The Alcatraz Escape Chapter 1: The Big Four


Hannah Barham

In the freezing cold waters of San Francisco Bay, nests a remote island. Upon that island, an architectural masterpiece. Stone walls, isolation. This is the home of America’s most secure and hard prison: Alcatraz. Alcatraz was erected in 1934, and it was built to house the most dangerous of criminals. With it’s frigid waters and (seemingly) impossible escape routes, there was no way you would get off of that island. You were surely going to perish in the cold cracked walls of the overwhelming presence of Alcatraz.

…Unless you were Allen West, Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin, that is. These four inmates are by far one of the most clever prison inmates in prison history. These four put their heads together and concocted the most foolproof escape plan with their little access to the outside world, their lack of resources, and most importantly, their heavy surveillance. Let’s get into the background of the inmates.

The mastermind of this escape was Frank Lee Morris, who was no stranger to the law. Frank Morris was born on September 1st in 1926, and at the age of 11 he was orphaned and sent to live in a series of foster homes. And at the age of 13, Morris started to get into more and more trouble with the law, being in and out of prisons. His criminal record was three pages long. Three. Until he ended up in Alcatraz under the number #AZ1441. Morris had also a series of successful prison breaks that he had plotted, so that spurred him to create this plan to escape the Rock- the nickname of Alcatraz Island. With his IQ of 133, he knew that he had to make a plan. But he couldn’t do it alone. 

Then he met John and Clarence Anglin, who were born in 1930 and 1931. The two were from Georgia and were two out of 13 children. The two boys were farmhands. They were relocated to Tampa Florida with the family in the 1940s. Clarence first started the life of crime when he was 14 after being accused of breaking and entering. It had been documented that the two brothers had been quite close during their younger years, so I think they may have been pretty excited when they heard they were going to the same prison. Clarence and John started robbing banks together during the early 1950s. The brothers would get out of their crimes by claiming that they used toy guns during the robbery, not actual guns. However, they robbed the Bank of Columbia in Alabama. After attempting to escape prison, they were sent to the big dog of prisons: Alcatraz. This actually wasn’t the first time the two had met Frank Morris. They had previously met in a completely different prison in Florida, only to be reunited again at Alcatraz. 

Moving onto our final escapee, Allen West. West was born in New York City on March 25th in 1929. He was convicted of carjacking and, just like the other guys, escaping from prison. And coincidentally, he also met Frank, John, and Clarence in Florida State Penitentiary. He was sent to Alcatraz after an escape attempt. Now that the four escapees were in Alcatraz, it was time to plot the escape. For good.