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The Most Bonkers Prison Escape of All Time

May 11, 2020

With millions of us cooped up at home right now due to shelter-in-place orders, it’s pretty ironic that up until a few months ago, one of the most popular entertainments in America over the last few years was the “escape room.” The true experts on escapes: People who somehow broke out of an impenetrable prison fortress.

After escaping from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1958 and his subsequent recapture a year later, convicted bank robber Frank Morris was transferred to a prison that would be much harder to escape from: Alcatraz, the island prison surrounded by the cold and choppy waters off the coast of San Francisco. The prison system tested intelligence back then, and Morris was among the smartest, with a 133 I.Q., which he certainly put to use when planning an escape from Alcatraz.

Along with inmates Allen West, Clarence Anglin, and John Anglin, Morris discovered an unguarded utility area situated behind their row of cells. Inside that hall was a ventilation shaft that led to the roof. To get there, Morris built a crude power drill out of stolen bits and a vacuum cleaner motor, which he used to loosen the air vent in his cell. (Covering up the sound of a drill: One of his accomplices would play the accordion.) Meanwhile, to get around the 12-times-a-day bed checks the Anglins made decoy heads out of papier maché, topped with real hair from the prison barber. Over the course of two years, the team quietly built a raft out of prison-issue raincoats stolen from other inmates, with that accordion used to pump it with air.

On June 11, 1962, Morris led the charge, leaving a not-ready West behind — he hadn’t fully completed getting his air vent out of the wall to allow himself to slip out. And so, out Morris and the Anglins went, through the hall, to the air shaft, to the roof, down 50 feet of pipes, and to the beach, from where they departed on their raft. Did they make it? It’s unclear — nobody fitting the description of Morris and the Anglins were never spotted in San Francisco…and nor were their bodies ever recovered from the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Love escape stories, escape rooms, and using your wits to solve problems like a bolted escape room door? Then unlock some fun with Escape Room Puzzles, now available from Portable Press.

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