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Author Topic: ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ: The Story 10: The Real Escape  (Read 18090 times)
Matt
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« on: January 30, 2005, 11:33:43 PM »

This post will briefly outline the main details of the real escape. Use this thread to post any comments or observations pertaining to the real escape.

Frank Lee Morris
John Anglin
Clarence Anglin

Four men planned on breaking out of Alcatraz together, Allen West, Frank Morris, and John and Clarence Anglin. It was West who first discovered that the concrete of the back walls of their cells had disintegrated so much from age and the salt-water air that he could actually penetrate the walls using just the base of a spoon. He devised the plan along with the other three men, making decoy dummy heads for their cell beds and life jackets and a raft to cross the bay. Above are the actual Alcatraz mug shots of the three men who "broke the Rock."
 










The man who claimed to be the
mastermind of the plan,
Allen West.

Allen West, the originator and coordinator of the break-out plan, never made it off the prison roof that night. There is some discrepancy in the accounts as to why he didn't join the other men in time to go with them. West stated that one of the Anglin brothers disliked him enough to have cemented his vent cover closed from the utility corridor wall, making it impossible for him to get out of his cell in time to join them. Others believe he was just too scared (especially of the bay) to actually go through with the plan. What is known is that West never showed up in time and the other three men left without him. West did finally make it out of his cell, but only got as far as the roof before he realized they had already gone. He returned to his cell, but would now have bragging rights as "the Brain" behind the greatest prison escape in U.S. history.

In Escape from Alcatraz, Charley Butts is a fictional character. The only thing he had in common with West is that they both were too late leaving their cells to join the other men.














Unlike the movie, the cell vents were not chipped away and enlarged a little at a time. Instead, holes were bored with the base of a spoon handle all around the top and sides of the vent. Each hole was about 5" deep and took several hours to hand-drill. As each hole was finished, the men would fill it in with soap and toilet paper, then paint over it to hide their work. Once the holes surrounded the entire vent, each man would cut through to connect the holes, leaving them with a 10"x15" opening to crawl through. Much of the work was done during music hour, when most of the other inmates would play their instruments so loudly that the guards couldn't hear the digging.





Allen West's prison job was painting the cell house. Having access to the green paint, he was able to create vent covers that blended so well with the walls that they were completely undetected. Looking along the very top of the picture above (left) you can see the outline of the fake cover. Each cover was created with canvas art board and a tobacco box. Every diamond-shaped cut-out in the cigar box was meticulously carved with a razor blade by each of the men, and painted to match the cell walls. They sealed the edges of the fake vent to the walls with soap. A little bit of fresh paint over the soap perfectly concealed their work.







Masks were made to fool the guards into thinking they were still in their cells during nighttime counts. The first mask was made out of 12-gauge ground wire as a foundation, and covered with cement powder and cement sealer. An ear was fashioned with a smaller wire, packed with cement and attached to the mask. Clumps of hair smuggled out of the barbershop completed the head. This mask was small enough to hide behind the vent. Because the paint used for the skin was a pink tone, and the nose was so large, the mask resembled a pig. The Anglins nicknamed the mask "Oink".











Like the first mask, the second was made of wire and concrete. This time, a layer of plaster covered the concrete, making it easier to mold. The mask was painted in orange tones rather than pink. This mask was a full face, and had a hairstyle. The Anglins named this mask "Oscar" because of its resemblance to one of their uncles.













The third mask was the crowning achievement. Black electrical wire was used for a base and covered with cement and plaster. This full face mask had a definite hairstyle and remarkable bone structure. The mask was painted in orange tones with a lifelike nose and ears. The mask, however, was 1 1/2 times the size of a normal human head. What makes the masks even more impressive is that they were all created in the dark after "lights out."












The fourth mask was made quickly, just before the escape. Perhaps because they had run out of time to get the materials that were used for the other masks, this mask is different. It was fashioned only of sheets covered with soap chips and painted pink (like "Oink"). Considering the raw materials, it was a remarkable mask.





Over fifty raincoats were used to create four life jackets (above left is one of the actual life jackets that was left behind) and a raft. Made in the clothing or glove shop, the raincoats were cut and machine-stitched with each seam reinforced with a rubber adhesive specifically chosen for its ability to hold in water -- a flammable contact cement much like model airplane glue. The raft was never recovered. Based on materials left behind, including an issue of Sports Illustrated that contained a picture of a utility boat they used to design the raft, it is believed that the raft was like the one in the drawing above. (Drawing by Don DeNevi).



Their workshop in the rafters over A-Block








The men needed a place to store their materials for the break-out. In what is considered the single largest security breach that was directly responsible for the success of the breakout, West convinced a guard that he needed to blanket off an area where he would be painting along the ceiling above A-block to keep the dust out of the fresh paint. The blankets were allowed to remain up, and in time -- forgotten. The blankets remained up for weeks, and the men were able to store the masks, rafts, life jackets, paint and other materials safely above the rafters, behind the blankets, out of sight.





At the top of the cell block, the men would need to climb up the roof ventilator shaft. It was barred on both ends, one with simple rods that Morris was able to pry apart with a handmade bar spreader (above left), but the roof end was capped with a rain hood fitted with a heavy iron grate. It would take several nights for Morris to unscrew the six bolts that held the grill to the shaft (above right). The hood was then able to be lifted off intact and the men were able to climb onto the roof.













The men would leave their cells, climb up the utility corridor, climb through the vents to the roof, lower themselves three stories down the bakery pipe, and cross to the north end of the island where they would board their raft for Angel Island.













Figuring everyone would assume they headed for San Francisco and look for them there, the men decided instead to head to Angel Island. Although a half mile further from Alcatraz than San Francisco (1.75 miles vs. 1.25), Angel Island was U.S. Army property and mostly uninhabited. The men planned to hike across Angel Island and cross the bay the short distance to Marin County.



 
The discovery didn't come until the next morning. As in the film, one of the guards tried to wake up a sleeping inmate (Clarence Anglin), nudging his head through the bars, only to be startled in terror as the head flew off the bed. An immediate prison-wide shakedown revealed that the three men were missing. The search uncovered the fake grill in Morris's cell (above left), which he had been hiding behind an accordion case. Clarence's cell (above right) shows a wire that he used to signal to John to hand things up the pipes.



 

John's cell (above left) shows how he hid his hole with a camouflage of towels and raincoats. West's cell (above right) shows the fake grill front on his bed.



(All photos are from Jolene Babyak's book Breaking the Rock: The Great Escape from Alcatraz, Ariel Vamp Press, 2001. The raft drawing and route map are from Don DeNevi's Riddle of the Rock: The Only Successful Escape from Alcatraz, Prometheus Books, 1991.)
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« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2005, 06:53:14 AM »

Thanks Matt. Fascinating stuff. Uncanny resemblence between Morris and Eastwood.
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« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2005, 08:00:48 AM »

I've always been interested in Alcatraz, so working on the film discussion was a good excuse for finally getting around to reading some books about it. In my mind, learning all of the details of the escape shows it to be an even more amazing feat than the movie is able to show in its two-hour time frame.

Uncanny resemblence between Morris and Eastwood.

One difference the picture does't show is that Morris was only 5'7" and 135 lbs. Clint's said that he, himself, would have never been able to fit through the small 10"x15" vent opening that Morris climbed through. The Anglins were only slightly taller.
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KC
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« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2005, 09:08:00 PM »

I think the resemblance is more in their expressions. But that is, indeed, uncanny.



"No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz."
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« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2005, 11:10:46 PM »

wow, striking similarity in the facial expression!
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« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2005, 09:51:05 AM »

Quote
Allen West, the originator and coordinator of the break-out plan, never made it off the prison roof that night. There is some discrepancy in the accounts as to why he didn't join the other men in time to go with them. West stated that one of the Anglin brothers disliked him enough to have cemented his vent cover closed from the utility corridor wall, making it impossible for him to get out of his cell in time to join them. Others believe he was just too scared (especially of the bay) to actually go through with the plan.
I remember watching something about the Alcatraz escape that mentioned that he hadn't made his hole big enough, though that wouldn't seem likely coming from the "mastermind" of the idea. I guess they don't know that for sure. ???

Whatever happened to West, anyhow? Did he serve the rest of his sentence and eventually get out of prison?
« Last Edit: February 17, 2005, 09:58:28 AM by Christopher » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2005, 06:36:37 AM »

I was wondering the same thing.. Whatever happend to West.

When we saw Eastwood in London in 2003 promoting Mystic River a member of the audience asked him how much research he's done on Morris as this was one of the few times he'd portrayed a real person. Eastwoods reply was a little , then smiling he added.. but they had discoverd that Morris was shorter than himself... so they'd made the hole bigger.  ;D
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« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2005, 07:19:35 PM »

Whatever happened to West, anyhow? Did he serve the rest of his sentence and eventually get out of prison?

I was wondering the same thing.. Whatever happend to West.

Sorry it's taken so long for me to answer this one. Here's what it says about West in Jolene Babyak's book Breaking the Rock: The Great Escape from Alcatraz:

Quote
Allen Clayton West left Alcatraz on February 6, 1963, transferring to McNeil Island, Washington. He was later transferred to Atlanta where he was released from federal prison on January 7, 1965 and sent to Georgia and then Florida to serve prison sentences in those states. Released in 1967, he remained free for about a year, and then was arrested in Florida on charges of grand larceny, robbery and attempted escape. He was sentenced to one commitment for five years, one for life, and one for three years to run concurrent, and on January 1969, he went to Florida state prison. On October 30, 1972, West fatally knifed another prisoner in what was probably a racial incident.

In December 1978, he was sent to the Shands Teaching Hospital for severe abdominal pains. He died on December 21, 1978 of peritonitis. He was forty-nine.
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Gant
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« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2005, 02:50:31 PM »

.. and never got to see the movie.
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« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2005, 01:31:03 AM »

Alright, well I just finished watching the "Mythbusters" episode where Jamie and Adam attempt the escape.

Here's my breakdown:

Mission: To prove that the escape from Alactraz, done by Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers, is possible.

Now the whole purpose of this experiment was trying to determine whether or not the raft portion could be successful. They were not worried about the escaping from the cells since the prisoners did do that.

Now, Jamie and Adam studied the ebb and flow of San Francisco Bay by using the Bay Model, which was developed in the 50's to study the enviromental impact on a proposed developement deal. It's a perfect scale model covering two acres and replicates a full days movements in under fifteen minutes.

Using their scale boat they checked to see what would happen by dropping the boat in the water at the time of the hide tide (model time). The boat floated west in a rush and went under the Golden Gate Bridge and so they determined that there may be no way that the prisoners could have made it to Angel Island.

However, Jamie and Adem felt that Morris was smart enough to figure this out and actually decided to take advantage of the current and use it as a river and head towards the Golden Gate Bridge (specifically the north side) and then get to land. So they figure he used Angel Island as a diversion for the other prisoners.

So they're new mission is now to: Use the current to head towards the Golden Gate Bridge and then paddle to shore and make it to land.

The constructed the paddles using the FBI's drawings and files of the escape. The also constructed the raft using the same material the prisoners used. Based on the information they had available to them they felt as though the raft was very similar to then one used in the actual escape.

For the escape attempt they wore the same clothes the prisoners wore and they also had a third man aboard the raft. This man was wearing a wet suit and life jakcet in order to help Jamie or Adam is they went overboard or if they were in trouble. Jamie and Adam were also equiped with a strobe locator light so they could be rescued.

The Weather Conditions: The current was at about 3 knots, the water 60 degrees and the winds was at 5 knots. These conditions were roughly the same as the conditions the prisoners had when they were escaping.

And they're off!

After awhile they began to take on water and they lost their path. They eventually made it back on course and were headed in the right direction when they were geting cold and their legs were falling alseep. Every ten minutes they had to keep putting air into it by breathing into it. And the tidal rift kept getting rougher. 40 minutes went by and they were still at it. And of course when you start getting closer to shore your spirits would begin to lift, much like Adam's and Jamie's were. Three miles later, after travelling against a rushing tide, they made it to land landing just East of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Adam believes that it is possible that the prisoners could have made. His quote:

Quote
"Given a reasonable amount of intelligence I think it's entirely possible that they made it. Again, I think the most damning evidence that they didn't is that no one has heard from them since."

And Jamie:

Quote
"Unless they find any specific evidence that these guys you know,  lived happily ever after or something after they did it... ah.. you know, we won't know whether it was true or not. But we know that it could have been done. Which is cool."

However... they mention at the end of the episode that the tide carried a paddle to Angel Island. And that tide came directly from Marin Headlands, so how did the paddle end up on Angel Island if not with escapees?
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« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2005, 11:11:15 PM »

Thanks for that summary, Brendan. I'd love to catch that episode.
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« Reply #11 on: March 15, 2005, 12:16:25 AM »

yeah.. me to. Suddenly I'm thinking... maybe, just maybe they  did make it.

Whats the stats on hardened prisioners escaping from jail never to be re captured ?
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« Reply #12 on: March 15, 2005, 12:42:50 AM »

Hey thanks for that great posting I found it so very interesting I didn't realize there was so much information about the real escape.   
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« Reply #13 on: March 15, 2005, 02:26:15 AM »

you will be surprised how many people do swim and survive especially from boats and crashed planes etc. - some people are in the water 5 to 7 hours

what keeps them going is site of lights, shore etc. well they would have been able to see land marks etc.
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« Reply #14 on: March 17, 2005, 08:12:50 AM »

I kind of like the fact that no one knows for sure if they escaped or drowned . It all adds to the mystery .
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Brendan
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« Reply #15 on: June 08, 2005, 07:51:26 PM »

UPDATE on my summary of the "Mythbusters" episode where Jamie and Adam esacaped from Alcatraz. I was just watching an outakes episode where they showed clips that didn't make the final cut of the show. They showed a clip from the Escape From Alcatraz episode and it featured Adam and Jamie at the San Fran. Bay Model.

In the clip, Adam dropped three scale boats into the water where they ended up at the end of the segment and all the boats headed toward to the west side of Angel Island... where most of the prisoners gear was found. he then said that he felt they may have done this to throw the police off making them think they were washed out sea and drowned. He also mentioned that these guys (the prisoners) weren't stupid and in fact the lead one (Frank Morris) was actually very intelligent. So, how about that theory huh?

Seeing what these two guys did and now seeingt this clip just makes me think that maybe... just MAYBE they did make it after all.
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« Reply #16 on: March 04, 2006, 08:10:57 PM »

I always had the feeling that the three men drowned,but after watching the film again today,and seeing that Mythbusters episode last year,it does make me think that they just may have been able to pull it off.
That mugshot of the real Frank Morris does look a little like Clint with the hairline and the squint.
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« Reply #17 on: April 03, 2007, 06:07:22 PM »

Thanks to everyone for participating in this discussion. This topic is now closed, please post any additional thoughts in the General Discussion forum.
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