John & Clarence Anglin & Frank Lee Morris – 1962

By | February 14, 2017

They created life-like dummies to leave in their beds when they escaped


From left to right: Clarence Anglin, John William Anglin and Frank Lee Morris


Frank Lee Morris was born at Washington DC on 1 September 1926. He was a career criminal, beginning his nefarious activities when he was just 13 years old. On 20 January 1960 he was sent to Alcatraz and immediately began planning his escape.

Brothers John and Clarence Anglin and Allen West joined him in his plan. The Anglins had been sent to the Rock for bank robbery. John William Anglin was born at Donalsonville, Georgia on 2 May 1930 and arrived at Alcatraz on 21 October 1960. His brother Clarence was born a year later on 11 May 1931 and he arrived on the Rock on 10 January 1961. Allen West was born at New York on 10 September 1926. A car thief, he was sent to Alcatraz in 1957.

For two years the men plotted and planned. They created a 5 x 4-m (16 x 14 ft) raft and life-like dummies to leave in their beds when they escaped. They took turns to dig behind the 15 x 22-cm (6 x 9-in) ventilation holes in their cells, while one man kept watch. On the night of 11 June 1962, without West who had been slow to dig in his cell, they made their break for freedom. They went down the tunnels they had made and onto the roof of Alcatraz. They climbed down and set sail into the bay on their raft.


Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco,California, USA


Tuesday 11 June 1962


The FBI began one of the biggest manhunts since the Lindbergh kidnapping (search the related post) but only found parts of the raft and a waterproof bag containing the Anglins’ letters.

The official verdict was that the men drowned in their attempt. On 17 July 1962 a Norwegian freighter spotted a body floating face down 32 km (20 mi) northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge but did not report the sighting for three months. The FBI pointed to the fact that the men were habitual criminals and yet were never again arrested.

They closed the case officially on 31 December 1979. The Anglin family believe that the brothers died and another, Alfred, was electrocuted while trying to escape from Kilby Prison in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1964. Allen West left Alcatraz on 6 February 1963 when the prison closed. He was released in 1967 but was arrested again in 1968. In January 1969 he was jailed for life. On 30 October 1972 he stabbed a black prisoner to death. He died in jail of acute peritonitis on 21 December 1978.

The story was made into a film, Escape from Alcatraz, starring Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris. Allen West’s name was changed to Charley Butts in the film.

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