John William Anglin (1930-??) and Clarence Anglin (1931-??) were Georgia bank robbers who were arrested in 1958 and ultimately sent to Alcatraz. Both John and Clarence escaped in June 1962 and were never seen again.
Born into a family of 13 children in Donalsonville, Georgia, their parents, George Robert Anglin and Rachael Van Miller Anglin, were seasonal farmworkers. In the early 1940s, the family moved to Ruskin, Florida, 20 miles south of Tampa, where the truck farms and tomato fields provided a more reliable source of income. Still, every June, they would move north as far as Michigan to pick cherries. Clarence and John were reportedly inseparable as youngsters.
The first to get in trouble was Clarence when he got caught breaking into a service station when he was just 14 years old. By the early 1950s, both brothers were regularly robbing banks and other establishments, usually when the businesses were closed. They would later claim that the only “weapon” they ever used was a toy gun during a bank robbery. Their luck ran out after they robbed the Bank of Columbia in Columbia, Alabama. Clarence, John, and their older brother Alfred were arrested five days later in Ohio. They were given 15-20 year sentences, and sent to the Atlanta Penitentiary, where they first met Frank Lee Morris and Allen West). Alfred Anglin remained in the federal prison in Atlanta until he was later transferred to Kilby State Prison in Montgomery, Alabama, to begin serving his Alabama sentence for the Columbia bank robbery. Alfred was killed in an escape attempt from Kilby on January 11, 1964.
Meanwhile, Clarence and John were sent to the Florida State Prison and then to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. When the pair tried to escape from Leavenworth, they were sent to Alcatraz with John arriving on October 21, 1960, and Clarence arriving on January 10, 1961. Inside of a year, they began to plan an elaborate escape attempt with Frank Morris and Allen West.
By late May 1962, the four had all finished cutting through the walls of their cells and on June 11th, Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers climbed a ventilation shaft through one of the chimneys and reached the top of the roof. Allen West, who was believed to have been the mastermind in the escape plot, did not escape as planned for unknown reasons. The three men who escaped then climbed down the rooftop and paddled away on home-made rubber rafts. A full-out search was conducted the next morning, but the three were never found. Four days after their escape, a small pouch of photographs linked to Clarence Anglin was found floating near the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Officially, it was presumed that all three had drowned, but just in case, the three men were placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Some have said that at least one survived, as a man claiming to be John Anglin had called a lawyer in San Francisco the day after the escape. He wanted the lawyer to arrange a meeting with the US Marshals Office, but when he refused, the man hung up. The escape was made famous in the 1979 movie Escape from Alcatraz, starring Clint Eastwood.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated September 2021.
Thank you to David Hunter, Historian of the Columbia Historical Society, Columbia, Alabama, for additional information on the Anglin brothers.