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Alcatraz - Prison, Location and Al Capone

Alcatraz - Prison, Location and Al Capone

The federal prison on Alcatraz Island in the chilly waters of California’s San Francisco Bay housed some of America’s most difficult and dangerous felons during its years of operation from 1934 to 1963. Among those who served time at the maximum-security facility were the notorious gangster Al “Scarface” Capone (1899-1947) and murderer Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud (1890-1963). No inmate ever successfully escaped The Rock, as the prison was nicknamed, although more than a dozen known attempts were made over the years. After the prison was shut down due to high operating costs, the island was occupied for almost two years, starting in 1969, by a group of Native-American activists. Today, historic Alcatraz Island, which was also the site of a U.S. military prison from the late 1850s to 1933, is a popular tourist destination.

Early Years as a Military Prison

In 1775, Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala (1745-97) mapped and named rugged Alcatraz Island, christening it La Isla de los Alcatraces, or Island of the Pelicans, due to its large population of sea birds. Seventy-five years later, in 1850, President Millard Fillmore (1800-74) signed an order reserving the island for military use. During the 1850s, a fortress was constructed on Alcatraz and some 100 cannons were installed around the island to protect San Francisco Bay. Also during this time, Alcatraz became home to the West Coast’s first operational lighthouse.

By the late 1850s, the U.S. Army had begun holding military prisoners at Alcatraz. Isolated from the mainland by the cold, strong waters of San Francisco Bay, the island was deemed an ideal location for a prison. It was assumed no Alcatraz inmate could attempt to escape by swimming and survive.

During its years as a military prison, the inmates at Alcatraz included Confederate sympathizers and citizens accused of treason during the American Civil War (1861-65). Alcatraz also housed a number of “rebellious” American Indians, including 19 Hopis from the Arizona Territory who were sent to the prison in 1895 following land disagreements with the federal government. The inmate population at Alcatraz continued to rise during the Spanish-American War (1898).

During the early 20th century, inmate labor fueled the construction of a new cellhouse (the 600-cell structure still stands today) on Alcatraz, along with a hospital, mess hall and other prison buildings. According to the National Park Service, when this new complex was finished in 1912 it was the world’s largest reinforced concrete building.

Doing Time as a Federal Prison: 1934-63

In 1933, the Army relinquished Alcatraz to the U.S. Justice Department, which wanted a federal prison that could house a criminal population too difficult or dangerous to be handled by other U.S. penitentiaries. Following construction to make the existing complex at Alcatraz more secure, the maximum-security facility officially opened on July 1, 1934. The first warden, James A. Johnston (1874-1954), hired approximately one guard for every three prisoners. Each prisoner had his own cell.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) viewed Alcatraz as “the prison system’s prison,” a place where the most disruptive inmates could be sent to live under sparse conditions with few privileges in order to learn how to follow rules (at which point, they could be transferred to other federal prisons to complete their sentences). According to the BOP, Alcatraz typically held some 260 to 275 prisoners, which represented less than 1 percent of the entire federal inmate population.

Famous Inmates

Among those who did time at The Rock was the notorious Prohibition-era gangster Al “Scarface” Capone, who spent four-and-a-half years there during the 1930s. His arrival on the island generated headlines across America. Capone was sent to Alcatraz because his incarceration in Atlanta, Georgia, had allowed him to remain in contact with the outside world and continue to run his criminal operation in Chicago. He was also known to corrupt prison officers. All of that ended when he was sent to Alcatraz. According to the biography “Capone” by John Kobler, Capone once told the warden, “It looks like Alcatraz has got me licked.”

Other famous (or infamous) Alcatraz inmates included George “Machine Gun” Kelly (1895-1954), who spent 17 years there on a kidnapping conviction. Gangster Alvin “Creepy Karpis” Karpowicz (1907-79), listed as “Public Enemy No. 1″ by the FBI in the 1930s, spent over 25 years behind bars at Alcatraz, reportedly more time than any other prisoner. Murderer Robert Stroud, also known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” was transferred there after three decades at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Stroud arrived on the island in 1942 and served 17 years there; however, despite his nickname, he was not permitted to keep birds at Alcatraz as he had while locked up at Leavenworth.

Escape Attempts from Alcatraz

Over the years, there were 14 known attempts to escape from Alcatraz, involving 36 inmates. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that of these would-be escapees, 23 were captured, six were shot and killed during their attempted getaways, two drowned and five went missing and were presumed drowned.

The most famous escape attempt resulted in a battle, from May 2 to May 4, 1946, in which six prisoners overpowered cellhouse officers and were able to gain access to weapons, but not the keys needed to leave the prison. In the ensuing battle, the prisoners killed two correctional officers and injured 18 others. The U.S. Marines were called in, and the battle ended with the deaths of three of the rogue inmates and the trial of the three others, two of whom received the death penalty for their actions.

The Prison Closes Its Doors: 1963

The federal penitentiary at Alcatraz was shut down in 1963 because its operating expenses were much higher than those of other federal facilities at the time. (The prison’s island location meant all food and supplies had to be shipped in, at great expense.) Furthermore, the isolated island buildings were beginning to crumble due to exposure to the salty sea air. During nearly three decades of operation, Alcatraz housed a total of 1,576 men.

In 1969, a group of Native Americans led by Mohawk activist Richard Oakes (1942-72) arrived on Alcatraz Island and claimed the land on behalf of “Indians of All Tribes.” The activists hoped to establish a university and a museum on the island. Oakes left Alcatraz following the death there of his stepdaughter in 1970, and the remaining occupiers, whose ranks had become increasingly contentious and divided, were removed by order of President Richard M. Nixon (1913-94) in 1971. The island became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972 and was opened to the public a year later. Today, some 1 million tourists visit Alcatraz each year.

Al Capone

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Al Capone, byname of Alphonse Capone, also called Scarface, (born January 17, 1899, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.—died January 25, 1947, Palm Island, Miami Beach, Florida), American Prohibition-era gangster, who dominated organized crime in Chicago from 1925 to 1931 and became perhaps the most famous gangster in the United States.

What was Al Capone’s childhood like?

After leaving school at age 14, Al Capone worked as a candy store clerk, a bowling alley pinboy, an ammunition plant labourer, and a book bindery cutter while serving in two “kid gangs”—bands of delinquent children known for vandalism and petty crime that were common in early 20th-century New York.

What was Al Capone’s occupation?

Al Capone was a gangster who served aspiring New York mobsters Frankie Yale and Johnny Torrio. Capone was sent to Chicago and helped Torrio rid the city of their underworld competition. After Torrio retired, Capone became Chicago’s de facto crime czar, running gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging rackets and expanding his territories by gunning down rivals.

What is Al Capone best known for?

Chicago’s most infamous Prohibition-era crime boss, Al Capone is best known for his violence and ruthlessness in his elimination of his rivals. The most notorious of the bloodlettings is the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which seven members of Bugs Moran’s gang were machine-gunned in a garage on Chicago’s North Side on February 14, 1929.

How did Al Capone die?

Al Capone died of cardiac arrest in 1947, but his decline began earlier. After his transfer to Alcatraz prison, his mental and physical condition deteriorated from paresis (a late stage of syphilis). He was released in November 1939 and was sent to a Baltimore mental hospital before he retired to his Florida estate.

Capone’s parents immigrated to the United States from Naples in 1893. Al, the fourth of nine children, grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He attended school until the sixth grade, whence he dropped out at age 14 after striking a teacher. He worked a variety of odd jobs—as a candy store clerk, a bowling alley pinboy, a labourer in an ammunition plant, and a cutter in a book bindery—all the while serving in the South Brooklyn Rippers and Forty Thieves Juniors, two “kid gangs”—that is, bands of delinquent children known for vandalism and petty crime that were common in New York at the time.

Capone also became a member of the James Street Boys gang during this period, which was run by Johnny Torrio, the man that would become his lifelong mentor, and associated with the Five Points gang. At age 16 Capone became a member of the Five Points gang and served aspiring mobster Francesco Ioele (Torrio’s associate, more commonly known as Frankie Yale) as a bartender in Yale’s brothel-saloon, the Harvard Inn.

Before Capone turned 21, he was involved in several violent incidents. In a youthful scrape at the Harvard Inn, a young hoodlum named Frank Galluccio slashed Capone with a knife or razor across his left cheek after Capone made a crude comment to Galluccio’s sister, prompting the later nickname “Scarface.” Capone later shot the winner of a neighbourhood craps game to death as he robbed him of his winnings. Despite being questioned by the police, Capone was let go because no one had witnessed the murder. In another incident, Capone brutally assaulted a low-level member of the rival White Hand gang and left him for dead. Since White Hand gang leaders promised retribution, Yale sent Capone, his wife, and his young child to Chicago to work for Torrio.

Torrio had moved from New York to Chicago in 1909 to help run the giant brothel business under Chicago crime boss Big Jim Colosimo. Shortly after Capone’s arrival in the city in 1919, Colosimo was assassinated by either Yale or Capone himself in 1920 to make way for Torrio’s rule. As Prohibition began, new bootlegging operations opened up and drew in immense wealth. In 1924 Capone was responsible for the murder of Joe Howard in retribution for Howard’s earlier assault of one of Capone’s friends. William McSwiggin, an aggressive prosecutor, attempted but failed to indict Capone when the eyewitnesses to the killing, fearing harm, lost their nerve and denied remembering the incident. Later that year Torrio and Capone enlisted Yale and other associates to murder gang leader Dion O’Bannion in his flower shop. O’Bannion’s associates Hymie Weiss and George (“Bugs”) Moran were unsuccessful in their attempt to kill Torrio in early 1925.

After a stint in prison, Torrio retired to Italy, and Capone became crime czar of Chicago, running gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging rackets and expanding his territories by gunning down rivals and rival gangs. In 1926 Capone went into hiding for three months after he and some of his gunmen inadvertently killed McSwiggin while attacking other rivals. (That evening McSwiggin had been out drinking with two childhood friends, who were also beer runners, and other criminals when he was gunned down in the street.) Again Capone went unpunished. His wealth in 1927 was estimated at close to $100 million. The most notorious of the bloodlettings was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which seven members of Bugs Moran’s gang were machine-gunned in a garage on Chicago’s North Side on February 14, 1929. Also in 1929, Capone served some 10 months in Holmesburg Prison, in Philadelphia, after being convicted of possessing a concealed handgun. Many Americans were fascinated by the larger-than-life image of Capone. Indeed, the motion picture Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932), directed by Howard Hawks, starred Paul Muni in the role of a gangster loosely based on Capone, who reputedly obtained a copy of the film for private screenings.

On June 5, 1931, Capone was indicted for 22 counts of federal income-tax evasion for the years 1925 through 1929. On June 12 Capone and others were charged with conspiracy to violate Prohibition laws for the years 1922 to 1931. In October Capone was tried, found guilty on three of the 23 counts, and sentenced to 11 years in prison and $50,000 in fines and court costs. He entered Atlanta penitentiary in May 1932 but was transferred to the new Alcatraz prison in August 1934. In November 1939, suffering from the general deterioration of paresis (a late stage of syphilis), he was released and entered a Baltimore hospital. Later he retired to his Florida estate, where he died from cardiac arrest in 1947, a powerless recluse.

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

In 1929, Capone was ready to take out his larger rival, George "Bugs" Moran. He instructed his gang to take out Moran's entire organization from the bottom up until everyone was gone.

His organization pulled together a plan to meet up with the rival gang on Valentine's Day. Moran's gang originally thought the meeting was to buy unbelievably cheap liquor. When they arrived, they ran into Capone's crew in police uniforms.

Thinking they were busted by the police, Moran's gang lined up along the wall to be arrested. Capone's gang proceeded to shot them one by one. This event was the most famous mass murder in history up until that time and it was dubbed the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Understanding Al Capone’s Cause Of Death

Al Capone’s death was anything but simple.

His end arguably began with his initial contraction of syphilis, which had steadily burrowed into his organs for years. It was his stroke, however, that allowed the pneumonia to take hold within his body. That pneumonia preceded the cardiac arrest that ultimately killed him.

Ullstein Bild/Getty Images Capone spent his last years chatting with invisible guests and searching for his missing treasure.

Dr. Phillips wrote in the “primary cause” field of Capone’s death certificate that he died of “bronchial pneumonia 48 hours contributing apoplexy 4 days.”

Only the obituaries revealed the “paresis, a chronic brain disease causing loss of physical and mental power,” with the underlying neurosyphilis being left out entirely. Rumors that he had died from diabetes rather than syphilis floated around the world for years.

Ultimately, the true series of events made complete sense. Al Capone had degenerated to the mental capacity of a 12-year-old because the untreated syphilis had attacked his brain for years.

The stroke he experienced in 1947 weakened Capone’s immune system so thoroughly that he couldn’t fight off his pneumonia. So he suffered cardiac arrest as a result of it all — and died.

In the end, his loved ones offered the world an obituary as memorable as the gangster’s iconic personality:

“Death had beckoned to him for years, as stridently as a Cicero whore calling to a cash customer. But Big Al had not been born to pass out on a sidewalk or a coroner’s slab. He died like a rich Neapolitan, in bed in a quiet room with his family sobbing near him, and a soft wind murmuring in the trees outside.”


Construction Edit

The main cellhouse was built incorporating some parts of Fort Alcatraz's citadel, a partially fortified barracks from 1859 that had come to be used as a jail. A new cellhouse was built from 1910 to 1912 on a budget of $250,000 (approximately $6,800,000 in 2021), and upon completion, the 500 feet (150 m) long concrete building was reputedly the longest concrete building in the world at the time. This building was modernized in 1933 and 1934 and became the main cellhouse of the federal penitentiary until its closure in 1963. [4] : 76

When the new concrete prison was built, many materials were reused in its construction. Iron staircases in the interior and the cellhouse door near the barber's shop at the end of A-block were retained from the old citadel and massive granite blocks originally used as gun mounts were reused as the wharf's bulkheads and retaining walls. [5] Many of the old cell bars were used to reinforce the walls, causing structural problems later due to the fact that many placed near the edge were subject to erosion from the salt air and wind over the years. [5] [ dubious – discuss ]

After the United States Army's use of the island for over 80 years, it was transferred to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which hoped an escape-proof jail would help break the crime wave of the 1920s and 1930s. [6] The Department of Justice acquired the Disciplinary Barracks on Alcatraz on 12 October 1933, and it became a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility in August 1934. $260,000 was spent to modernize and improve it from January 1934. [7] [8] George Hess of the United States Public Health Service was appointed chief medical officer and Edward W. Twitchell became a consultant in psychiatry for Alcatraz in January 1934. [8]

The hospital was checked by three officials from the Marine Hospital of San Francisco. [8] The Bureau of Prisons personnel arrived on Alcatraz in early February among them was acting chief clerk Loring O. Mills. In April 1934, the old material was removed from the prison holes were cut in the concrete and 269 cell fronts were installed, built using four carloads of steel ordered from the Stewart Iron Works. [8]

Two of four new stairways were built, as were 12 doors to the utility corridors and gratings at the top of the cells. On 26 April, a small accidental fire broke out on the roof and an electrician injured his foot by dropping a manhole cover on it. [8] The Anchor Post Fence Company added fencing around Alcatraz and the Enterprise Electric Works added emergency lighting in the morgue and switchboard operations. [8]

In June 1934, the Teletouch Corporation of New York began the installation of an "electro-magnetic gun or metal detecting system" at Alcatraz detectors were added on the wharf, at the front entrance into the cellblock, and at the rear entrance gate. [8] The correctional officers were instructed on how to operate the new locking devices in July 1934, and both the United States Coast Guard and the San Francisco Police Department tested the new radio equipment. [8] Final checks and assessments were made on the first two days of August. [8]

Early history Edit

Alcatraz was intended for prisoners who continuously caused trouble at other federal prisons. It would be a "last resort prison", to hold the worst of the worst who had no hope of rehabilitation. [9] [10] On 11 August 1934, the first batch of 137 prisoners arrived at Alcatraz from the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, having traveled by rail to Santa Venetia, California. Before being escorted to Alcatraz, they were handcuffed in high-security coaches and guarded by some 60 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents, U.S. Marshals, and railway security officials. [8] [11] Most of the prisoners were notorious bank robbers, counterfeiters, or murderers. [11]

Among the first inmates were also 14 men from McNeil Island, Washington. [8] On 22 August 1934, 43 prisoners arrived from Atlanta Penitentiary and 10 from North Eastern Penitentiary, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. [8] On 1 September, one prisoner arrived from Washington Asylum and Jail and seven from the District of Columbia Reformatory in Virginia, and on 4 September, another batch of 103 prisoners arrived by train from Leavenworth. [8] Prisoners continued to arrive, mainly from Leavenworth and Atlanta, into 1935 and by 30 June 1935, the penitentiary's first anniversary, it had a population of 242 prisoners, although some inmates such as Verrill Rapp had already been transferred from Alcatraz some months earlier. [8]

On Alcatraz's first anniversary, the Bureau of Prisons wrote, "The establishment of this institution not only provided a secure place for the detention of the more difficult type of criminal but has had a good effect upon discipline in our other penitentiaries also. No serious disturbance of any kind has been reported during the year." The metal detectors often overheated and had to be turned off. After the Teletouch Corporation failed to address the problem, their contract was terminated in 1937 and they were charged over $200 for three new detectors supplied by Federal Laboratories. [8]

On 10 January 1935, a severe storm caused a landslide on Alcatraz, causing the Model Industries Building to slide. [8] This prompted a series of changes to the structures on the island. A riprap was built around the Model Industries Building, it was strengthened, and a guard tower added to the roof in June 1936. That same month, the barracks building was remodeled into 11 new apartments and nine single rooms for bachelors by this time there were 52 families living on Alcatraz, including 126 women and children. [8] The problems with the Model Industries Building and continuing utility problems with some of the old buildings and systems led to extensive updates in 1937, including new tool-proof grills on the ventilators of the cell house roof, two new boilers installed in the power house, and a new pump for salt water sanitation and guardrails added to stairways. [8]

In 1939–40, a $1.1 million redevelopment was begun, including construction of the New Industries Building, a complete overhaul of the power house with a new diesel engine, the building of a new water tower to solve the water storage problem, new apartment blocks for officers, improvements to the dock, and the conversion of D-block into isolation cells. [8] The changes were completed in July 1941. The workshops of the New Industries Building became highly productive, making Army uniforms, cargo nets, and other items in high demand during World War II. In June 1945, it was reported that the federal penitentiaries had made 60,000 nets. [8]

Reputation Edit

Alcatraz gained notoriety from its inception as the toughest prison in America, considered by many the world's most fearsome prison of the day. Former prisoners reported brutality and inhumane conditions which severely tested their sanity. [12] [13] [14] Ed Wutke was the first prisoner to commit suicide in Alcatraz. Rufe Persful chopped off his fingers after grabbing an axe from the firetruck, begging another inmate to do the same to his other hand. [14]

One writer described Alcatraz as "the great garbage can of San Francisco Bay, into which every federal prison dumped its most rotten apples." [15] In 1939, the new U.S. Attorney General, Frank Murphy, attacked the penitentiary, saying, "The whole institution is conductive to psychology that builds up a sinister ambitious attitude among prisoners." [8]

The prison's reputation was not helped by the arrival of more of America's most dangerous felons, including Robert Stroud, the "Birdman of Alcatraz", in 1942. He entered the prison system at age 19, and never left, spending 17 years at Alcatraz. Stroud killed a guard, tangled with other inmates and spent 42 of his 54 years in prison in solitary confinement. Despite its reputation, with many former inmates calling it "Hellcatraz", some prisoners reported that the living conditions there were much better than most other prisons in the country, especially the food, and many volunteered to come to Alcatraz. [6]

On 3 December 1940, Henri Young murdered fellow inmate Rufus McCain. Running downstairs from the furniture shop to the tailor's shop where McCain worked, Young violently stabbed McCain in the neck McCain died five hours later. [8] Young had been sent to Alcatraz for murder in 1933, and was later involved in an escape attempt during which gangster Doc Barker was shot to death. He spent nearly 22 months in solitary confinement as a result, but was eventually permitted to work in the furniture shop. Young went to trial in 1941, with his attorneys claiming that their client could not be held responsible for the murder, since he had allegedly been subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment" by prison guards prior to the act. The trial brought Alcatraz into further disrepute. [8] Ultimately, Young was convicted of manslaughter and his prison sentence was only extended by a few years.

Final years Edit

By the 1950s, conditions at Alcatraz had improved, and inmates were gradually permitted more privileges, such as playing musical instruments, watching movies on weekends, painting, and radio use the strict code of silence became more relaxed, and prisoners were permitted to talk quietly. [14] However, it was by far the most expensive prison in the United States, and many still perceived it as America's most extreme jail. [16] [8] In his annual report for 1952, Bureau of Prisons director James V. Bennett called for a more centralized institution to replace Alcatraz. [8]

A 1959 report indicated that the facility was over three times more expensive to run than the average American prison $10 per prisoner per day compared to $3 in most other prisons. [17] The problem was made worse by the buildings' structural deterioration from exposure to salt spray, which would require $5 million to fix. Major repairs began in 1958, but by 1961 engineers considered the prison a lost cause. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy submitted plans for a new maximum-security institution at Marion, Illinois. [8]

The June 1962 escape from Alcatraz led to acrimonious investigations. Combined with the major structural problems and expensive operation, this led to its closure on 21 March 1963. [17] The final Bureau of Prisons report said of Alcatraz: "The institution served an important purpose in taking the strain off the older and greatly overcrowded institutions in Atlanta, Leavenworth and McNeil Island since it enabled us to move to the smaller, closely guarded institution for the escape artists, the big-time racketeers, the inveterate connivers and those who needed protection from other groups." [8]

Today a museum and one of San Francisco's major tourist attractions, Alcatraz drew some 1.5 million visitors annually (2010). [18] [19] Visitors arrive by boat and are given a tour of the cellhouse and island, and a slide show and audio narration with anecdotes from former inmates, guards and rangers on Alcatraz. [20] The atmosphere of the former penitentiary is still considered to be "eerie", "ghostly" and "chilling". [20] Protected by the National Park Service and the National Register of Historic Places, the salt-damaged buildings of the former prison are now being restored and maintained. [21]

Escape attempts Edit

According to the prison's correctional officers, once a convict arrived on the Alcatraz wharf, his first thoughts were on how to leave. [22] During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed that no prisoner successfully escaped. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice 23 were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five are listed as "missing and presumed drowned". [23]

The first escape attempt was made on 27 April 1936, by Joseph Bowers, who was assigned to burn trash at the incinerator. He was scaling a chain link fence at the edge of the island when noticed. When he refused orders of the correctional officer located at the West Road guard tower to come down he was shot. He was seriously injured in the fall from over 15 m (50 ft) and consequently died. [6]

The second escape attempt was on 16 December 1937, by Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe. During their work assignment in one of the workshops, they cut the flat iron bars of the window and climbed into the bay. It was a stormy day and the sea was rough. They were thought dead by the prison authorities, who believed that they drowned in the bay and their bodies were swept out to sea. [6]

Battle of Alcatraz Edit

The most violent escape attempt occurred on 2–4 May 1946, when a failed attempt by six prisoners led to the Battle of Alcatraz, also known as the "Alcatraz Blast Out". Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, Sam Shockley, Clarence Carnes, Marvin Hubbard and Miran Thompson took control of the cell house by overpowering correctional officers, and were able to enter the weapons room, where they then demanded keys to the outside recreation door. [6] [24]

A quick-thinking guard, William Miller, turned over all but the key to the outer door, which he pocketed. The prisoners' aim was to escape by boat from the dock, but when they were unable to open the outside door, they decided to battle it out. They held Miller and a second guard hostage. Prompted by Shockley and Thompson, Cretzer shot the hostages at very close range. Miller succumbed to his injuries while the second guard, Harold Stites, was also killed at the cell house. Although Shockley, Thompson, and Carnes returned to their cells, the other three, Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard, persisted with their fight. [6] [24]

The U.S. Marines intervened and killed the three prisoners. In this battle, apart from the guards and prisoners killed, 17 other guards and one prisoner were also injured. Shockley, Thompson, and Carnes were tried for the killing of the correctional officers. Shockley and Thompson were sentenced to death in the gas chamber, which was carried out at San Quentin in December 1948. However, Carnes, who was only 19 years of age, was given a second life sentence. [6] [24]

"Escape from Alcatraz" Edit

On 11 June 1962, Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin attempted to escape using careful planning. Behind their cells in Cell Block B was a 3-foot (0.91 m) wide unguarded utility corridor. The prisoners chiseled away the salt-damaged concrete from around an air vent leading to this corridor, using tools such as a metal spoon soldered with silver from a dime and an electric drill improvised from a stolen vacuum cleaner motor. The noise was disguised by accordions played during music hour, and the progress was concealed by false walls which, in the dark recesses of the cells, fooled the guards. [6]

The escape route led up through a fan vent the prisoners removed the fan and motor, replacing them with a steel grill and leaving a shaft large enough for a prisoner to enter. Stealing a carborundum abrasive cord from the prison workshop, the prisoners then removed the rivets from the grill. In their beds, they placed papier-mâché dummies made with human hair stolen from the barbershop. Over many weeks, the escapees also made an inflatable raft from over 50 stolen raincoats, which they prepared on the top of the cell block, concealed from the guards by sheets which had been put up over the sides. They escaped through a vent in the roof and departed Alcatraz. [6] [24]

The FBI investigation was aided by another prisoner, Allen West, who was part of the escapees' group but was left behind. West's false wall kept slipping so he held it in place with cement, which set. When Morris and the Anglins accelerated the schedule, West desperately chipped away at the wall, but by the time he got out, his companions were gone. Hundreds of leads and theories have been pursued by the FBI and local law enforcement officials in the ensuing years, but no conclusive evidence has ever surfaced favoring the success or failure of the attempt. The FBI's investigation was eventually closed in December 1979. [25] The official report on the escape concludes that the prisoners drowned in the cold waters of the bay while trying to reach the mainland, it being unlikely that they made it the 1.25 miles to shore due to the strong ocean currents and the cold sea water temperatures ranging between 50 to 55 °F (10 to 13 °C). [6] [24]

The U.S. Marshals Service case file remains open and active. Morris and the Anglin brothers remain on its wanted list. [26] Circumstantial evidence uncovered in the early-2010s seemed to suggest that the men had survived, and that contrary to the official FBI report of the escapee's raft never being recovered and no car thefts being reported, a raft was discovered on nearby Angel Island with footprints leading away, and a 1955 blue Chevrolet had been stolen on the night of the escape by three men, who could have been Morris and the Anglins, and that officials then engaged in a cover-up. [27] Relatives of the Anglin brothers presented further circumstantial evidence in the mid-2010s in support of a longstanding rumor that the Anglin brothers had fled to Brazil following the escape a facial recognition analyst concluded that the one piece of physical evidence, a 1975 photograph of two men resembling John and Clarence Anglin, did support that conclusion. [28] [29]

The prison initially had a staff of 155, including the first warden James A. Johnston and associate warden Cecil J. Shuttleworth, both considered to be "iron men". [11] None of the staff were trained in rehabilitation but were highly trained in security. [11] The guards' and staff's salaries varied. A new guard arriving in December 1948 was offered $3,024.96 per year, but there was a 6% deduction for retirement taxes a year (amounting to $181.50). [30] The guards typically worked 40-hour weeks with five 8-hour shifts. [30]

Guards who worked between 6 pm and 6 am were given a 10% increase and guards doing overtime had to be reported and authorized by the warden. [30] Officers generally had to pay 25 cents for meals and were charged $10 to rent an apartment on the island, to include laundry service, although larger families were charged anything from $20–43 a month for larger quarters and charged additional for laundry. [30] In 1960, a Bureau of Prisons booklet revealed that the average prison population between 1935 and 1960 was 263 the highest recorded was 302 in 1937 and the lowest recorded was 222 in 1947. [31]

The main administration center was at the entrance to the prison, which included the warden's office. The office contained a desk with radio and telegraph equipment, typewriter, and a telephone. [32] The administrative office section also had the offices of the associate warden and secretary, mail desk, captain's desk, a business office, a clerk's office, an accounting office, a control room which was added with modern technology in 1961, the officer's lounge, armory and vault, and a visiting area and restrooms. The basement of Alcatraz prison contained dungeons and the showers. The main stairway to the dungeon lay along Sunrise Alley at the side of A-Block, but the dungeons were also accessible by a staircase in a trapdoor along the corridor of D-Block. All visits to Alcatraz required prior written approval from the warden. [33]

A hospital had originally been installed at Alcatraz during its time as a military prison in the late 19th century. [34] During its time as a federal penitentiary, it was located above the dining hall on the second floor. Hospital staff were U.S. Public Health Service employees assigned to the Federal Prison Service at Alcatraz. [35] Doctors often lasted fewer than several days or months at Alcatraz, because few of them could tolerate the violent inmates who would often terrify them if they failed to be given certain drugs. [35] Prisoners in ill health were often kept in the hospital, most famously Stroud and Al Capone, who spent years in it. [36] [37]

Security Edit

When the Bureau of Prisons established the Federal Penitentiary on 1 January 1934, they took measures to strengthen the security of the prison cells to make Alcatraz "escape-proof", and also to improve living conditions for their own staff. Up-to-date technologies for enhancing security and comfort were added to the buildings. Guard towers were built outside at four strategic locations, cells were rebuilt and fitted with "tool-proof steel cell fronts and locking devices operated from control boxes", and windows were made covered with iron grills. Electromagnetic metal detectors were placed at the entrances of the dining hall and workshops, with remote controlled tear gas canisters at appropriate locations, remote controlled gun galleries with machine gun armed guards were installed to patrol along the corridors. [38]

Improvements were made to the toilet and electricity facilities, old tunnels were sealed up with concrete to avoid hiding and escape by prisoners, and substantial changes and improvements were made to the housing facilities of guards, wardens and captain to live with their families, with quality relative to rank. Warden Johnston, U.S. Attorney General Homer Cummings, and Sanford Bates, first director of the Bureau of Prisons, collaborated very closely to create "a legendary prison" suited to the times, which resulted in the Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary being nicknamed "Uncle Sam's Devil's Island." [38]

Despite Alcatraz being designed to house the "worst of the worst" of criminals who caused problems at other prisons, under the guidelines and regulations set by the strict prison administrators, courts could not direct a prisoner to be directly sent to Alcatraz, however notorious they were for misbehavior and attempted escape from other prisons. [38] Prisoners entering Alcatraz would undergo vigorous research and assessments prior to their arrival. Security in the prison was very tight, with constant checking of bars, doors, locks, electrical fixtures, and other physical security. [39]

Prisoners were normally counted 13 times daily, and the ratio of prisoners to guards was the lowest of any American prison of the time. [40] [41] The front door was made of solid steel, virtually impossible for any prisoners to escape through. [42] The island had many guard towers, most of which have since been demolished, which were heavily guarded at various points in the day at times when security may have been breached. For instance, there were guard towers on each of the industry buildings to ensure that inmates didn't attempt to escape during the work day shifts. [12]

The recreation yard and other parts of the prison had a 25-foot fence around it topped with barbed wire, [12] should any inmates attempt to escape during exercise. One former employee of the jail likened his prison job to being a zoo keeper or his old farm job, due to the fact that prisoners were treated like animals, sending them out to "plow the fields" when some of them worked during the day, and then counting them up and feeding them and so on. [39] He referred to those four years of his life working in the prison as a "total waste of his life". [39] The corridors were regularly patrolled by the guards, with passing gates along them. The most heavily trafficked corridor was "Broadway" between B and C Block, due to its being the central corridor of the prison and passed not only by guards but other prison workers. [43]

At the end of each 20-minute meal in the dining hall, the forks, spoons and knives were laid out on the table and carefully counted to ensure that nothing had been taken as a potential weapon. In the earlier years as a prison, prisoners were forbidden from talking while eating, but this was later relaxed, provided that the prisoners communicated quietly. [39] [44]

The gun gallery was situated in the Recreation Yard and mounted on one of the dining hall's exterior walls. [45] There was a metal detector outside of the dining hall for security purposes. The dining hall had tear-gas canisters attached to the rafters of the ceiling which could be activated by remote control, should prisoners riot or attempt to escape. [46] [13] The first warden, James A. Johnston, always entered the dining hall alone and unarmed, due to heavy guarding around him. [47] Several riots did break out in the dining hall during Alcatraz's history. Those prisoners who were not involved in the fighting hid under the dining hall tables to escape possible gunfire. [48]

Wardens Edit

Paul Joseph Madigan (1897–1974) was the third warden of Alcatraz. He had earlier served as the last Associate Warden during the term of James A. Johnston. He was the only warden who had worked his way up from the bottom of the ranks of the prison staff hierarchy, having worked originally as a Correctional Officer on Alcatraz from the 1930s. [52] [51] On 21 May 1941, Madigan was the key to quashing an escape attempt after being held hostage in the Model Industries Building, which later led to his promotion as associate warden. [53] He was a stout, ruddy-faced, pipe-smoking, devout Irish Catholic. [54] Unlike his predecessors, Madigan was known for being more lenient and softer in his approach to administering the prison and was better liked by the prison staff. [52]

Olin Guy Blackwell (1915–1986) was the fourth and final warden of Alcatraz. Associate Warden to Paul J. Madigan from April 1959, [53] Blackwell served as warden of Alcatraz at its most difficult time from 1961 to 1963, when it was facing closure as a decaying prison with financing problems, coinciding with the timing of the infamous June 1962 escape from Alcatraz. At the time of the 1962 escape he was on vacation in Lake Berryessa in Napa County, and he didn't believe the men could have survived the waters and made it to shore. [55] Blackwell was considered to have been the least strict warden of Alcatraz, perhaps in part due to him having been a heavy drinker and smoker, nicknamed "Gypsy" and known as "Blackie" to his friends. [53] He was said to have been an excellent marksman who had earlier served as Associate Warden of Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.

Warden James Johnston and the &lsquoDevil&lsquos prison of America&rsquo

The first warden of Alcatraz was a man by the name of James Johnston, and one notable thing about him is that he didn&rsquot believe in ghosts. That may have changed one day when he was leading a group of guests on a tour of the &ldquoDevil&rsquos prison of America.&rdquo

Contributor Bettmann via Getty Images

As Johnston was telling the guests about the intricacies of the prison, all of a sudden, he stopped, and the entire group heard the unmistakable sound of a woman crying. It appeared to be coming from the walls, and as the sobs rose in volume, a cold wind swept through the room. Not one guest took another step forward, and Johnston could never explain why they heard what they did.

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I think its haunted I read all the comments and I'm going there soon so I'm going to see if it's haunted. anon325213 March 14, 2013

If it's not haunted, then why did a person die in a strip cell screaming that a monster was killing him slowly? He screamed all night and then there was silence, and when the guards when to check on him he was strangled to death by someone else. He didn't kill himself. anon319952 February 15, 2013

what happened to the prisoners from Alcatraz after it closed?

You can't say it's not haunted because you weren't there at the time. You don't know how the inmates were treated and you don't know how many people died there. It's full of misery and I think it's haunted. Horrible times call for a horrible story. It was a prison in the 1900's -- think about it. anon241004 January 16, 2012

Whether or not it's haunted, I don't know. But I went there years ago and that was when I saw a dead body for the first time. On the ferry ride back from Alcatraz a woman jumped off the boat and died. The boat turned around and went back looking for her and we (my classmates and I) saw her dead, floating in the water. It's an image that even now 14 years later I can't get out of my mind. I don't think I'll ever go back. anon167959 April 14, 2011

I think it is haunted, I was there (daytime) but I still saw some weird things. In the library I saw a book slide out from under a shelf or something and slide back in, it only got out like 2 centimeters though. anon127283 November 15, 2010

i doubt it's haunted. my mom said there is no such thing as ghosts, only spirits like demons and stuff and if they are real the bible says not to mess with them. They won't mess with you if you don't mess with them. anon126306 November 12, 2010

is it haunted? If it is, why don't you spend the night after hours when no one is there. Just avoid security, if there is any. Take a video camera and a flashlight and videotape this so called haunting? Put it online. anon121211 yesterday

Haunted? Horse hockey. People will believe whatever they want to scare themselves into believing. It's an old, decrepit prison where "spooky" sounds happen. As for "Ghost Hunters" what a laugh. Anything for a buck, anything for a rating. I have seen that load of crap they try to peddle. Pure junk and bunk.

Alcatraz is a fascinating place for it's history, a look into the past and the lives of those criminals who needed to be kept out of a civilized world. Also a look at an island that holds a truly historical existence well before the military and Federal prison eras.

If you go looking for spooks, you will find them as the mind has an unlimited amount, only limited by your imagination. Personally, I go for the history and it is a very rich and rewarding experience. anon109494 September 7, 2010

i do believe it is is haunted. my mom once went there and she said it was awesome. anon106621 August 26, 2010

Guys it's haunted. If you don't believe me watch Ghost Hunters. It's amazing what they find at the end. "Harry Brunette" and I don't think they could have faked that stuff. anon104139 August 15, 2010

Alcatraz is such a funny place. i have been there and it was not that scary. anon96955 July 17, 2010

Alcatraz is most definitely haunted, and those of you who don't believe so should go there yourselves. i have been there, so i know. these are not stories either. there's evil in that place and if you're scared the tiniest bit by the paranormal i really do suggest you not go there. i'm still shaken up about it. anon89087 June 8, 2010

I'm going to visit it one day. anon89085 June 8, 2010

Alcatraz or Alcatraz is a place with lots of paranormal activities especially in cell 14, which belonged to Frank Norris who haunts the place.

Believe me: and my mates have been in there and my bag went flying. anon78619 April 19, 2010

I read that it is mainly in one area but i can't remember where! and i have been there! anon75619 April 7, 2010

wow, guys. alcatraz is haunted. i've been there. anon74312 April 1, 2010

No, i don't think it's haunted! i think it's just a story somebody tried to come up with. people bore very easily these days and if someone really wanted to know the truth they should go to the museums and see for themselves. anon73755 March 29, 2010

i think it's haunted and that's my opinion. anon73258 March 26, 2010

wow. pretty scary. i would want to go see for myself if it's really haunted. anon71474 March 18, 2010

i don't think al capone would be there as a ghost because he was set free from Alcatraz. anon69041 March 5, 2010

Alcatraz is not haunted by ghosts, or haunted by convicts, murderer, hardened criminals. It's a big old dirty prison that was abandoned because it was too costly to run. Yikes. What's the fascination of that? anon68752 March 4, 2010

Honestly. Alcatraz is not haunted. It's just disturbing knowing that I myself have stood where Al Capone and George Kelly have also. There is no such thing as ghosts. anon67979 February 28, 2010

I really don't think that Alcatraz is haunted. it does seem creepy but not in a haunted way. anon64184 February 5, 2010

alcatraz was on a ghost show and they proved that it was haunted and i do believe in some things and that is one of them. now some of the stuff may be fake but i do believe there is something there. anon55175 December 5, 2009

haunted, really? yeah right. i've been there myself. its not haunted -- just really big and dirty! I can't believe that people really think alcatraz is haunted. If there is such thing as alcatraz phobia, people who think alcatraz is haunted have it! anon51854 November 9, 2009

well there's a show, the othersiders on cartoon network, and they went there and they heard clanks and bangs and even heard al capone playing his banjo. because that was a report and al capone did have a banjo while he was at alcatraz and he would play it because he was so bored. anon51819 November 9, 2009

i wonder if any one ever got out of the prison successful? what cell was al capone in? anon50837 November 1, 2009

im wondering if it is. i think it is just because it's so old. anon50331 October 27, 2009

*gulp* my friend says there are spirits there at night. it's scary. anon49874 yesterday

you can say it's haunted once you prove it. anon36877 July 15, 2009

anon, I hate to bust your buble but Alcatraz is not haunted. I worked there for five years as a park ranger and a guard (not the prison type). I knew the park ranger who started the shark with the fins cut off rumor. (she did it to see just "how stupid can people be") If you are a history buff by all means go there. it is a historic site, though most of the interesting stories I don't believe are told. have fun but no ghosts. rick anon35955 July 8, 2009

well. there were a lot of deaths at Alcatraz. I have a pretty good idea that it's haunted. maybe. anon21166 November 11, 2008

i wonder how haunted this prison really is. i want to go one day and see for myself. anon8785 February 20, 2008

The Anglin Brothers

John and Clarence were brothers born into a family of 13 children. They both worked various farming and labor jobs until the two decided that robbery seemed like a more lucrative way to make a living. The brothers usually chose places that were closed to ensure nobody got hurt, and in one of their robberies, they even used a toy gun to prevent real harm.

While imprisoned in Atlanta, they attempted to escape more than once but never made it far. Eventually, they were both transferred to Alcatraz to serve out the remainder of their sentences for robbery.

Alcatraz Island

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Alcatraz Island, byname The Rock, rocky island in San Francisco Bay, California, U.S. The island occupies an area of 22 acres (9 hectares) and is located 1.5 miles (2 km) offshore.

The island had little vegetation and was a seabird habitat when it was explored in 1775 by Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala, who named it Isla de los Alcatraces (“Isle of the Pelicans”). Sold in 1849 to the U.S. government, Alcatraz was the site of the first lighthouse (1854) on the coast of California. Thereafter other buildings were erected on the island, and the first permanent army detachment was garrisoned there in 1859. In 1861 the island was designated a residence for military offenders. Later prisoners included some 19 Hopi Indians from the Arizona Territory who passively resisted government attempts to assimilate them and American soldiers fighting in the Philippines who had joined the Filipino cause in 1900. In 1907 the island was designated the Pacific Branch of the United States Military Prison.

From 1934 to 1963 it served as a federal prison for some of the most dangerous civilian prisoners. Among its famous denizens were Al Capone, George (“Machine Gun”) Kelly, and Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz” (the subject of the 1962 film of the same name). Although the Alcatraz penitentiary was able to house 450 convicts in cells that measured about 10 by 4.5 feet (3 by 1.5 metres), no more than 250 prisoners ever occupied the island at one time. Escape attempts were rare, but a few inmates did escape from the island whether they survived the currents of the bay is unknown. One daring escape was popularized in the film Escape from Alcatraz (1979). Eventually the necessity of transporting fresh water to and waste away from the island resulted in its abandonment in 1963.

In March 1964 a group of Native Americans claimed the island, citing an 1868 treaty with the Sioux allowing Indians from the reservation to claim any “unoccupied government land” however, they occupied Alcatraz for only several hours. In November 1969 Indian activists, including members of the American Indian Movement, occupied the island again, demanding the deed to the island and refusing to leave until they were forced off by federal marshals in June 1971.

In 1972 Alcatraz became part of the newly created Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Although no effort has been made to repair the structures on the island—most have suffered general decay and weathering, and the historic lighthouse and four other buildings burned in 1970 (the lighthouse survived, but the other buildings were largely destroyed)—Alcatraz Island is now open to the public and is a popular tourist destination.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy McKenna, Senior Editor.

Alcatraz Escape

In its heyday, it was the ultimate maximum security prison.

Located on a lonely island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz—aka “The Rock”—had held captives since the Civil War. But it was in 1934, the highpoint of a major war on crime, that Alcatraz was re-fortified into the world’s most secure prison. Its eventual inmates included dangerous public enemies like Al Capone, criminals who had a history of escapes, and the occasional odd character like the infamous “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

In the 1930s, Alcatraz was already a forbidding place, surrounded by the cold, rough waters of the Pacific. The redesign included tougher iron bars, a series of strategically positioned guard towers, and strict rules, including a dozen checks a day of the prisoners. Escape seemed near impossible.

Despite the odds, from 1934 until the prison was closed in 1963, 36 men tried 14 separate escapes. Nearly all were caught or didn’t survive the attempt.

The fate of three particular inmates, however, remains a mystery to this day. Here is their story.

Watch the video: Al Capone Home and Bunker (January 2022).