News of the San Gabriel Valley since 1966.


Joe Castillo

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Great Escape  ….  Fifty years ago, Frank Morris, John and Clarence Anglin, escaped from what was thought to be an inescapable jail located on a secluded island 1.5 miles away from the mainland. Alcatraz Island is located in the San Francisco Bay, and has been used as a lighthouse facility,military base, military prison and finally a federal prison until 1963.

The island was first named in 1775 by the Spanish surveyor Juan Manuel de Ayala, who named it ‘La Isla de los Alcatraces’, the Island of the Pelicans. The earliest recorded owner of the island was Julian Workman, which was the baptismal name of William Workman, who had been awarded the Rancho La Puente land grant in present day Hacienda Heights. Workman was a friend of Governor Pio Pico, and was awarded a number of large land holdings in California as part of this friendship.

In 1848, John Fremont bought the island from F.P.F. Temple for $5,000, and presented it to the United States Government as a key military post. However, when Fremont sought reimbursement, the government seized the island and took possession without compensating Fremont. The Federal Bureau of Prisons used Alcatraz as a federal prison starting in 1933 and its location in the cold, shark infested waters outside of San Francisco were thought to be the perfect deterrent for any escape attempts.

No one ever escaped Alcatraz and survived with the exception of Frank Morris and his accomplices.  Morris devised an intricate plan to escape the island, digging through soft jail cell walls with only a small spoon and building a raft made of sewn raincoats. Papier-mâché heads were made and used as placements in their cell beds when the escapees were digging through the inside of the prison wall system during the evening hours. Morris and the Anglins were never found but stories continue regarding their survival.

One story is that a Norwegian freighter picked them up and allowed to stay until their first port-of-call was made. Another story documents that they made it to Angel Island, where parts of their raincoat raft were found, and then died by the elements or at the hands of each other. The official case is still open and U.S. Marshall Michael Dyke is the only investigator assigned to the case. Dyke has his own theory and feels that two escapees survived but has no proof to support his theory.  He continues to investigate the case and has logged countless bytes of data on his own investigation. In 1979, Clint Eastwood stared as Frank Morris in the movie ‘Escape from Alcatraz’, which details the bold escape but only concludes that the trio escaped the island and their survival is unknown. The case will stay open until the last escapee turns 100 years old….

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News of the San Gabriel Valley since 1966.