Escape Artists The Only Alcatraz Escapees

Escape Artists: The Algin Brothers and Frank Morris:The Only Alcatraz Escapees

written by Jeanette Sherman 2/17/2016

There was only one successful escape from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in the island prison’s 29 year history and it likely ended in a chilling death.

Four men planned the escape: Clarence and John Algin, Frank Morris, and Allen West. Only the Algin Brothers and Frank Morris would actually escape though. Allen West was unable to complete his escape which probably saved his life. Even though the Algin Brothers and Frank Morris made it out of Alcatraz, they never made it to their planned destination, the nearby Angel Island. Current patterns in the water, the chilling temperature of the San Francisco Bay, and the washed up remains of their raft suggest a watery grave. Despite the deadly ending, how these clever convicts were able to secure a spot in history as the only escapees from “Uncle Sam’s Devil’s Island” is no less amazing.

Frank Morris was the brains of the group and planned the cunning escape starting in December of 1961, only two years before Alcatraz would close, with the fortunate discovery of some discarded saw blades. Using the saw blades and various other improvised digging tools (including an electric drill made from a broken vacuum motor), the men worked on widening the air duct openings in their cells. Once through, they were lucky again: the tunnels they had carved led to an unguarded utility corridor with access to the cellblock roof. On the roof of the cellblock, they had room to create a workshop and gain access to the roof of the building. In the workshop, they created the most astounding part of the escape. A 6x14 ft raft made of over 50 raincoats connected using the heat from the steam coming off the pipes and inflated with a stolen concertina. This raft would later wash up on Angel Island with no sign of the escaped men.

The actual escape happened on June 11, 1962. The men (with the exception of Allen West) crawled out of their cells via their tunnels but not before tucking dummy heads of themselves made of soap, toilet paper, and their own hair into bed. Allen West, in an attempt to strengthen his tunnel, had secured the crumbling wall with concrete, making it too small to later escape through in time. Once out of their cells, the Algin Brothers and Frank Morris took their raft up to the roof. From there, they slide the 50ft down to the ground on a kitchen vent, climbed two 12ft barbed wire fences, and made it to a location on the beach unseen by the gun towers and search lights where they used the concertina to inflate the raft. Sometime after 10pm, they were gone, never to be seen again.

Despite the evidence and the slim chance that the Algin Brothers and Frank Morris survived the only Alcatraz escape, their bodies were never found and the investigation into their escape is still classified as an open investigation. Many people, including the convicts’ families, believe the men escaped to Brazil and the US Marshal Service still receives daily tips about the history making escapees.