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Escape from Alcatraz:  How Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers May Have Survived

             The question has been asked repeatedly over the past several decades, did the three prisoners who escaped from Alcatraz actually survive in their journey through the threatening waters between the island and the shoreline over a mile and a quarter away?  Did they swim to safety?  Could they have guided an unmotorized vehicle, a makeshift raft, through waters that would be unkind to any body that challenged their Poseidon-like temperament?  It is assumed the prisoners drowned.  However, this article will present an alternative, a possible way that the prisoners could have survived with a little forethought and aid to their escape plan.

            There has been much speculation regarding the infamous incident on June 11, 1962, when prisoners Frank Morris, along with brothers John Anglin and Clarence Anglin, plotted and executed an escape from Alcatraz, the maximum security prison located offshore from San Francisco, California.

            As the story goes, the men made life-like dummy heads they put on their cots, chiseled their way out of a hole in the back of their cells and squeezed through a corridor until they reached the roof. They slid down a water pipe and ran down to the shore (Sullivan, Mystery Still Swirls, 2009).

            In Escape from Alcatraz, a movie starring Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris, Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin vanish from their cells and are never seen again (BOP: Alcatraz).

            But did the real Frank Morris and the Anglins live to see the shore across from Alcatraz Island?  There was compelling evidence to believe they didn’t make it.  For instance, the wallet of one of the Anglin brothers was found on a beach.  Also, careful watch over the relatives and friends of the missing prisoners never showed any trace of contact between them (Alcatraz: FAQ).

            The prisoners escaped and entered the waters just after high tide from the west end of the island where the currents converge and form the worst undertow.  Only a professional swimmer in peak condition might make the swim (Alcatraz: FAQ).

            It would be possible to survive the cold waters and fast currents if a person was well-conditioned. However, prisoners had no control over their diet, no weightlifting and little physical training, and no knowledge of high and low tides (BOP: Alcatraz).

            Generally, it is believed impossible to survive a swim from the island due to the cold temperature of the water, 50 - 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the strong currents, and the distance to shore, at least 1.25 miles (BOP: Alcatraz).

            Alcatraz, a U.S. maximum security prison, closed on March 21, 1963, primarily because the institution was too expensive to operate. The major expense was due to the physical isolation of the island.  Food, water, fuel, and other supplies had to be brought to Alcatraz by boat (BOP: Alcatraz).

           The supply boat that visited Alcatraz regularly is the key to an alternative explanation as to how the escaped prisoners, Morris and the Anglin brothers, may have managed to brave the fierce waters, the extremely cold temperature, the raging current, the undertow, and the strenuous swim ashore.  If the prisoners were to be successful in their escape plan, which was well-calculated, since they had built a raft and spent a couple years plotting their escape, they would have had to be aware of a way to reach shore with the possibility of survival through the freezing, turbulent waters.

            There was plenty of information that could have leaked to the prisoners from the conversation of guards or other prisoners.  Even in near isolation, they would have had a view of the bleakness between the island and the distant shore.  However, they must have been cognizant of regular visits from the supply boat.

            If the prisoners could board the supply boat or cling to one of its supports in such a way that they were not visible to the guards, they could have avoided the near impossible swim to shore.  Since their actual bodies were never found, it can’t merely be assumed that they drowned when a viable alternative such as hitching a ride on one of the supply boats is a possibility.

            All the prisoners had to do was to learn when the supply boat came to shore on a regular basis, and to plan the precise time when they could link up with the boat’s route by taking a short raft trip to meet up with the boat.  It would be far less exerting to get to the supply boat than to combat the monstrous waters.

            Although there is no actual proof that the prisoners came ashore or near enough to shore to swim to safety by way of a supply boat, the possibility seems to be the only real alternative explanation other than assuming they drowned.  If their plan was to remain unseen, then there would obviously be no witnesses if they were successful in their full escape and survival plan.

            Unless there was an actual witness, or someone who comes forth and reveals that Frank Morris or one of the Anglin brothers had been spotted or interacted with members of their respective families, there may never be any real proof that they did survive for more than minutes or an hour or so after their escape.  However, the possibility still exists that they cheated Alcatraz, succeeded in their escape and survival, and went on to live out their lives somewhere other than in the confines of a prison cell.




Sullivan, Laura. (September 22, 2009). Mystery still swirls around Alcatraz escape.  NPR. Retrieved from

BOP: Alcatraz. Federal Bureau of Prisons, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from

Alcatraz: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Did anyone escape?  Retrieved from




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