The Alcatraz Escape

Full Episode

On June 11, 1962, bank robbers Frank Morris and Clarence & John Anglin launched a patchwork, raincoat raft into the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay surrounding Alcatraz Prison. The men disappeared, leaving behind a cold case that has mystified law enforcement for over half-a-century. Now, three Dutch scientists have used 3D modeling technology to show that it may have been possible for the men to have survived. Putting their theory to the test, the Dutchmen are recreating the daring escape as closely to the original as possible, right down to launching their own raincoat raft into the bay. Will they make it through the treacherous waters to safety or be swept out to sea? And can they prove once and for all what happened to the escapees?

Credits Print

NARRATED BY
JAY O. SANDERS

WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
STEVEN HOGGARD

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DAPHNA RUBIN

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© 2016 HOGGARD FILMS AND THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Transcript Print

News story: The spoon proves mightier than the bars at supposedly escape proof Alcatraz prison!

OLIVIER HOES
It's one of these myths that go around for decades already… That everyone wants to be solved.

It’s the most iconic prison escape in American history. On the night of June 11, 1962, three Alcatraz inmates set out in a raft made of raincoats into the treacherous waters of San Francisco Bay. They were never seen again.

JOLENE BABYAK
They disappeared so you couldn't ask for a better ending right? To keep it going forever…

Now, Dutch scientists Olivier Hoes, Rolf Hut and Fedor Baart want to determine what happened to the escaped convicts.

News SOT:
New science on an old mystery // They claimed they’ve solved the mystery of Alcatraz

They’ve come to San Francisco…

ROLF HUT
You don’t want to have to paddle for your life in the last bit while you’re dragged out there.

To test their theory… And ride their own raincoat raft to freedom.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
They have one shot at it and it’s gotta work.

FEDOR BAART
Most people want them to make it. People want people to be a hero.

FEDOR BAART
And so you have a very difficult challenge - and you make it.

FEDOR BAART
… That’s a hero’s story…

In Holland, 10 million people live below sea level: a precarious setting that’s made the Dutch world leaders in flood management. So when coastal engineer Olivier Hoes was called to San Francisco to predict how rising sea levels will impact that city in years to come - it was just another job.

OLIVIER HOES
Coastal Hydrologist, Delft University of Technology The actual bay is very shallow, it’s just 4 or 5 meters deep. But in the center it gets much deeper, it’s about 20 or 30 meters deep. Every time when the tide is going in or out there’s one big valley of water flowing in and out, every time.

Using state-of-the art, hydraulic software, Olivier created one of the most sophisticated flow models of San Francisco Bay ever built.

ROLF HUT
Water Resources Engineer, Delft University of Technology So I saw his screen with all the little arrows for the water movement and then Alcatraz bang in the middle // and I thought this is a story and a research waiting to happen.

Colleague Rolf Hut realized if you could use 3D computer modeling to forecast future bay conditions - you could also use it to look into the past.

ROLF HUT
Science is about finding stuff out. And so this is a historical study. Normally we study future scenarios. What could happen if…And that’s what we build all our models for. Science is about using expertise in research that’s actually relevant for policy makers and the future. But it helps us understand something as cool as the escape from Alcatraz.

Alcatraz… "The Rock"… this Civil War fort-turned-maximum security prison was said to be unbreakable. The men sent here--men like Whitey Bulger and Al Capone--were just as tough.

JOLENE BABYAK
Author, Breaking the Rock You’re talking about 25,000 men in those days in federal prisons and 250 on Alcatraz. so they were the most aggressive, the most assaultive, sometimes most mentally ill one percent.

Jolene Babyak was just 15 the night of the escape. Her dad was acting warden. In 1962 she called Alcatraz island home.

JOLENE BABYAK
The siren woke me up. I was late for school, and you know, my first thought obviously was, 'That can't be an escape attempt.' But, of course, I knew that in my heart, that it was. I met my mother on the stairs and she was all kind of pumped up and she said - ‘get dressed, there’s been an escape!

At sunrise the next morning, it became clear that The Rock had been broken. Convicts Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin had used sharpened spoons to dig through their cells. They left false grills and dummy heads behind as cover, climbed up a three-story utility corridor, punched through a ceiling ventilation shaft and ran across the cell block roof. Then, they scrambled down a four-story stovepipe, evaded guard towers, made their way down an embankment, and slid into the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay… leaving behind a handful of artifacts and one of America’s most enduring mysteries.

PATRICK MAHONEY
If they made it, why, one helluva achievement I'll tell you that!

JOLENE BABYAK
Everybody was rooting for Morris and the Anglins, and they still are!

Unlike many in Alcatraz, Morris and the Anglins weren’t violent offenders. They were low-end bank robbers sent to The Rock after repeated escape attempts at other prisons.

JOLENE BABYAK
Morris was an interesting character. He’d been in prison almost every day since he was 13.

MICHAEL DYKE
He also had what was listed on the test as the highest IQ.

John and Clarence Anglin grew up sharecropping alongside fourteen brothers and sisters. They’d robbed their bank using a toy gun.

JOLENE BABYAK
Morris kept the Anglins in line because I think they were boisterous and talky and wanted everybody to know that they were cool.

FEDOR BAART
What’s the best way to escape, but the question is…the best place is still to go here because…

To tackle the mystery of what happened to Morris and the Anglins, the Dutchmen used old tidal charts to build a 3D model that recreates the currents from the night of the escape.

FEDOR BAART
It’s taking all the water out and pushing it all the way back in.

They then called in friend and colleague Fedor Baart: an expert in particle tracking.

ROLF HUT
Particle sounds really technical, but in this case that would just be a raft with three people in it, and what would happen given the tides, where would it go?

FEDOR BAART
I took the computer model from Olivier, and, I put a. extra computer model that simulates human behavior, and actually adds paddling behavior, that's the thing that I created.

The resulting model enabled them to track the paths of 50 virtual rafts launching from Alcatraz on the night the escape. What they discovered is the first scientific proof the men could’ve survived.

OLIVIER HOES
Our study revealed that the timing was crucial to get to the shore on the other side and that it actually depended enormously on when they left.

To escape... and survive... the inmates would have had to launch during a narrow window between 11:30pm and 12 midnight. If they did, the findings suggest the inmates could have ridden the outgoing tide to an unexpected place. For decades, common wisdom said that the escapees headed for the land mass nearest Alcatraz: Angel Island. But the Dutchmen think this would've been a fatal mistake. Based on the currents, that trajectory would have swept the men out to sea.

OLIVIER HOES
The actual finding is that they could use the tides to leave Alcatraz just on time so that they didn’t have to paddle that far. So Horseshoe Bay was the most likely destination, according to our research, and not Angel Island.

The first morning of their investigation… The team is headed to Horseshoe Bay near the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.

ROLF HUT
(In Dutch)
SUBTITLES: This is a real “welcome to America’ scene.

(holding up phone for selfie)
SUBTITLES: Just a quick photo.

Five days from now the tides and currents will match what the inmates faced back in 1962.

ROLF HUT
(In Dutch)
SUBTITLES: When you see it like this / the water doesn’t look so bad.
If it stays this calm then / things will work out fine.

Fedor, Rolf and Olivier plan to launch their own homemade raft and put their theory to the ultimate test.

ROLF HUT
So they launched over there near the chimney right?

OLIVIER HOES Yes.

ROLF HUT
And the tide would’ve taken them here into Horseshoe Bay.

FEDOR BAART
Yeah the currents should take you right into this bay.

ROLF HUT
Yeah but if you time it wrong you get this funnel being pulled out and you just die of hypothermia or of sharks.

OLIVIER HOES
I’m actually more concerned about these boats.

ROLF HUT
You mean the big cargo boats?

OLIVIER HOES
Exactly because if we are right in the middle of the shipping lane…

ROLF HUT
Then we have the right of way because we don’t have power. That’s how it works, right?

OLIVIER HOES
Uh huh.

ROLF HUT
I’m more concerned about the boat. Actually putting the boat into the water and having it stay afloat for an hour.

FEDOR BAART
See if you look at the San Francisco Bay it’s actually a quite interesting bay because it sucks in all this water and spits it out through this narrow channel just below the Golden Gate Bridge.

A deep underwater canyon cuts right in front of Horseshoe Bay. It creates a narrow, 300-foot-wide wall of water flowing in and out through the golden gate. This intense band of current poses the biggest risk to the team.

OLIVIER HOES
It looks more or less like a highway of water that’s going in and out every time. And one of the things that we have to take care of is that we have to pass that highway as soon as possible when we leave Alcatraz. Otherwise, we’re taken out to the ocean.

Fedor believes that even if they hit the wall of water, the human urge to survive will generate the power needed to paddle through it.

FEDOR BAART
We knew that it would be the hardest part of the survival, and I estimated that people would make a leap of faith, so the last 100 meters paddle really fast, but I’m wondering now if it’s even possible, if you have that urge to survive to make that last 100 meters.

If Morris and the Anglins did hit the bay in the Dutch team’s timeline, would their raft have stayed afloat for the hour the computer model says it would have taken to reach Horseshoe Bay? The only way to find out is to build the most historically accurate raft possible… And launch in the same tidal conditions.

ROLF HUT
And at that time, the raft needs to be done, so that creates a limited time frame to actually build it and let it dry. It puts some tension on the team – which may have not been representative of what the inmates had because they had six weeks – but it puts some tension on the team to get it done on time.

To build their raft, the team has called on Eric Humphreys. A long-time Nantucket boat builder, he’s now chief of animatronics for the shop that creates Macy's magical Christmas window displays in New York City.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
I made this the other day. Look at that, huh? Sparks!

Still, Eric’s first love is the sea.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
My day job is currently is I make glittery elves… But, I’ve always loved boats. I’ve always been, you know, a sailor since I was a little kid.

The raft needs to be more than just buoyant. They want to build a raft as close to the original as possible.

OLIVIER HOES
It would be nice to see how they made their raft. Whether they stitched it or not.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
That kind of glue they used.

OLIVIER HOES
Exactly.

So before they launch into construction, Eric and Olivier need to see the artifacts the escapees left behind.

AMANDA WILLIFORD
NPS Curator
So here is photographic documentation from the escape.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Various tools made or stolen for the escape. There’s a whole treasure trove of things.

After the escape, the FBI recovered more than 80 homemade tools and other items the inmates spent months constructing.

AMANDA WILLIFORD
Including files. Spoons to chisel things away.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Hey look, and drill bits! Man these guys liked building stuff. Have you ever made your own wrench? I’ve made so many things in my life. I’ve never made my own wrench.

The thing that struck me about those artifacts was the attention to odd details. Maybe if I was sitting in prison all day, contemplating this, they would seem normal to me.

A periscope? The thought was, they stick the periscope out the little hole in the ventilator to see if anyone's lookin'.

OLIVIER HOES
The periscope is not something that you really need if you try to escape, and they put a lot of effort in making this periscope, and the same counts for the other tools.

AMANDA WILLIFORD
This is one of two paddles. One was found on the cell block top roof, the other one was found floating in the bay.

OLIVIER HOES
The thing that struck me most was that the paddles had large bolts on the backside, and I can imagine that in the dark, if you do not pay attention, and you have these bolts sticking out to your raft, that you might make a leak in your raft without even having left Alcatraz.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Wow, look what they used as a cutting board. I bet ya they cut the raft pieces on that – look, those are knife marks.

Above all, Eric and Olivier want to confirm what the raft was made of, and gather clues about how it was constructed. They've already found a vintage raincoat based on archival photos. The question is, will it match the real thing?

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Oh, here it comes, here it comes… Oh yeah, yeah I think we nailed it on the raincoats. The buttons are the same, the sleeves are the same. Where was that label?

OLIVIER HOES
There should be a label. Right in the lapel. Yep, that's it.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
The 18561. Yeah, our label seems to match. Look at that, this raincoat's crying now, there's your brother baby.

Raincoats like these were common on the Rock - even on sunny days.

JOLENE BABYAK
(laughs) The joke on Alcatraz was that the birds were better shots than the guards. So guys would sometimes wear their raincoats out to the yard. And it would be a simple matter of wearing your raincoat out, and then taking it off and someone else picking it up.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Oh and the inflator – that’s what I was curious about. A straw, look at that. You can actually see their teeth marks on it.

Incredibly, the inmates crafted more than just the raft. They also made life vests.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
I mean, If I'm thinkin' about gettin' out of prison. I'm just gonna build that raft and go. I'm not gonna screw around with a life jacket.

So this is a pontoon from the raft that wasn’t actually used correct?

AMANDA WILLIFORD,
Correct.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
The pontoon remnant had what was clearly hand stitching. I don’t know I get the feeling this was like some kind of test. So I’m wondering if they just wanted to see what was the best construction technique given the materials they had. The ingenuity kind of goes counter to what you hear about a lot of these guys. Some of these guys claim to not be the sharpest pencils in the box. And here they are, they’re making their own tools, they’re making periscopes, they’re making you know rafts in prison attacks…and they’re somehow not getting caught. And I don’t know if that speaks to these guys being really clever or everyone watching them being you know, not so clever.

JOLENE BABYAK
It became so elaborate, right? A raft and then life jackets and paddles and masks. It just got bigger and bigger, right? There’s safety in that sophistication and that's often the case. The exciting fun part is inside the prison, the bragging rights, the ego, the fun, the hope – but once they hit land, not so fun.

The visit has offered up interesting clues: The inmates may have stitched the raft, and used straws or hoses to inflate it. But how they glued the raincoats together remains a mystery.

OLIVIER HOES
I’m interested in this glue. Is that liquid plastic for book repair?

ERIC HUMPHREYS
I don’t know what that means, but somebody knows what that means.

Day two of constructing the raft. Eric and Olivier have asked adhesives chemist Bill Leach to come by and help them figure out what kind of glue might have been on Alcatraz in 1962.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
What did they use and would the prisoners have something similar to it?

BILL LEACH
Adhesives Chemist
They’re going to be dealing with materials that don’t absorb water or solvent. So it’s going to have to be a surface bond. So it’s going to have to bond materials that are likely to stretch a little bit.

Glue that stretches normally serves an industrial purpose. It makes sense they'd have access to it, because The Rock wasn’t just a prison – it housed Alcatraz industries, cranking out furniture, shoes and gloves for the U.S. Army.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
My understanding is they had carpentry. They had some sort of boot shop for rubber boots and some sort of furniture shop.

BILL LEACH
So they may have been fairly bright guys who had connections and somebody would’ve told them, "Don’t go to the furniture department for your adhesive – go to the shoe department."

There, they would have found a waterproof glue perfect for the job.

BILL LEACH
Yes. Here we go. Bi-solos polychloroprene. Bingo!

Bi-solos polychloroprene… otherwise known as contact cement.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
The contact cement seems the most likely that they would have. Cause not only do they need lots of it to make a raft, they need, there needs to be so much of it they can steal this large quantity of it, without people going, "Where's all the glue?"

But according to at least one Alcatraz guard, stealing glue on The Rock might have been easier than it seems.

PATRICK MAHONEY
Alcatraz Prison Guard, 1956-1963 They really didn't keep track. At the other penitentiaries we kept track of the contact cement. But at Alcatraz we really didn’t. My recollection it was one gallon cans, and they might have get some of that old used glue too, from those cans…

With stolen contact cement, the inmates would have needed more than 50 raincoats to build their raft. But for Eric and Olivier vintage raincoats aren’t an option.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
We looked at making the raft out of the actual jackets that the prisoners used but, one, they’re kind of you know, very difficult to find and, two, the material seemed to be, after what is it, 50 years, seems to be rotting.

I think this is the closest you can possibly find for a modern equivalent. It’s the same the same thickness. It says it’s PVC.

BILL LEACH
PVC, that’s important because that’s what it would have been in 1962.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
You gonna come with us?

BILL LEACH
Oh I think I’m busy that day!

ERIC HUMPHREYS
We’ll get you a little drink umbrella!

With glue and materials set, they have three days left to craft a historically accurate design – and get the job done.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
I think some people are slightly nervous about the timing of it. I’m not. For my job, there is always a deadline, and it’s always something that no one’s done before. And there’s always problems, but in the end it gets done. It’s kind of like an all or nothing, you know…if you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

OLIVIER HOES
Well, raincoats?

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Raincoats!

OLIVIER HOES
This is the actual raincoat that they used.

I've got some documentation here. Okay… (reading) "The conspirators realized that once they had reached the water's edge, it would be no mean feat inflating a 14 x 6 foot life raft by mouth."

ERIC HUMPHREYS
That’s a really big raft!

OLIVIER HOES
5 jackets. 5 jackets. 2 jackets and 10 jackets for the floor. So that's 22 jackets at least.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
So I’m gonna use a sleeve here for our test. We’re gonna make a tiny miniature pontoon out of this.

Ugh, these fumes. Um, I don’t know about you buddy, but I am feeling them!

How do you want to seal it? After the straws on there?

OLIVIER HOES
I can fold it backwards and put it under for example..

ERIC HUMPHREYS
That’s pretty clever… Wow. And it’s holding air, briefly! Oh, yeah, right here. This is what I was worried about.

Making the pontoons air tight is turning out to be a challenge.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
There's your leak. This seam's no problem. It’s this fold-up seam. Had nothing to do with the straw. It was leaking through all the seams. That is um, disappointing.

FEDOR BAART
And so if you look how Olivier and Eric built the raft, there’s a lot of choices you can make to make it better. And in all these choices you try to stick to the historical accurate side of that. And it makes the raft less floatable, but it makes it much more realistic.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
We’re going to have to figure a better way of sealing that.

Although the actual raft was never found, the stitched life vests recovered after the escape were surprisingly well built.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
After the escape, they found these life vests. They, they wanted to test 'em, so they put weights on 'em, inflated the life vests until it lifted the weights off the floor. And they held air for hours, which is kind of amazing.

Eric now thinks the stitching on the life vests was probably critical to the evolution of the raft itself.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Who knows how many life vests they made? That could've been the 400th life vest, and the first one didn't work, it looked like our bags that we tried, and, I assume, once they've got that worked out, they transfer that knowledge and use it to build a large, ocean-going raft. And at first everyone just kind of just ignored it 'cause, you know, stitching's kind of a pain in the butt and we're hoping it was a mistake. But it's becoming clear that the stitching is necessary to keep the air in.

As Eric pushes ahead with building the raft, the others are meeting someone deeply interested in their work.

FEDOR BAART
And they get sucked into this current, it’s really strong.

More than 50 years after the escape, the U.S. Marshal Service is still hunting Morris and the Anglins. Mike Dyke has been on the case for the past 13 years.

MICHAEL DYKE
U.S. Marshal Every piece of evidence that comes up, every lead that comes up, is evaluated, even if something coming up this long after the escape could determine whether we need to continue to focus efforts on looking for live people or try to find remains of people who might have washed ashore, you know, 50 years ago.

They’re excited to share their own findings, but they really want to gather details from Marshal Dyke about the time the raft hit the water.

MICHAEL DYKE
There’s no way to know for sure. That’s a big variable – when they left. There was a noise at 10:30, so that’s assuming…that’s what time we assume they were able to get out the top.

ROLF HUT
Yeah, and then they had to go over the roof, down the pipe, over the fence…

MICHAEL DYKE
Over the fence – and they woulda had to get the raft over the fence without puncturing it on the barbed wire.

ROLF HUT
And then inflating it. So you’re at least looking at an hour…

MICHAEL DYKE
It could have been. It could have been that long.

ROLF HUT
Yeah, so then the 11:30 window…

FEDOR BAART
If the escape is this time. Then it actually ends up here. So that’s the current scenario we’re going with.

MICHAEL DYKE
The 3D model is really useful because, previously, there was a couple of cartoon-type drawings of it, other than that you don’t see an actual live view of what the currents were doing that night. So this was helpful in understanding what happened that night and hopefully come up with a more viable answer to what I’ve been doing for the past 13 years!

ROLF HUT
So at 10:30, a noise was heard, that is what the Marshal told us. That gives us an anchor point. So it's really important that we know what happened, step by step, so we can determine when they entered the water.

To accurately recreate the timing of the escape, the Dutch team is heading back to The Rock for expert insight.

ROLF HUT
Our research is really focused on re-creating the tidal situation that these escapees experienced. But to know that, we need input from the historians at Alcatraz, to know what happened, step by step, so we can determine when possibly they could have entered the water.

Rolf and Olivier are meeting Alcatraz historian John Martini…

JOHN MARTINI
That’s where Clint Eastwood and the others come down in the movie ‘Escape from Alcatraz.’

…who will help them retrace the path of the escape.

JOHN MARTINI
This is the access to the cell house… So this was the cell of Allen West who, you know, some people considered to have been the fellow who came up with the whole concept.

Of all the characters involved, Allen West is the least known but arguably the most important.

JOLENE BABYAK
West didn't get mentioned in the newspapers because he didn't go. You know, he got stuck behind.

Unable to punch through his cell in time to join Morris and the Anglins, it was West who told the FBI the details of the plan: including the fact the men planned to paddle to Angel Island.

MICHAEL DYKE
There was a misconception that Morris was the mastermind of the whole plan. More than likely West, at least, initiated it.

JOLENE BABYAK
Author, Breaking the Rock He was the most dangerous. I mean a prisoner told me, West didn’t walk, he slithered.

JOHN MARTINI
That’s the hole that they excavated to get out. They drilled a great big rectangular perforation in the wall and then once they had weakened the wall, then they were able to break out larger chunks relatively rapidly.

Chiseling through a foot of concrete was a tough and potentially noisy job. But thanks to the prison reform movement of the early '60s, Alcatraz was now offering art classes, and music hour.

JOLENE BABYAK
The music hour then just became a cacophony of sound… and probably when they did a lot of their digging.

OLIVIER HOES
Holy moly! The concrete over here is really bad!

Despite The Rock’s fearsome reputation for being inescapable, by spring 1962 the aging prison was falling apart.

JOLENE BABYAK
The toilets in the cell house were plumbed with salt water. So salt water was coursing through those pipes for over 50 years. Plumbers would go in there to fix them, and they would disintegrate.

JOHN MARTINI
So you were constantly having flooding salt water.

ROLF HUT
And that would destroy your concrete and your rebar…

JOHN MARTINI
Want to go into the corridor?

GROUP
Sure, lets do it!

OLIVIER HOES
Wow. The actual weakest spot in the concrete is, uh, close to the vents, where they got through.

Salt water erosion and shoddy construction along the base of the wall meant the convicts were digging through the weakest spot of their cells.

JOHN MARTINI
Once they got out here into the utility corridor, basically it’s like a jungle gym of pipes and supports straight up, 3 stories plus, to a flat open area at the top of the cell block.

Every night for six weeks, the inmates climbed three stories through this web of pipes to a hidden loft.

JOHN MARTINI
We’re standing on the roof of the top tier of cells and then above us is the roof of the actual cell house – this is just a void. This is where they setup their workshop.

Here, they would build the raincoat raft, periscope, drills, life vests and tools that would make theirs the most sophisticated escape in American history. West had convinced the guards to let him work unsupervised in the loft during daytime hours.

JOHN MARTINI
Part of Allen West’s whole cover story for being up here was that he was painting, and he indeed was. If you look right here at the ceiling, this is where Allen West left off painting. You can actually see the brush strokes.

West wasn’t just looking for a place to build the raft – he was looking for a way to get out of the cell block and onto the roof.

PATRICK MAHONEY
He volunteered to do this cleanup up on top of the cells, because they knew that if they could get up there, maybe look at those holes in the ceiling, that they could maybe go outta there, and they were certainly figured it was old and rusty, and it was, it was right on target.

The holes in ceiling were old ventilation shafts. And the one above the loft workspace wasn’t just rusty. It was the only one not cemented in place.

JOHN MARTINI
They hit on the idea of convincing the guards that they needed to put blankets to close this area off.

JOLENE BABYAK
That was one of the things about Alcatraz – it was spotlessly clean. I mean, they polished those floors. If you look at pictures of them, they were shiny. One day West goes up to the top of the block and with a little broom he moves some dust down, you know. And it didn't take long for the lieutenant to walk over that, or for a guard, or prisoner to complain, "Hey there dust in my cell – what’s going on up there?" And so West just doubles back and he says, "You know, I gotta work up there and its really dusty, maybe we can hang some blankets?"

PATRICK MAHONEY
Alcatraz Prison Guard, 1956-1963 Normally we'd put a guard with them at all times, but he said, "Oh I'll just go and check on them now and then." Not a good idea. Not with an Alcatraz convict. Everyone was under the gun 24 hours a day!

ROLF HUT
But then there was no guard here watching him?

JOHN MARTINI
No, the feeling seems to have been, once he was let up here and he was locked in: What could he possibly do? Where could he possibly go?

ROLF HUT
I mean, "They’re on Alcatraz, what could possibly happen"

JOHN MARTINI
Yes, "What could possibly go wrong?"

On the night of June 11th, 1962, it was go time. By 9:30, West was having trouble breaking through the last bits of his cell, when Frank Morris appeared asking for water.

MICHAEL DYKE
He was thirsty, wanted a glass of water, so he handed him a glass of water through the little hole in the back of his cell that he was still working on, and that was about 9:34.

It was the last time anyone would see Frank Morris alive.

JOHN MARTINI
There was a giant crash sometime around 10:30, which is apparently when the ventilator cap was pushed off.

ROLF HUT
So at 10:30, a noise was heard. And everybody goes with the story that that is the vent cover that falls onto the roof.

JOHN MARTINI
And this is the footprint of the pipe. This is the route down. And the FBI photographs show little black footprints running around down here as they were waiting for the other guys to come down. It’s almost like Bugs Bunny or something, except this was deathly for real… Essentially what they were doing is they were following their nose towards the water.

OLIVIER HOES
What’s your best guess for them leaving Alcatraz?

JOHN MARTINI
11:15 - 11:30? But that's just a guess.

ROLF HUT
That would fit really nice with our model results, 'cause that is really in the timeframe that if they went in the water they had the best chance to reach Horseshoe Bay.

Back at the shop, time is running out and they haven’t even successfully inflated their first pontoon.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
I went shopping. Black tape like they had. I got hoses and tubes. It’s gonna be like a raft hooka!

They know the inmates used stitching.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Whoa! You can hardly tell I've never sewed before in my life!

OLIVIER HOES
All right - first pontoon.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Think it’s gonna hold air? Let’s inflate it.

OLIVIER HOES
Let’s inflate it.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Let's do it.

The moment of truth… If it doesn't hold air, they’ll never make their tidal window.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
If I pass out leave without me man. Save yourself!

The stitching, it seems, was the missing element.

OLIVIER HOES
Oh no, we have bubbles over here.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Boat Builder All right. I think we can build a raft. I think it’s gonna leak like a freakin sieve, and we’re gonna spend the entire time pumping it up. Hell, we can probably even blow into it fast enough.

I have more respect for them after attempting the work myself, you know, in relatively ideal conditions. If I need more glue, I can go get more glue, I don’t need to sneak it in from the cafeteria. No one’s gonna shoot me, probably. So… and I’m having trouble!

I don’t think we’re fitting three people in this thing.

OLIVIER HOES
If they are my size they’ll fit!

ERIC HUMPHREYS
What are you saying? You saying too much pizza? All right.

With the pontoon design set, it’s a scramble to get the rest of the raft built… leaving just one day for the contact cement to dry.

Across town, Rolf and Fedor have come to the last place to test their theory before facing the bay itself.

ROLF HUT
This swimming pool is representing the entire Pacific?

TOM KENDALL
Yep, yep. So this is a large physical model of the San Francisco Bay and delta system.

ROLF HUT
The tidal cycle over there is only 15 minutes, so, "What if I go out one hour after low tide?" And then 15 minutes later you can test, "What if I go out two hours after low tide?"

TOM KENDALL
Coastal Geologist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers It’s used in missing person cases in particular. When a body washes up on shore somewhere the question is often asked, "Where did this person enter into the water?" And so the ability to go through a 12-hour tidal cycle in 15 minutes and watch where things go is one of the beauties of this tool.

ROLF HUT
Hey guys look what I built: A little boat and a little release mechanism, some tape, some superglue, some office supplies. But I think the tide is going out right now, which would be when we said that they went.

TOM KENDALL
Okay.

ROLF HUT
I’m just gonna put it in. This is my kind of science.

TOM KENDALL
5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

ROLF HUT
We just had our floaty going with the tides. So this is would be without paddling.

TOM KENDALL
So they just let the raft take them where it would take them.

ROLF HUT
Yeah. So this is the tidal slack point. It should be slowing down.

Slack tide is the brief window of slowing current that happens between the incoming and outgoing tides.

TOM KENDALL
You’ve gotta really time it around the slack water. If it's not slack water, everybody goes out the gate. Yeah, I think if they went out the Golden Gate, it was probably history for 'em.

On the first attempt, without paddle power, the raft is swept out to sea.

ROLF HUT
Then you see exactly the same thing as in the model, you go straight into the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge out into the Pacific and die.

What we did in our computer model is we looked at the difference between what if you just go with the flow, versus what if you paddle. But then of course, I cannot put paddling mice, or I think even ants at that scale, on it. So we did a final attempt and in that final attempt, Fedor was holding an office fan that mimicked the northwards effect that paddling could have.

TOM KENDALL
Yeah, so this is when I think they had a chance because the currents are not that strong.

ROLF HUT
They’re not that strong.

The second time, Fedor uses an office fan to simulate the forward motion of men paddling the raft.

FEDOR BAART
So I’m just going to give it a bit of northward movement. And the last hundred meters I had to turn up the nob to full speed.

When the raft approaches the strong band of current blocking it from Horseshoe Bay, Fedor cranks up the fan.

ROLF HUT
As if that last rush of adrenaline, and “Oh my god we’re gonna die”-rush of adrenaline, gave them enough energy to do a final paddle and make it.

GROUP
Nice. There we go! That’s how we do it.

FEDOR BAART
It was interesting to see that the float actually ends up exactly where we predicted.

ROLF HUT
Okay, I want to see you do that in two days, for real.

TOM KENDALL
But if it’s got any kind of speed and the vessel doesn’t sink, it looks very doable to me.

ROLF HUT
We should be able to make it! Given that the boat holds and that there’s no freighter whatever going in between. But from just a flow and water movement perspective. Doable!

We might live! (laughs)

What they’ve seen here suggests their computer model is right: If the escapees were able to get past the invisible current of water blocking Horseshoe Bay, they could have survived.

It also may have solved another mystery: After the escape, searchers found paddles and other debris near Angel Island, which gave rise to the theory the men made landfall there. But the Dutch model shows that when tides reverse, items dropped in the surf off Horseshoe Bay are pushed right back to Angel Island.

ROLF HUT
Oh here, yeah look. This is Olivier now…

As they wrap up, the team gets a text from Olivier over at the tech shop.

ROLF HUT
So these are the pontoons. So the final thing is that the floor is going to be glued on top like that. It’s going to all be inflated and it holds three men.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
There’s going to be three chambers: the stern, an act chamber, then two large chambers in front, and they’ll have their own inflator hose. So this way, each individual paddler can have their own hose and you blow into it to keep ahead of any leaks that may occur.

With the raft finally done, they've asked Marshal Dyke to come by and take a look.

ROLF HUT
That seems smallish.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
It gets bigger!

MICHAEL DYKE
Wow. Pretty big.

ROLF HUT
That will fit the three of us.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
I have 100 percent confidence there will be zero leaks.

MICHAEL DYKE
U.S. Marshal You know, they used similar type of glue and the dimensions we believe were accurate. I believe it was a very realistic portrayal of, you know, how things would have ended up.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
So do you think you’d get in this thing?

MICHAEL DYKE
I don’t believe I would.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Aw, come on!

ROLF HUT
Given a trailing boat and…?

MICHAEL DYKE
If I was desperate, I would get in it.

ERIC HUMPHREYS I think that if anything is going to fail on the raft, it’s going to be a seam or it’s going to get ripped on some unforeseen piece of metal some place. I don’t think that’s going to happen. There’s going to be some huffing and puffing into those tubes, but I really do think it’s going to make it.

By 7pm the next evening, they’re headed to Alcatraz. The window to launch is between 8 and 8:30, a rare interval when the bay’s complex tidal conditions will match those from the night of the escape.

CAPTAIN PAUL DINES
Usually around sundown when that inland valley cools off, this strong onshore breeze, you know evades and it…it gets nice. This year is an El Niño year and the weather is a little unusual so the prevailing conditions may not prevail. As a result, what we’re noting is that the wind is a little bit more south than usual from the south. With the early bit of the ebb kicking in, the chop is getting a lot rougher.

The water is rough. Winds are blowing at 25 knots. The team worries their raft won’t stand a chance.

ROLF HUT
Those are pretty big waves. Like some 60-centimeters-to-a-meter waves with foam caps on there. That’s pretty scary for a little boat like us. So we’re going to wait as long as we can within that tidal window, hope that the sun going down, the temperature difference between the sea and land going down a bit that the wind would ease, so that we have conditions that are as near as we can achieve today to what happened back in the day in ‘62.

CAPTAIN PAUL DINES
I think it’s a fair test to the concept. You, know the guys that made the escape originally, you know maybe they were able to pick a night where it was calm. I don’t really know. But I think that if they’re able to pull this off today with all the challenges that are present, it really is a strong affirmation that yeah, absolutely this could be done.

San Francisco Bay isn’t known for calm waters. With winds now hitting 30 knots, this will be the most realistic attempt ever.

CAPTAIN PAUL DINES
I think that’s the problem with a lot of recreations is that they kind of pick a perfect day. This is a very typical day, and the challenges are real.

ROLF HUT
Well, it’s now ten to 8 but it’s still pretty rough out here. Yeah like 8:15, we’ll probably go into the water. We need to start filling up the raft, then.

STEVEN METZ
When you guys first get into the boat, just give us the OK, so international (gesturing) 'OK.' Any type of major medical emergency, fist up in the air.

ROLF HUT
Fist up, for me, means end of this mission. We failed. Get back into the boat. When I saw this raft coming together and being inflated for the first time, I grew more confident. But just before we launched our little raft all that confidence went away when I saw these big waves… Well we’re going to do this, guys. It's not that we can change anything now, so let’s just do this and see where we end up.

GROUP
Go!

Careful!

Don’t let go.

We’re going!

Go. Go. Go. Go.

Like Morris and the Anglins' – their raft has never been tested.

ROLF HUT
Should I go in?

Will it hold up or disintegrate under the weight of three grown men?

ROLF HUT
(In Dutch)
SUBTITLES: Legs here, legs here, and then push!

CAPTAIN PAUL DINES Okay guys!

ROLF HUT
(In Dutch)
SUBTITLES: You say when it’s time to shove off.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Alright, it’s ten past 8. All three of them are in the boat. Yeah, let go!

And they’re off! Good luck guys! See ya in an hour!

It looks like it’s holding air! I mean, they’re huffin' and puffin' but they’re going in the right direction. They ain't sinkin'…their hair’s dry, what more could they want?

According to their model, they will have to hit Horseshoe Bay around 9 PM.

That’s when the tidal slack will slow the outgoing current and give them the best chance to paddle through the underwater torrent blocking their way.

FEDOR BAART
When we were floating in the bay, I really felt this is a great thing we’re doing: putting science into reality.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
We’re about what, 15 minutes in, 10 minutes in? They’re a good long ways from Alcatraz, probably 20 percent there. There’s a little bit of water in the boat they said, and that’s only from when they got in. I think the things holding up. Looks like getting out of Alcatraz is easy.

FEDOR BAART
Yeah, everything’s leaking but we are holding up fine.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
They only got one guy paddling, though. Because the other two people are inflating the raft constantly to keep up with the leaks that are in it.

FEDOR BAART
SUBTITLES: We thought that when the sun would set, the waves would calm down a bit, like this one.

As darkness sets in, the seas don’t calm – they get rougher.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
We’re about to hit some pretty good swells, biggest we’ve seen so far. I’m not sure if it’s wake from a ship, or it's just the current going through this part of the channels, but I think they’re going to get a little bit wetter now.

At 50 minutes in, they’re hitting the wall of current they feared. Tidal slack hasn't slowed it nearly as much as they had hoped. The Dutchmen are at risk of being drawn out to sea.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
Boat Builder Six-zero minutes! …Waves are getting a little stronger and I believe they are starting to get sucked towards the Golden Gate so, if they want to make land, they have to um, they have to paddle like crazy right now.

(To the group) According to the Captain, if you’re gonna make it, you all have to paddle – that way! 'Cause we’re starting to drift towards the bridge.

If they do get pulled under the bridge, this experiment could turn deadly.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
I think they’re getting tired. Olivier had a cramp in his leg or his arm, had to rest for a little bit. And you know, it’s not over yet. These guys, these guys gotta paddle!

(To the group) You guys see the boat over there, they got their light on? Aim for that light over there, that bright one.

Horseshoe Bay now lies less than 200 yards ahead.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
So we’re about an hour and five minutes in. According to the GPS, we’re making about 2.5 knots, mostly from the current. Unfortunately, that’s all towards the bridge and not towards land. Looks like they’re still trying to keep up the inflation and there’s still one guy, Olivier, paddling. I can see their destination. It’s very, very close…

And they have stopped paddling and have just gone to inflating. I don’t know if that means they’re just getting tired or the leak is getting more serious…

OLIVIER HOES
SUBTITLES: Do you think that it is too dangerous already or not?

CAPTAIN RICK WEBER SUBTITLES: You’re losing ground. If everybody can’t paddle, I think it’s uh…

ROLF HUT
SUBTITLES: No, the ground's over when we hit the bridge!

ERIC HUMPHREYS
We’re about an hour and ten minutes in. We just had a chat with them and told them they all need to paddle. We just don’t want them too close to the bridge. If they get too close to the bridge, it’s kind of game over.

SUBTITLES: This is really hard. The right side is taking water, guys. We can’t do this.

Exhausted and accelerating toward the Golden Gate, an upheld fist signals it's time to turn back.

ERIC HUMPHREYS
We’re going to go over and pick them up now, I think. We’re coming! Fist is up! We’re coming for you guys!

STEVEN METZ Pull yourself in.

ROLF HUT
Fedor’s in.

ROLF HUT
I’m stuck in the raft.

CAPTAIN RICK WEBER Hold it!

ERIC HUMPHREYS
I’m holding it. Okay. All right.

ROLF HUT
Get the raft in… Defus! OK, I’m calling it! They’re dead!

ERIC HUMPHREYS
We got them all on board. Everyone’s safe. We got the raft.

ROLF HUT
Raft building wise, they could have done it. It’s just that one guy paddling, two guys blowing, is not enough to get the speed to the north. And you can see that in our model. It’s like a big column going in, and then, and we should have been maybe to the north of that current, before it went so narrow.

FEDOR BAART
Like if you just get south of it, then uh, then you are basically doomed.

ROLF HUT
That's what science is all about, you just learn more. If you just have one data point, one story, that’s not really science. You need to have multiple data points so you can see what the influence of different factors is. So what we just did is given the exact tidal circumstances, our data point says they would have drifted to the gate.

FEDOR BAART
We estimated that it would take a little over an hour, so that was correct. But I thought we would have had a bit more time to get in there.

So the things we computed actually happened. But I think we’re mainly missing this leap of faith, this urge to survive. And I think if you’re really escaping, you'll have much more adrenaline. So now that I’ve come through this experience, I still think they would have been able to make it.

And so, uh, a bit unfortunate.

OLIVIER HOES
But look what we did. We managed to do it for 95 percent. We were approximately 50 meters from the Golden Gate. (laughs)

ROLF HUT
95 percent is usually scientifically significant, right?

ERIC HUMPHREYS
These guys were very capable and I think the raft could have theoretically made it but I don’t think it did. I think they’re dead. I think they’re floating out there or on the bottom, for the same reason as everyone else, where are they?

For the team, it's been a disappointing but insightful night. For former prison guards, the results reinforce a gut instinct they’ve had for over half a century now, based on the smallest of evidence pulled from the bay just days after the escape.

PATRICK MAHONEY
Alcatraz Prison Guard, 1956-1963 I was given authority to go out and start looking for 'em, going around and around and around. And we'd see these items floating and then they would retrieve it and bring it in and try and dry it out. We got a, surprising enough, quite a few correspondence they had maybe with their parents or a loved one. Things that were very dear to 'em. It could be a photograph of their father or mother or a loved one, maybe their girlfriend. It's items that they would really want to keep with them. But I think they had to give it up.

More than 50 years ago, three men took a desperate gamble.

PATRICK MAHONEY I’ve talked to many many people and they really hoped they made it.
(How do you feel?)
Oh hell, I… Well, I wouldn’t mind. It’d be all right. I'd like to know what happened to ‘em.

But tonight, the bay is holding its secrets close. And the mystery of Alcatraz continues.