of the boat.

At Alcatraz, the handcuffed men walked into the dock between two rows of guards, and then marched in pairs, flanked by guards, to the rear gate, through the yard and into the cell house. Guards searched them, and then removed the handcuffs and chains. The men were given their prison numbers and assigned their cells. A guard then escorted each prisoner to the basement bathhouse.

The prisoner was stripped and, after the doctor had examined orifices for smuggled "dope," he showered. Finally, each man was locked in his cell and he "named and numbered ticket" was placed in a holder on the cell door. Johnston wired the director: "Fourteen crates furniture from McNeil received in good condition. Now installed." Everything had gone smoothly.

Within four days the San Francisco Chronicle discovered that 14 prisoners had arrived. Somehow it learns correctly the names of two of the men, but erroneously listed a third name it was not a member of the group. The warden at McNeil Island later sent Johnston a brief biography of each man showing why he been selected for transferred Alcatraz. All this report will not consider the federal prisoners incarcerated on Alcatraz individually, the wardens comments are some ricer to show the kind of men for whom the rock was reserved:

Elmer Cole: Sentenced to 10 years for counterfeiting and escape; escape from McNeil Island once. Recently, while in the hospital, he sawed the bars but was discovered. He is an agitator and very desperate.

Verrill Rapp: Sentenced to four years; wanted for assault on a police officer and breaking jail. He had a clean record McNeil, but would be a leader in any escape.

Frank Souza: Sentenced 10 years for counterfeiting, very surly and an agitator. He is desperate will do anything to gain freedom.

Perry Reynolds: Sentenced to 10 years for larceny; wanted for robbery at Fort Lewis. His record is good, but will take desperate chances.

Hal Fernandez: Sentenced to three years for larceny; wanted by Washington state prison as a parole violator. He was sentenced from Alaska, and escape from Marshal by leaping overboard en route from Alaska. He is a leader who will take desperate chances.

Joseph Burke: Sentenced to 25 years for violation of postal laws; he is an agitator and is desperate.

Harry Dean: sentenced to 25 years for violation of postal laws and assault. He is an agitator is very desperate.

William E. Boyd: Sentenced to five years for impersonating a federal officer; he is a bad agitator and is always in trouble. Recently shotgun shells and a piece of pipe design for a shotgun were found on him. He planned a mass escape by shooting the guard in the tower and taking a powerboat.

James Walsh: Sentenced to life for murder. He is a bad agitator and is always in trouble. He was in the plot with Boyd and will kill to escape.

Mark Smith: Sentenced to three years for post office robbery and larceny. He is wanted and is a desperate man; he crashed through the prison gate of the truck.

John Stadig: Sentenced to six years for counterfeiting and was with Smith in the escape attempt.

George W. Kerr: Sentenced to 27 years for postal robbery. He is desperate and was involved in a plot for mass escape.

Edward Wutke: Sentenced to 27 years for murder and was involved in a plot for mass escape.

Edgar R. Lewis: Sentenced to 11 years for post office robbery and counterfeiting. He is as slippery as an eel and escaped from the U.S. Marshal three times on his way to prison. He was in a plot for mass escape and is very dangerous.

Shortly after the arrival of the McNeil prisoners, Attorney General Homer S. Cummings inspected the prison in the company of Mayor Rossi and Chief of Police Quinn of San Francisco. On this occasion photographers and reporters were allowed to accompany the visitors. The Chronicle described the cells as being 8 x 4', equipped with a steel cot that folded against the wall, two seat like steel shelves, a narrow steel shelf with three hooks for clothes, a toilet, and a small basin.


Al Capone's Alcatraz Mug Shot Photograph


Machine Gun Kelly


Elmer Cole


Verrill Rapp


Frank Souza


Hal Fernandez


Harry Dean


James Walsh


George Kerr


Edward Wutke


Ed Wutke was employed as an able seaman aboard the S.S. Yale. Friendly horseplay while drunk turned into a serious fight where Wutke stabbed a fellow crew member who bled to death.


Wutke failed to adjust to the strict routine and structure at Alcatraz. He committed suicide in November of 1937, and was buried in this quiet plot with only a simple grave marker at the Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, California.

The only articles that prisoners were allowed to have in the cells at that time were two towels, toothbrush, tooth powder and a cup. The reporter copied the day’s menu in the mess hall:

Breakfast: Oatmeal, Milk, Fried Bologna Sausage, Cottage Fried Potatoes, Toast, Oleomargarine, and Coffee. Dinner: bean soup, roast beef, gravy, string-less beans, mashed potatoes, and coffee. Supper: Pork and Beans, Cornbread, Potato Salad, Apricots, Bread, Oleomargarine, and Coffee.

In the medical department he found two barred 1-bed wards, two 3-bed wards for the seriously ill, and a 12 bed ward. The group also inspected the assembly Hall with its stage and piano, and the library of well thumbed books. Cummings was satisfied with the prison and said that it was ideal for its "somber purpose."

The next shipment of "53 crates of furniture" from Atlanta, Georgia, on August 22nd. Forty-three of these prisoners came from the Atlanta Penitentiary and the other 10 were from North Eastern Penitentiary, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The sentences of this group range from one year to life, their ages ran from 22 to 58 years of age. The offenses covered a wide spectrum, including murder, post office robbery, rape, arson, counterfeiting, kidnapping, forgery, and all other crimes of the gangs of the day. By far the most infamous prisoner was Alcatraz #85-AZ, 35-year-old Alphonse Capone, from Chicago, Illinois, who was serving 10 years for violation of the income tax law.

Johnson was extraordinarily concerned about security on the arrival of this group of incorrigibles. The train arrived at Tiburon rather than Oakland. The General McDowell and a barge were there waiting at the dock. The prison cars were detached from the train and backed onto the barge. General McDowell escorted the barge to Alcatraz Island during the half-hour trip. As the tug towed the barge alongside the wharf, the U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat Daphne stood by, assisting (unsuccessfully) in screening the prison cars from newspaper cameramen who had learned of the event. Johnston complained that when the cameraman's boats were chased out to beyond the 300 yard zone, they took pictures with telescopic lenses.

Guards remove the prisoner's leg irons and they marched off the cars and pairs, handcuffed to each other. Procedures inside the prison were similar to the earlier arrival, Johnston mentioning that each man was photographed and fingerprinted. The penitentiary now had a population of exactly 100.

On September 1, 1934, a small group of prisoners arrive from Washington D.C., these included one man from the Washington Asylum Jail and seven from the District of Columbia Reformatory in Virginia. Three days later, 103 prisoners arrived by train; 90 from Leavenworth and 13 from Leavenworth Annex.

Once again the prison cars were barge to the island, this time from Ferry Point Terminal at Richmond. Among the better known of the new arrivals were George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Albert L. Bates, and Harvey L. Bailey, the three Oklahoma kidnappers who were all sentenced to life imprisonment. The total number of prisoners now on the Rock amounted to 211. There were to be no more mass shipments to Alcatraz; the other federal penitentiaries had removed their worst characters to San Francisco. From that time on, these institutions transferred new troublemakers to Alcatraz on an individual basis.

Warden Hudspeth at Leavenworth wrote Johnston to inform him of the worst 103 arrivals. Ignoring Kelly, Hudspeth said that Bailey and Bates were considered very dangerous and were held in close confinement at Leavenworth. Hugh A. Bowen, a lifer for murder, had caused Hudspeth no trouble, but had committed "a very atrocious crime." Frank Chapman and Frank B. Brownie, both of whom had violated the narcotic act, had successfully escape from Leavenworth in 1930. Chapman especially had a record of poor conduct, and James Poulas from Michigan had attempted escape. Considering the fact that Alcatraz was considered "the end of the line," it might be surprising that even seven of the new arrivals had requested the transfer. There were several reasons why prisoner might want to be imprisoned on the Rock, including being nearer to relatives, or to get away from an enemy fellow prisoner who had been threatening him.