Alcatraz was the “supermax” federal prison of its day. The heavily fortified prison operated from August 11, 1934 to March 21, 1963 and held a total of 1,576 prisoners during its entire operation. Originally a fort, declared a military reservation in 1850 by President Millard Fillmore, Alcatraz became an official U.S. military prison in 1907. Built to be the world’s most inescapable prison, it is surrounded by freezing water and dangerous, powerful currents. It is widely believed that no one has ever successfully broken out of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Records show that at least 36 inmates have unsuccessfully tried to escape the prison, however, a piece of letter has cast doubt on that claim.
In 1962, three men made an escape from the jail from which ‘no inmate could escape’.
Alcatraz sits on its own island in the San Francisco Bay, 1.25 miles from the mainland, surrounded by strong and unpredictable currents. It is believed that 36 people have tried and failed to escape from the prison. But Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin disappeared into the night in 1962 and have never been found since. The trio were presumed to be dead but their bodies were never recovered. The FBI conducted a thorough investigation into the incident and eventually concluded that the trio had drowned in San Francisco Bay but many found it hard to believe since the investigation reports were inconclusive.
The men were the inspiration for many Hollywood shows and movies, including the 1979 film, Escape from Alcatraz.
Fast forward 50+ years. The FBI received a letter, allegedly written by one of the escapees. The peculiar letter that arrived in the mail claimed to be from John Anglin, one of the escapees. The letter assured the FBI that the trio did indeed survive the escape attempt. Authorities received the letter in 2013 but only revealed it to the public this week. According to news station KPIX, who obtained a copy of the letter:
“My name is John Anglin. I escape [sic] from Alcatraz in June 1962 with my brother Clarence and Frank Morris. I’m 83 years old and in bad shape. I have cancer. Yes we all made it that night but barely! ‘Frank passed away in October 2005. His grave is in Alexandria under another name. My brother died in 2011.”
“If you announce on TV that I will be promised to first go to jail for no more than a year and get medical attention, I will write back to let you know exactly where I am. This is no joke this is for real and honest truth.”
The FBI says that this most recent piece of evidence has made them reopen the decades long case. The letter was originally sent to the San Francisco Police Department’s Richmond station in 2013. A US Marshall’s spokesperson told KPIX 5:
“There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of them would have changed their lifestyle and became completely law-abiding citizens after this escape.”
The Telegraph reports that the FBI has inspected the letter to see if there were any fingerprints left behind. They even tried matching the handwriting to John Anglin’s but the results came out to be inconclusive.
John and Clarence were sentenced to 15-20 years behind bars for robbing banks and other establishments during the 1950’s.
The brothers spent their time in different prisons but due to multiple attempts at escaping the facilities, they were sent to Alcatraz. After being incarcerated to Alcatraz, the brothers met Frank Morris, an intelligent career criminal. The trio then planned an escape together and on the night of June 11, 1962, the men made heads out of soap wax and tucked them into their beds. They then broke out of the main prison building via an unused utility corridor and used an improvised inflatable raft to an uncertain fate.
Some members of the Anglin family have maintained that the three men survived and have made contact with them over the years.
The FBI conducted an investigation after their escape and found that the three men had been widening the ventilation ducts connected to their cells for more than 6 months using tools they found around the prison. They even disguised the loud noises by playing an accordion in order to eliminate suspicion. Their plan apparently worked. Investigators combed the air, land and sea near Alcatraz and the investigation continued for years until 1979, when the FBI declared that the three men most likely drowned on the night of their escape.
Some are skeptical about the reports and claim that the trio escaped to Brazil but authorities highly doubt that they made it. The letter is inconclusive meaning it can go both ways but the Anglin family maintains that they have had contact with the fugitives numerous times. Whatever the case is, the letter was enough for FBI investigators to reopen the case after decades.