“[Stroud] was a jerk. He was a guy that thrived on chaos”
Robert Stroud — better known as the Bird Man of Alcatraz —was in prison for killing F.K. Van Dahmer in Juneau, Alaska when he committed his second murder. On 26 March 1916 he stabbed to death prison warder Andrew Turner in front of 1,200 witnesses in the mess hall after Warder Turner upbraided Stroud for a minor rule infraction. Stroud was tried and sentenced to die on 27 May but, after three trials and four years, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after his mother appealed to President Woodrow Wilson.
Stroud was to spend the rest of his life — 42 years —in solitary confinement. It was his feathered friends who helped him come to terms with the loneliness. In June 1920 he began by adopting three injured sparrows and eventually he was given an extra cell and plenty of equipment. He became an expert ornithologist. In 1933 he published an authoritative work on canary diseases and nine years later a book on all birds’ maladies, entitled Stroud’s Digest On The Diseases Of Birds. On 19 December 1942 he was moved from Leavenworth to the fortress island of Alcatraz where the conditions were harsher but he continued his interest in birds although he never actually kept any there. He went on to compile a history of the US Bureau of Prisons but the authorities refused to publish it.
A fictionalized film was made of Stroud’s story starring Burt Lancaster in 1962. One of the killer’s fellow inmates was asked if the cinematic portrayal was accurate. It wasn’t, he said, Stroud “was a jerk. He was a guy that thrived on chaos.”
US Penitentiary Leavenworth, Kansas, USA
Sunday 26 March 1916
In 1959 Robert Stroud was transferred to the Federal Medical Center at Springfield, Missouri where he died on 21 November 1963. Stroud was 73 and had spent 56 of those years behind bars.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
From his cell Stroud ran a successful business selling patent medicines and appropriately caged birds. One of his customers was J. Edgar Hoover.