If you’ve ever been to San Fransisco, California or taken an interest in ’70s Cinema, you know about the closed island federal prison known as Alcatraz. You may also know about the attempted escape in the ’60s.
Three convicts, after months of planning, hatched an escape that put them outside the walls of the prison. They made is as far as the bay of San Francisco.
What happened after that is uncertain, but there exist theories and evidence to argue that their story didn’t end there.
Hollywood made the story into a movie, starring Clint Eastwood. For the most part, the Hollywood version captures the escape as best we know but fails to tell what happened after the credits roll.
For years, the officials at Alcatraz maintained that the trio drowned in the frigid waters of the bay, but private investigators and family insist there was a different ending.
Of the trio, it seems that the Anglin brothers may have escaped to South America. Nobody knows what happened to Morris, but he may have escaped too.
To understand this better, we’ll examine the real life characters of this record-breaking escape, their plan, the night of the escape, and where they may be now.
Clarence and John Anglin
Bank robbers from Florida, The Anglin brothers were not serving life sentences.
While incarcerated in Florida, they made several attempts to escape the prisons there. Then authorities moved them to Atlanta Penitentiary. They escaped there as well.
It was this behavior that landed the boys in Alcatraz, into what authorities at the time believed was an escape-proof cell. What they didn’t anticipate from this pair of inseparable brothers, was how smart they were, how much tenacity they possessed.
As two siblings of thirteen, the Anglin brothers clung together even as children. During working summers in Michigan, the pair developed such a reputation for swimming, folks said they would even swim in Lake Michigan when there was ice floating on the surface.
This skill would prove useful later in life.
A child of the foster home system, Morris came up as a perpetual orphan from age eleven. By the time he was thirteen years old, authorities had convicted him of his first crime.
He continued to suffer convictions for narcotics possession and armed robbery, Morris served time in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana.
It was that last one that he escaped a ten-year sentence. When they captured him a year later, it was straight to Alcatraz.
Morris was a key figure in the escape, as his IQ test results put him in the top 2% of people at the time.
The Perfect Plan
Formulated between Morris, the Anglin brothers and one other conspirator, a man named Allen West, they thought of everything.
It took them six months to grind at the concrete in their cells, but the boys did it. They widened the vents using discarded saw blades they found on the grounds.
They improvised a drill using the motor from a discarded vacuum form the commissary. The holes they carved in their cells led them to a corridor behind the cells. From that corridor, they climbed to the roof of their cell block, just inside the building.
There, they set up a makeshift workshop, where they collected what they needed to escape. The constructed life-preservers and a small raft from over 50-raincoats. They even carved paddles for their raft.
Above their workshop, they cut away rivets from a vent in the roof, where they would eventually climb out.
During the planning of their escape, the boys used fake heads constructed from various materials, which they’d leave in their beds, making it look they were sound asleep.
The heads were crude but effective, made like paper mâché. They added human hair they collected from the barbershop.
The night of the escape, these same heads provided the boys the time they needed to finally leave. All but West were able to leave their cells. He could not dislodge the vent from his cell in time.
Morris and the Anglin brothers made a huge crashing noise when they climbed out of the roof vent. Guards heard no other noise, so they ignored it.
The boys slid down a pipe to the ground, then climbed over a massive barbed-wire fence. They made it all the way to the waterfront, inflated their raft then left without detection.
When authorities discovered the escape the following morning, they were too late. After an exhaustive ten-day search for clues, they concluded that the boys drowned in the super cold water of the bay.
While that outcome may have protected the inescapable reputation of Alcatraz, it did not give them much room for investigating the possibility of escape.
The FBI was less assuming. They spent 17-years investigating the escape before they closed that investigation.
According to family members, the Anglin brother escaped to Brazil, which they confirmed as late as the ’70s.
One family friend, who claims to have met with the brothers in Brazil, said they body surfed on the back of the last ferry out of Alcatraz that night, using an electrical cable for a tether. Another boat may have picked them up in the bay.
Authorities found a paddle on nearby Angel Island, but no other clues.
What happened to Morris is unknown. His story is a dead end at the docks of Alcatraz. If he stayed with the brothers, he passed away or split off at some point, as nobody has further information on him.
What happened for certain is unknowable, but forensic experts have confirmed a picture taken of the brothers standing next to a road in Brazil.
If they made it there and survived, the boys would be in their 80’s by now.
It is unlikely we will ever confirm any of this, but it seems they didn’t drown in the bay. It appears they successfully escaped the inescapable Alcatraz.