It’s the stuff of legend. Fifty years ago, three men escaped from Alcatraz prison, setting out into the San Francisco Bay in a raft made of raincoats after tunneling out of their cells with spoons, and climbing to the prisons roof. It was a desperate bid for freedom from the “escape-proof prison”.
It’s a mystery as to whether any of the three men – Frank Morris, and John and Clarence Anglin – even made it to shore. Many assume they succumbed to the frigid waters, or were swept out to see, but others believe that the three survived. There’s never been any proof that the men made it – but equally no proof that they were killed.
At the time, the authorities launched a massive manhunt for the three men, searching the waters around the prison island carefully. All that was ever found were a paddle, some life vests, and some letters. A freighter reported seeing a body in a navy blue pea coat floating just past the Golden Gate Bridge. But nothing definitive was ever found, and the tale of the escape has been the inspiration for countless books and movies since then.
The three prisoners were non-violent, and were serving terms for bank robbery. Although Alcatraz was known for housing violent offenders, and the worst of the worst, Morris and both Anglin brothers were sent there not because they were dangerous, but because they had escaped from so many other prisons. With such a track record – and having been given adjoining cells in the belief that there was no way that anyone could get off the island – the escape attempt seemed almost inevitable.
Rumor has it that the three men would reappear on Alcatraz on the 50th anniversary of their escape. The completely unsubstantiated rumor is urban myth, but that didn’t stop Marie Widner (the Anglin brothers’ little sister) and US Marshal Michael Dyke from showing up on the island on June 12, fifty years to the day after the three men escaped.
Needless to say, they saw neither hide nor hair of any of the three. Widner said, “I really do believe the boys made it out of here. I do believe the boys are alive today. I don’t know where they are. I have not heard from them, but my gut feeling is that they’re OK.” Dyke was a tad less optimistic, but wasn’t ready to give up on the manhunt. “It would be really nice to have answers, but some things you never have answers for. They could have died of old age. They could have died in 1962. But it’s hard to say. Until there’s evidence to the fact that they’re not alive anymore, I’m going to keep looking.”
If the men survived, they would be in their 80s now. But until they re-appear, or some other evidence surfaces, it will remain a mystery as to whether the three in fact perpetrated the greatest prison break of all time.