On this day in 1962, Frank Lee Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin successfully escaped from the federal penitentiary on Alcatraz island in San Francisco.
Mr. Morris had a long rap sheet and history of successful prison escapes. John and Clarence Anglin were serving time for robbing a bank in Columbia, Alabama. They were sent to Alcatraz after escaping from the Florida State Penitentiary.
The escape plan was extremely complex. According to the New York Times, they worked in a secret workshop atop their cellblock.
"There, they created an inflatable raft of rubber raincoats held together with thread and contact cement, plywood paddles, plastic bags crudely turned into floating devices and dummy heads of plaster and toilet paper, made realistic with paint from prison art kits and hair clippings from the barbershop.
They stole a small accordion-like concertina from another inmate to serve as a bellows to inflate the raft. Finally, they climbed through the utility corridor and up a shaft of pipes and ducts to the roof, where they cut away most of the rivets holding a large ventilating fan and grille in place. Dabs of soap substituted for rivet heads — a little artistic touch, should anyone notice.
On the night of the escape, only one thing went wrong: Allen West, a fourth inmate who had planned to join them, had trouble opening the vent at the back of his cell — he had used cement to shore up crumbling concrete and it had hardened — and was left behind. He later gave investigators many details of the escape.
The others put their dummies to bed, retrieved the raft and other materials from atop the cellblock and climbed the ducts to the roof, where the fan-grille escape hatch had been prepared. In clear view of a gun tower, they stole across the roof, hauling their materials with them, then descended a 50-foot wall by sliding down a kitchen vent pipe to the ground. The wall was illuminated by a searchlight, but no one saw them.
They climbed two 12-foot, barbed-wire perimeter fences and went to the northeast shoreline — a blind spot out of range of the searchlights and gun towers — where they inflated their raft with the concertina. It was after 10 o’clock, investigators later estimated, when they shoved off. A dense fog cloaked the bay that night, and they disappeared into it."