In the 1950s, escaping from Alcatraz Island was thought to be impossible. It was the reason Frank Morris and brothers Clarence and John Anglin were sent there.
But in 1962, the Anglin brothers and Morris defied the odds and are now part of history.
Fifty years after their daring escape, family and officials gathered at the famous penitentiary to remember them and that fateful day.
“I’ve always believed that they made it (to shore) and I haven’t changed my mind about that,” Marie Anglin Widner said.
Widner is one of 14 Anglin siblings that included John and Clarence. She made the trip along with her sister, Mearl Anglin Taylor, and two sons, Dave and Kenneth Widner.
“They always find a way out,” Marie said of her brothers. “They didn’t go to Alcatraz because they were mean…but because they thought they wouldn’t get out.”
The Anglins and Morris are the only men to escape Alcatraz who remain unaccounted for, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
The three men dug out of their cells using spoons and lifelike dummies and escaped the island using a raft constructed out of approximately 50 raincoats.
Morris and the Anglin brothers have yet to be found and the U.S. Marshals Service, which took over the case in 1979, continues to search for the fugitives, U.S. Marshal Michael Dyke said.
When asked what he would do if Morris or the Anglins presented themselves to authorities today, Dyke started by saying he would arrest them but added that he would also give them credit for what they did.
“I’d have to compliment them,” Dykes said. “It was very meticulous what they did to escape here. A lot of people would say Morris was the brains behind the whole thing. He was just a part of it and all three of them contributed to it.”
A teletype put out by the California Highway Patrol said they had found a raft on Angel Island with footsteps leading away from it, Dykes said, however that raft is missing today.
The same report mentioned a stolen car from Marin County that had three occupants and ran a car off the road in Stanislaus County.
Former Alcatraz guard George DeVincenzi, who left the penitentiary prior to the escapees’ arrival, doesn’t believe they could have survived the frigid San Francisco Bay waters.
“No way I can see it myself,” DeVincenzi said. “A person jumping in that Bay 1 or 2 in the morning … no way.”
But despite some skepticism, the Anglin family has not been deterred in its belief that John and Clarence made it to shore. They, in fact, may have proof of it.
Six months after the escape, the Anglins’ mother received a Christmas card that had been dropped into her Leesburg, Ga. mailbox signed by John.
Dave Widner, the brothers’ nephew, added that his uncles were excellent swimmers and even used to break the ice in Lake Michigan and swim in the frigid water.
“If you were pumped up from breaking out of prison I think you could do it,” Dave Widner said.
“If you go down to the cells…you will see the largest crowd in front of the escapees’ cells. It’s a shame they got what they received for what they did,” Kenneth Widner said.
The Anglin brothers were originally arrested for robbery after stealing $19,000 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Clarence was slapped with an additional two years for an attempted escape from a Kansas prison.
Dave Widner recalled a letter the warden in Kansas sent to the Alcatraz warden at the time of the transfer, urging him to not place the Anglins in the same cell due to a series of attempted escapes. Despite the reported letter, the brothers were cellmates.
Morris was also in prison for bank robbery and was sent to Alcatraz after a series of escapes from other institutions.
John would be 82-years-old today, his brother Clarence would be 81 and Morris would be 86.
Zack Farmer, Bay City News
Want more news, sent to your inbox every day? Then how about subscribing to our email newsletter? Here’s why we think you should. Come on, give it a try.