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Alcatraz - Page 4

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Alcatraz Administration Building

Alcatraz Administration Building, July, 2009, Kathy Weiser.




The routine was unyielding, day after day, year after year. As quickly as privileges were earned they could be revoked for the slightest infraction of the rules.


The only "redeeming” qualities of the prison were the private cells and quality of food served at the prison. These too had their reasons. The first was to further isolate these hardened criminals, while the second was to prevent riots that were often known to start in other prisons because of the poor quality of food.


Though the vast majority of Alcatraz's prisoners were never seen on a wanted poster, other notorious criminals held at the prison over the years included two members of the Ma Barker Gang – Arthur "Doc” Barker, the last surviving son, and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, who was in a partnership with Ma Barker.




Arthur "Doc" BakerOther notorious criminals included Robert "Birdman of Alcatraz" Stroud, and Floyd Hamilton, a gang member and driver for Bonnie and Clyde.


While members of Ma Barker’s gang of hoodlums, Doc Barker and Alvin "Creepy” Karpis, terrorized the Midwest between 1931 and 1936. Their many crimes included murder, bank robbery, kidnapping, and train robbery. Karpis’ flamboyant style had earned him the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover and soon found himself with the infamous distinction of being "Public Enemy No. 1.”


Doc Barker was arrested in January, 1935 and later sent to Alcatraz from Leavenworth. He was killed in an escape attempt from Alcatraz in 1939. Carpis, who was arrested in New Orleans in May, 1936, found himself in Alcatraz just a few months later. He spent the next 26 years on the "Rock” before being transferred to McNeil Island in April, 1962. In 1969, he was released and deported to his homeland of Canada. Carpis died in 1979.


Robert "Birdman of Alcatraz" StroudRobert Stroud, known as the Birdman of Alcatraz, received very little notoriety until he gained attention in the 1962 movie "The Birdman of Alcatraz.” Stroud, who was convicted of manslaughter in 1909, was initially sent to McNeil Island to serve a 12 year sentence. While there, he was difficult to manage and after attacking an orderly, he was sent to Leavenworth. After less than four years at the Kansas prison, he killed a guard, and was later sentenced to hang. After his mother appealed to President Wilson, the sentence was commuted to life.  It was during Stroud’s thirty years as a prisoner at Leavenworth that he began to study birds, which gained him international attention. When Stroud began to openly violate prison rules to continue his birding experiments and communications with bird breeders, he was sent to Alcatraz in 1942, where he never again was permitted to continue his avian studies.


The "Birdman” occupied a cell in D Block for approximately six years, before he was moved to the prison hospital in 1948, for the purpose of segregating him from the rest of the population. After he genuinely became ill, he was transferred to a Federal Medical Facility in Springfield, Missouri in 1959. Four years later, Stroud died of natural causes.


Though the prison was heavily fortified and it was assumed that the "treacherous waters” of the San Francisco Bay would prevent any escape, several attempts were made throughout the years.


From a total of 1,545 prisoners that spent time at the federal prison, 36 men attempted to escape in fourteen 14 separate attempts. Of those, 20 were captured, seven were shot and killed, two drowned, and five were never found, assumed by prison authorities to have drowned.


Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe were the first to disappear from Alcatraz on December 16, 1937. While working in one of the workshops, Cole and Roe had, over a period of time, filed their way through the flat iron bars on a window. After climbing through the window, they made their way to the water’s edge and disappeared into San Francisco Bay. Prison authorities declared them to have drowned but four years later, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter reported the men were alive and well in South America.


The bloodiest escape attempt occurred over a three day period on May 2-4, 1946. In this incident, known as the "Battle of Alcatraz,” six men by the names of Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, Sam Shockley, Clarence Carnes, Marvin Hubbard and Miran Thompson, took control of the cell house. Overpowering officers and gaining access to weapons and keys, they planned to escape through the recreation yard door. However, when they found they didn’t have the key to the outside door, they decided to fight rather than giving up. During the next couple of days, the prisoners killed two of the guards they had taken hostage. Eventually Shockley, Thompson, and Carnes returned to their cells, but Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard continued to fight.


The U.S. Marines were eventually called out to assist and the escape attempt ended. In the melee, Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard were killed, and 17 guards and one prisoner were wounded. Shockley, Thompson, and Carnes later stood trial for the death of the officers; Shockley and Thompson received the death penalty and were executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin in December 1948. Carnes, just 19 years old at the time, received a second life sentence.


On July 11, 1962, Clarence Anglin, his brother John, and Frank Morris also disappeared from Alcatraz. Their escape was made famous by Clint Eastwood's movie, "Escape From Alcatraz.”


The three escapees, along with another man by the name of Alan (Clayton) West, made plaster heads with real hair swept from the barber shop floor. On the night of the escape, they left the heads on their beds and crept through the ventilators in their cells, which had been widened with stolen spoons from the kitchen, into the utility corridor. West could not fit through his hole and remained behind. From there, they made their way to the roof, then down to the water’s edge. Though prison authorities believed the men had drowned, no bodies were ever recovered.


During the last escape from Alcatraz on December 12, 1962, John Paul Scott, 35-years old, swam from the island to Fort Point, under the southern part of the Golden Gate Bridge, proving that it could be done. Along with another prisoner named Darl Parker, the pair bent the bars of a kitchen window in the cell house basement and escaped.


Parker was discovered on a small outcropping of rock a short distance from the island. However, Scott, a better swimmer, made it to Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Collapsing from exhaustion and hypothermia, he was soon found by two teenage boys who called for help. He was then taken to the military hospital at the Presidio Army base. After being treated for shock and hypothermia, he was returned to Alcatraz.



Continued Next Page


Scars from the "Battle of Alcatraz" can still be seen on

the  floor, July, 2009, Kathy Weiser.

Escape From Alcatraz

One of the heads used in the escape of the Anglin brothers  and Frank Morris,

 is still on display in a cell, July, 2009, Kathy Weiser.


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