On June 12, 1962, inmates Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin are discovered missing from their cells on Alcatraz Island during an early morning bed check. To this day, they have never been found.
An investigation into the inmates’ escape reveals an elaborate plan involving the construction of a life raft, life vests, paddles, dummy heads, and an array of tools and materials stolen to escape their cells. They climbed to the prison’s roof, escaped through a vent, and made their way down to the water where they launched the homemade raft off the shores of the remote prison.
Here’s what you’ll need to create your own raft to escape from the Alcatraz:
Raincoats were common on the Rock even on sunny days. The joke on Alcatraz was that the birds were better shots than the guards. The inmates would sometimes wear their olive green and rubberized raincoats out to the yard, take it off and have someone else pick it up.
The inmates used raincoats made of plastic or rubber like PVC to create a fourteen feet by six feet raft. They sealed the raincoats together with a type of waterproof glue. The FBI recovered a bottle of Rem-Weld book repair liquid plastic on top of Cell block B. The inmates may have used stitching and straws or hoses to inflate the raft.
After the escape, the FBI recovered more than 80 tools the inmates fashioned from readily available objects. The identifiable ones included: sharpened spoon handles used in penetrating cell walls; a motor removed from a vacuum cleaner and used as a drill; housing to fit over the vacuum cleaner motor to mute its noise during use; pieces of electrical cord; bolts with nuts, shafts, and sleeves that may have been used to apply pressure in spreading bars; two-cell flashlight made from two penlight batteries. Other items appear to be tools for scraping, digging, cutting, and gouging.
The inmates also made wooden paddles to facilitate their escape. They used the brass bolts to construct the paddles which were found in their cells and washed up on the shore of Angel Island, just over a mile from Alcatraz.
Not only did the inmates craft the raft out of raincoats, they made life vests too. Although the actual raft was never found, the stitched life vests recovered after the escape were surprisingly well built. The seams appear to be vulcanized, or sealed with the application of heat and pressure. The inmates may have gotten the idea to use vulcanization from magazines found in their cells.
On June 12, 1962, during the routine early morning bed check at Alcatraz, guards found cleverly constructed “sleeping” dummy heads in Frank Morris and John and Clarence’s cells. They are made of cement and flesh-tone paint, and real hair.
Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape, premieres nationally Tuesday, March 29 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).