Culture

Unearthed Letter Shows An Alleged Alcatraz Escapee, Long-Presumed Dead, Contacted The FBI 

by Tod Perry

April 18, 2018
Alcatraz Island sits in the background as people play on the beach at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

From 1934 to 1963, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary held some of the nation’s most notorious criminals. Located on a tiny island in the San Francisco Bay, “The Rock,” as it was known, was supposedly impenetrable. 

During Alcatraz’s history, 36 men attempted to escape. 23 were caught, six were killed by officers, and two drowned. Five of these escapees were never found, and so it was assumed they never made it through the cold, shark-infested water.

Three of these men were made famous in the 1979 Clint Eastwood film, “Escape from Alcatraz.” In 1962, brothers John and Clarence Anglin befriended fellow convict Frank Morris and hatched a diabolical plot to escape the prison.

The men exited their cells by widening air vents under the sinks and then climbed up drainpipes to exit the prison. They tricked the guards by creating lifelike papier-mâché heads and stuffing their beds with sheets to simulate their sleeping bodies. 

While it was assumed the three men died after their escape by drowning in the bay, San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX unearthed a letter in January 2017 allegedly written by John Anglin and sent to the FBI four years previously.

“My name is John Anglin. I escape 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!” the letter reads. It also says that Morris died in 2008 and John’s brother Clarance in 2011.

In the letter, the writer also says he’ll turn himself in to the authorities in exchange for medical attention: “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 … ” 

The FBI examined the letter for DNA and fingerprints, and it was reviewed by a handwriting expert, but the results were inconclusive. 

David Widner, the Anglins’ nephew, believes the three escaped successfully and may be alive today in Brazil.

“Alcatraz officials were not willing to say, ‘Maybe they did make it,’” said Widner. “That gave me the motive to prove them wrong.” This photo allegedly shows the Anglin brothers living in Brazil in the ‘80s:

Top image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; share image by AFP/Getty Images. 

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Unearthed Letter Shows An Alleged Alcatraz Escapee, Long-Presumed Dead, Contacted The FBI