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The escape from Alcatraz, 60 years later: The story & images

Images of three young men and three old men
Alcatraz escapees Frank Morris, John Anglin, and his brother Clarence, with age-progressed photos.
(U.S. Marshals)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, June 20. I’m Justin Ray.

Three men escaped from notorious Alcatraz Island penitentiary in 1962 and have never been apprehended. The U.S. Marshals Fugitive Investigations site has published age-progressed images of the men (seen above), who would be in their 90s.

Frank Morris, John Anglin, and his brother, Clarence Anglin have never been located since escaping the facility — which was at some point home to criminals like Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Stroud.

In the years since it took place, authorities have uncovered several surprising details about how they pulled it off. I thought I would give you some interesting information and photos from the escape.

The escape, and clues about what happened to the men

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A prison cell bed with a dummy head on the pillow
The image, taken in Clarence Anglin’s cell, shows how the dummy heads were arranged to fool the guards into thinking the inmates were still asleep.
(U.S. Marshals)

On June 12, 1962, prison staff conducted a routine morning check of beds when they noticed the three convicts were not in their cells. Instead, their beds were occupied by dummy heads made of plaster, flesh-tone paint, and real human hair that apparently deceived the night guards. The prison was immediately put into lockdown, and the search began.

The group spent 18 months preparing for the breakout. They chiseled through walls with spoons and other kitchen utensils.

Profile of the dummy head found in Frank  Morris’ cell.
Profile of the dummy head found in Morris’ cell. The broken nose happened when the head rolled off the bed and hit the floor after a guard reached through the bars and pushed it, according to the U.S. Marshal’s website.
(U.S. Marshals)

A hollow space above the cell block was used as a storage area for tools and the decoy heads, which they made out of barbershop hair, plaster and paint. They fashioned a makeshift inflatable raft out of 50 prison-issued WWII-era raincoats, cotton with rubber backing.

During the escape, each man wriggled through a chiseled shaft into a utility corridor and then onto the prison roof. They made their way down a pipe, climbed two barbed wire fences and placed the boat into the waters.

Ventilator cover on the roof of the Alcatraz prison
Ventilator cover on the roof of the Alcatraz prison through which the inmates made their escape.
(U.S. Marshals)

Many historians and law enforcement officials believe the men drowned in the bay. However, no bodies were ever found.

There is also evidence that the men lived. Mike Dyke of the U.S. Marshals Service told CBS News that a raft and paddle were possibly recovered on Angel Island — located not too far from Alcatraz — with footsteps leading away from them. Dyke also told The Times that a car was stolen in Marin County that night by three men who later nearly ran a car off the road in the Central Valley.

An area is strewn with debris
A portion of the concealed area where prisoners constructed tools for their escape.
(U.S. Marshals)

Alcatraz was closed in 1963, not too long after the escape. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the decision to close the facility was made long before the three disappeared. It was shuttered because it was too expensive to continue operating.

Today, many mysteries remain about Alcatraz because many documents from the prison have not been located.

Alcatraz Prison sits in the San Francisco Bay
Alcatraz Prison occupies an island of the same name in the middle of San Francisco Bay. It’s now operated as a historical site and tourist attraction.
(Matt Campbell / EPA)

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Horrific details about the moments that led up to the killings of two El Monte police officers have emerged, including more information about a wild shootout that took place. Los Angeles Times

Family members pay tribute to the two El Monte officers slain.
Family members pay tribute to the two El Monte officers slain last week.
(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

L.A. STORIES

A Midwestern couple figured out how to beat the lottery. Then Hollywood called. Jerry Selbee and his wife, Marge, were settled into retirement in a sleepy, one-stoplight town of Evart, Mich., when they heard of a state lottery game. Selbee quickly realized that the lottery had a mathematical flaw that would mean guaranteed winnings. What happened next ended up becoming the subject of a new movie now streaming on Paramount+. Los Angeles Times

Four people pose for a photo
Bryan Cranston, left, and Annette Bening, right with the real-life people they portray, Jerry and Marge Selbee.
(Paramount+)

A Beverly Hills doctor who is a leading figure in the antivaccine movement was sentenced to two months in prison for storming the U.S. Capitol. Associated Press

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Gov. Gavin Newsom joined former President Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social. Newsom said in a tweet: “I just joined Trump’s Truth Social. Going to be on there calling out Republican lies. This could get…interesting.” It’s not the first time California has made its mark on a conservative platform. The Los Angeles Police Department had a verified account on Parler, “the go-to place for right-wing and extremist commentators.” The Hill

California would be the first state to require gun owners to buy liability insurance to cover the negligent or accidental use of their firearms if lawmakers approve a measure announced late last week. The state of New York is considering a similar requirement in the wake of numerous recent mass shootings. Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

A man who broke into thousands of Apple iCloud accounts and collected more than 620,000 private photos and videos of women has been sentenced. Hao Kuo Chi, 40, of La Puente was given a nine-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy and computer fraud. Chi, who goes by David, admitted that he impersonated Apple customer support staff in emails that tricked unsuspecting victims into providing him with their Apple IDs and passwords, according to court records. Justice Department

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

In an analysis published in the annual Air Quality Life Index, researchers found that wildfire smoke likely offset decades of state and federal antipollution efforts, at least temporarily. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic took cars off the road and temporarily halted some industries, particle pollution spiked to some of the highest levels in decades in parts of California in 2020, according to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, which produced the report. Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles skyline is obscured by hazy smoke
Smoke from Southern California wildfires drifts through the L.A. Basin, obscuring downtown skyscrapers in September 2020.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

The Berkeley school board recently voted to overhaul its policy for assigning students to the city’s three middle schools. Under the current policy, in place since 1994, Berkeley has two zones for Willard Middle School and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, leaving Longfellow as a “choice” school. Longfellow has seen declining enrollment in this system, with a “growing share of students with higher needs and a disproportionate share of Black and Latino students, leading to what some have denounced as a system of de facto segregation.” Berkeleyside

Two actors on a Netflix series were killed and six other cast or crew members were injured after the van they were riding in crashed on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Los Angeles Times

Meet the outlandish AMC boss betting on memes and a literal gold mine to save movies. Adam Aron rode the meme stock wave to rescue AMC. With his embrace of NFTs and cryptocurrency, plus a campy Nicole Kidman ad, he’s a polarizing figure. Los Angeles Times

Photo of Adam Aron superimposed on a gorilla figure, the Los Angeles landscape is behind him.
“I really do think that the industry needs somebody like Adam to start shaking things up,” said Mike Ribero, a longtime marketing executive.
(Jim Cooke / Los Angeles Times; photo by David Becker / Getty Images)

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Sunny 87 San Diego: Sunny 74 San Francisco: Sunny 74 San Jose: Sunny 90 Fresno: Sunny 95 Sacramento: Sunny 96

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Sean Gallagher:

When I got back from Vietnam as a Marine in 1969 I was a complete mess inside and out. My Pop, who had been a POW with the Nazis, sought solace in being an abalone diver out of Santa Barbara. Seeing me floundering he offered me a job as a line tender on his boat, the Serena. Everyday we foraged around the Channel Islands, from Catalina to San Miguel. At night we hardly spoke to each other but we didn’t have to: We lived and worked in the most amazing environment in the world. I did it for two years and ate, slept and sweated in some of the most gorgeous and pristine land and sea on the planet. I still think of that time as the most idyllic and yet formational time in my life. How meaningful is it to me? My Pop’s ashes are over there.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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