Does this picture prove that three men actually survived the daring escape from Alcatraz?
Published 13/10/2015 | 12:12
It has gone down in history as the ultimate in fortresses: a rock in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, from which no one could ever escape and live to tell the tale.
But now that history is being called into question.
Two men, whose uncles broke out of Alcatraz in 1962, are convinced that their ancestors did in fact make it out alive.
John and Clarence Anglin, armed robbers, were thought until now to have perished at sea beside Frank Morris, another inmate, in an escapade immortalised by Clint Eastwood in the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz.
A total of 36 people are known to have attempted to break out, although none is thought to have succeeded.
Yet Ken and David Widner believe that their uncles did survive, and are possibly still alive, in their 80s, living in Brazil.
“Alcatraz officials were not willing to say, ‘Maybe they did make it,’ ” said David Widner, 48. “That gave me the motive to prove them wrong.”
The story began in 1960, when John Anglin – one of 14 children born to a poor family in Georgia – was sent to Alcatraz. Unlike many of the prisoners, such as mafia bosses Al Capone and Whitey Bulger, he had only ever carried out bank robberies – with a toy gun. But had attempted to escape several times and so was put behind bars in the “inescapable” jail. A year later his brother Clarence joined him.
The brothers made friends with Frank Morris, a robber and drug dealer, and the three hatched a plan to dig out of their cells and sail the two miles to land on a raft made from stolen raincoats. To fool the guards, they learnt to paint and made lifelike papier-mâché heads, with real hair from the barbers’ shop, and stuffed their beds with sheets.
The trio broke out in June 1962, and were never seen again. A pile of bones on the coast was believed to be their final remains.
But the Widners never believed it.
For three years John and Clarence’s mother received a Christmas card, signed by her sons. The handwriting was analysed and believed to be theirs – although the date of the cards could never be proven.
The family finally gave permission for the elder Anglin brother, Alfred, to be exhumed and his DNA tested against that of the bones. Alfred Anglin had been executed while trying to escape from a prison in Alabama. But his DNA did not match the bones.
Whitey Bulger, the Boston mobster whose life is the basis of Johnny Depp’s current film Black Mass, was in Alcatraz at the same time as the brothers, and in 2014 wrote to the Widners to say he had given them tips on avoiding recapture.
“He taught them that when you disappear, you have to cut all ties,” said Ken Widner. “He told me in a letter, ‘This is the mistake that I made.’
“He told me, ‘These brothers undoubtedly had done exactly what I told them to do.’ ”
Most striking of all are a series of photographs of the three men – Morris and the two Anglin brothers – looking significantly older than when they escaped.
An investigation last year has illustrated how, if the men boarded the rafts at exactly the right moment – between 11pm and midnight – and paddled hard to the north, they could have made it across the treacherous strait.
“When you work these types of cases, there’s a feeling you get when stuff starts to fall into place,” said Art Roderick, the retired US marshal who was lead investigator on the case for 20 years. “I’m getting this feeling now.”
The Widners’ findings are to be broadcast on Monday night on The History Channel. David Widner is now working on a book, and investigators are considering exploring the suggestion that the men fled to South America. They are still considered wanted – although their advanced age would make a return to prison unlikely, even if they are found alive.
But Mr Roderick believes the legend of Alcatraz could be rewritten.
“This is absolutely the best actionable lead we’ve had,” he said.